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Keep the kids running riot

Whether it's outdoor or indoor, it's great for the kids to have time running riot, but structured play is also important as it helps them to learn both physical and social skills as well as fostering a love of sport and activity from an early age. Here are three to try:

THE LITTLE GYM

The Little Gym began in Washington over 30 years ago and now has over 300 franchises around the world. "Our aim is to foster a love of movement, play and exercise from a young age," explains Stephanie Spillane, director at the Liffey Valley branch, which has just celebrated its fifth anniversary. "The classes are all designed to help children reach milestones for their age group, as well as teaching motor skills and encouraging social interaction with peers."

The Little Gym combines gymnastics, sport, games, and specially tailored music, catering for children from four months to 12 years old. "The Little Gym programmes are designed based on the findings of a dedicated research team," adds Stephanie. "So parents know exactly what their kids are doing and how they are benefiting from it." The Little Gym is running summer camps.

See www.thelittlegym.ie or contact them on 01 630 0380.

RUGBYTOTS

Rugbytots (inset) is Ireland's first rugby-specific play programme for kids from two-and-a-half to seven years old.

"The primary aim is to make sure the kids have fun while getting some exercise," says Niall McElligott of Rugbytots Ireland. "It's also about teaching hand-eye co-ordination and encouraging them to use both hands and feet. Rugby skills are easily transferable, so it gives a good grounding for moving on to other sports."

Jamie and Eliyah loved this. Initially, Eliyah was unsure and didn't want to do her class without her big brother beside her; then by the time Jamie's class started, she was all on for joining in with the bigger kids. So they both had over an hour of running around and were wrecked for the rest of the day -- result!

See www.rugbytots.ie or contact them on 086 412 7351.

WATERBABIES

Now in its fourth year here, Waterbabies is a growing success story; it is Ireland's leading baby-swim school teaching core skills and water safety, and because they only use warm-water pools, babies can start from birth, in fact the younger they start, the better.

"The idea is to instil confidence in the water, while helping parents learn how to teach their kids to swim above and below water," says Carol McNally of Waterbabies. "It's a fun, healthy thing for your baby to do and it's also a great bonding activity."

I did four terms of this with Eliyah; we started when she was just five months old. She loved it; it helped her to grow comfortable in the water, plus it was a great way for her to meet other babies. We even have a framed Nirvana-style picture of her swimming underwater with her eyes open, which I treasure.

See www.waterbabies.ie or contact Waterbabies on 01 824 9987.