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PARENTING : The Family at Play : A number of private and public child-parent interaction programs have taken root in the Valley.

March 26, 1993|GORDON MONSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Gordon Monson writes regularly for The Times.

One 2-year-old is showing another his impersonation of the Tasmanian devil, spinning in circles until he falls to the ground. Two other toddlers are waddling around a play area--diaper to diaper--as though competing in a cherubic marathon. Yet another examines the hair on the turned head of a classmate before grabbing a fistful and yanking hard.

What's taking place here is socialization--in babyfied form. A handful of 1- and 2-year-olds are having a "group" experience: learning to play together, share, express themselves, interact, survive.

A few yards away, the children's mothers are also interacting, also learning to survive as they discuss with each other the fine points of sibling rivalry, diaper changing, discipline and time management. The moms and their children are enrolled in a parent-and-me program at The Discovery School in Reseda.

"The purpose of this is to allow children to learn from being together," says Barbara Shore, director of education at the school. "They develop language skills, gross motor skills--and they model from each other.

"The purpose for the mothers is to make them more comfortable with the job of child-rearing. Parents feel so isolated. This gives them a chance to get out, talk to other parents and do something productive with their child."

Apparently this concept appeals to a lot of parents. Mommy-and-me and daddy-and-me play groups have sprung up at schools, churches and child care centers, and among private groups around Los Angeles. There are many programs in the Valley area.

"These child-parent interaction programs are very popular," says Carolyn Herron, a consultant for parenting/family life education in the Los Angeles Unified School District. "I'd say there are about 100 different classes going on around the district."

The school district's interaction program--which costs parents nothing beyond a possible minimal materials fee--includes parent-child activities in arts and crafts, painting, dancing, music and storytelling. The parents also assemble for a discussion headed by a parent-education teacher.

"A lot of parents want to talk about nutrition, teaching responsibility, appropriate behavior, those kinds of things," Herron says. "And, as parents interact with their children, they begin to understand how they learn. That enhances bonding."

The groups, which typically meet once a week, are for children ages 1 and up, Herron says, although some schools offer infant classes.

In general, parent-child play groups vary widely in scope and cost. The kind of program parents choose may depend as much on whom they run into on the playground as on their particular educational or social needs. Some groups amount to a simple gathering of friends and children at a local park. Others, held in more formal settings, include discussions led by child development experts and can cost up to $20 for a two-hour session.

Jeanne Hansen, a bank vice president and mother of two small children, started an informal play group with a friend at a church playground a few months ago. The group, which has grown to 12 moms and about 20 kids, meets every Friday for about two hours.

The Discovery School offers a more structured atmosphere--for a price. There's a large play area with a wide variety of equipment for toddlers to play on. The group, which includes 12 youngsters, meets twice a week from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuition is $160 a month.

The program is worth the price, said Odile Yerevanian of Calabasas, who enrolled herself and her 2-year-old daughter, Aleen, last summer.

"I wanted to go to a mommy-and-me class," Yerevanian says. "We had just moved here from Chicago and didn't know many people. We've met a lot of wonderful children and parents."

Debra Krasnoff of Sherman Oaks says the play group offers uninhibited time to spend with her 2-year-old son, Alex.

"You don't have to worry about interruptions," she says. "It's very relaxing. There's a time for bonding and a time of freedom."

For all of the benefits reaped by the children in parent-child classes, Diane Wildhaber, who has a master's degree in child development and directs the Children's Place Lutheran Child Development Center in Canoga Park, says a lion's share of the benefits comes to the parents.

"Parents used to get information (about parenting) from friends and neighbors," she says. "Now parents are more isolated. They can get the same information from these classes. It's really a support system for the parent that educates and gives them the chance to socialize."

Adds Annie Feldman of Encino, who enrolled with her daughter, Haley, in a parent-child group in November: "I work 30 hours a week. This has given me a chance to spend more time with my daughter. This is an environment where we both can be happy."

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