When you hear howling winds and struggle with mittens that won't stay on chubby little hands, your instinct may be to stay inside with your baby as much as possible this winter. But, early childhood experts say, there are important reasons not to cocoon your little one at home.
Exposure to music and art is essential in brain development, they say.
"Children are learning at birth," says Louise J. Corwin, executive director at Ready at Five, a nonprofit advocating school readiness programs.
And while parents can easily read a book or play a classical CD at home, live experiences are even more stimulating — one of the reasons that Ready at Five partnered with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to create concerts for babies and very young children.
"They're so engaged in live performances," says Annemarie Guzy, director of education at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. "Being in that space is part of the experience."
The Baltimore region has many cultural options, many of which are programs specifically geared for babies from newborns to 3-year-olds. Here are some of the options:
Maryland Science Center:
Once the kids can reach the water table, chances are you'll spend many blissful hours in the kids' room. But there's also a specific section in the area for the under-2 set. Because it's gated from the rest of the room, babies are free to crawl, scoot and toddle without fear that a 4-year-old will step on their little fingers.
The section, called "Room to Grow," has big soft blocks to crawl on and other educational toys to manipulate.
Staff members are good about cleaning — there's a bucket for toys that your child may have put in his/her mouth (so that the items can be sanitized). And there's a nearby family restroom with stroller parking and space to hang the diaper bag. 601 Light St., Baltimore. $15.85 to $19.85. Children under 3 are free. mdsci.org
BSO Music Box Series
There's no need to be embarrassed about your little one squirming through a Beethoven sonata. In fact, it's expected.
Families sit on the floor, holding little ones in their laps, or sprawl out on blankets in the lobby as several musicians perform themed music. For example, in April the concert has a "safari" theme.
Designed for ages 6 months to 3 years, the family concerts are about 30 minutes long. And there are craft projects and other activities organized by Ready at Five before the performances.
The music isn't dumbed down. Works by composers such as Mozart, Haydn, Brahms, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins and John Philip Sousa have been performed. But clapping and wiggling are encouraged. And no one will give you the stink eye if your baby makes noise.
Actress and storyteller Maria Broom serves as the host. Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., Baltimore. $10 tickets. bsomusic.org/education-community
Port Discovery Children's Museum
The three-story urban treehouse is legend among kids in the Baltimore area. But you don't have to wait until your son or daughter is of climbing age to enjoy Port Discovery.
While the museum has exhibits geared toward older children, there are some all-ages activities, including the water- play area.
For infants and toddlers, the museum also has a "Tot Trails" section with Maryland-themed features including mirrored "tidal pools" and Paw Paw Tunnel.
And there are programs designed specifically for newborns to 6-year-olds, such as circle times with singing, dancing and finger play. 35 Market Place, Baltimore. $14.50 ages 2 and up. portdiscovery.org
Described as an early literacy wonderland, Storyville, a child-size village for newborns to 5-year-olds, is located in two Baltimore County library branches.
There are a puppet theater, grocery store, mailroom and construction zone. And there are two age-specific areas — one gated for infants called the "Baby Garden," with toys to touch such as sensory blocks, mirrors and "flowers" for them to pull up on.
You'll also find "Toddler Woods" at Woodlawn and "Toddler Bay" at Rosedale, with structures to climb, toddler toys and puzzles. There are also family-friendly amenities like a family restroom, stroller parking and oversize rockers where parents and children can read books together.
Expect crowds before lunch. You may be given a "pager" and asked to return after a short wait.
Woodlawn branch, 1811 Woodlawn Drive, Woodlawn. Rosedale branch, 6105 Kenwood Ave., Rosedale. Free. bcpl.info
Irvine Nature Center
On the somewhat rare day of nice weather in the winter, you'll find miles of walking trails through the 116 acres of wetlands, forest and meadows to explore.
But the all-seasons nature center also offers parent-infant and parent-toddler classes. For babies, the emphasis is on sensory exploration with fur, moss, feathers, leaves and flower petals on trail walks. The toddler class for ages 1 and 2 is all about "playful learning," with messy art-making and walks. Cost varies by session. Registration is required.
The weekly free, no-registration-necessary story time called "Tales and Tails" is another popular option for all ages. 11201 Garrison Forest Road, Owings Mills. Cost varies. explorenature.org
Walters Art Museum
Strolling through an art gallery is a blissful way to spend a wintry day. But there is also a 60-minute class for babies from birth to age 1 and caregivers called "Art Babies."
The program includes sensory play in the studio and time in the gallery. Strollers and baby carriers are welcome. And, the museum advertises, "Cooing and crying are welcome!"
Registration is required. 600 N. Charles St., Baltimore. Free. thewalters.org