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Ready, Set, Learn!

Music

When's my kid ready? Basic music appreciation can start as early as 6 months. You can introduce kids to instrument instruction around age 4.

Who knew? "Music is great for brain development because it not only enhances kids' understanding of language and vocabulary but it also has patterns, rhythms, and sequences that strengthen memory and math skills," says Sally Goldberg, Ph.D., early-childhood education specialist at the Center for Successful Children, a parent-education organization in Scottsdale, AZ. Other research points to music's mellowing qualities — just listening to it can relax an overly active child, says Goldberg.

Is it for my kid? Music is great for all kids, but may be especially helpful for those with language delays because it engages different parts of the brain than speaking (which is why people who stutter often have no trouble singing), says Church. When Lake Grove, NY, mom Mary DeBiccari enrolled her 2-year-old son in Music Together, she wasn't sure what he'd get out of it because he wasn't very verbal. "Nicholas found his voice through singing," says DeBiccari, 34.

Find a class near you: musictogether.com; musicforaardvarks.com; kindermusik.com.

Swimming

When's my kid ready? You and your kid can participate in splashing and kicking in a pool or in the ocean at 6 months, and then begin solo or group instruction at age 3.

Who knew? Swimming helps build coordination; it's also a huge confidence-booster, says Goldberg. "Kids understand that it's a valuable life skill, so when they master it, they feel extremely accomplished," she says.

Is it for my kid? Learning to swim is great exercise for both mind and body, not to mention a basic survival skill, so all kids should give it a shot. The sooner you get kids in the pool, the more comfortable they'll feel getting their head wet, going in the deep end, and eventually swimming (if you wait too long to start, kids can become fearful). Jodi Arlen, 43, of Bethesda, MD, says her daughter Sydney was initially terrified of the water -- but that all changed when she started taking swim lessons at age 2. "I think because she was doing it with her friends it became less scary and more fun," says Arlen.

Find a class near you: ymca.net; clubswim.com.

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