I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about The Little Gym for years now. If you follow us on Instagram you know we refer to it as Our Happy Place. Our family is now at the point where we have phased out of the parent-child classes and I wanted to finally share with you exactly why we love The Little Gym – Brooklyn Heights. If you are already a Little Gym fan I think you will relate to some of our experiences. If you are on the fence about joining, I hope this will give you a little insight to what it can offer you and your child. Because we had such an exceptional experience, I decided to sit down with Little Gym teacher, Ms. Marika, to find out just how they have built such a fun environment that is routed in early childhood development and teaches skills way beyond the balance beam.
I can still remember when we first started at The Little Gym – Brooklyn Heights. The weather had just turned cold again and my daughter was about to turn one. We desperately needed an indoor option that would get us out of the house. The Little Gym seemed like the answer. At first glance – it was extremely clean, the staff seemed friendly, and everything was padded so we didn’t have to worry about her falling and getting hurt. But then, I found out how much it cost. I was slightly in shock since this was our first real dive into year-long classes. I remember thinking “maybe this is why people say kids are expensive.” The woman on the phone kindly invited us to attend a trial class. I happily went with no real intention to sign up. I mean, we had definitely not factored this into our budget. As we sat together in a small circle on the big red mat, Ms. Jodi sang the welcome song and Georgia happily began shaking the beans. Within five minutes I knew this place was for us. I remember emailing my friends to see if anyone else wanted to join and joking that they should get used to my wardrobe because I wouldn’t be buying any new clothes for the next several years. Nearly five years later I can easily say The Little Gym has been the best investment (and readjusting of our budget) we have made since having children.
The Little Gym has provided us a safe place for our children to learn valuable skills far superior than a somersault. In small ways - such as waiting their turn in line, pushing themselves to try something new, and cheering on their friends – they are fostering significant character traits. They are building the foundation for key values, such as respect, friendship, and teamwork – all within the fun and friendly environment of play.
We knew all of this didn’t just happen so we sat down with Ms. Marika to find out just how The Little Gym – Brooklyn Heights seemed to know exactly what my children needed at each stage of their young life. We hope this information and our experience helps you make a decision if you are considering The Little Gym.
IT ALL STARTS AT THE MAIN HEADQUARTERS
The Little Gym is a franchise, so the majority of their philosophies and overall approach to early childhood education starts at The Little Gym’s main headquarters. They establish the structure and provide each branch with a class template. All of their core beliefs are routed in fun and usually come with a cute slogan. “’We take Fun Seriously”, “Be a Citizen Kid”, and “We are a Springboard for Life” are just a few. Ms. Marika has been to Little Gym Conferences and expressed very strongly the importance The Little Gym Corporate puts on looking at each child holistically. It’s not just about physical skills, it’s about the child as a whole….physical, emotional, mental, and social. She also really appreciates the way Corporate sets up the classes. First they do things as an entire group, then they break it down into smaller groups, and finally there’s open play. She has seen first hand how this really benefits the child’s experience.
THE AMAZING TEACHERS
The Little Gym – Brooklyn Heights is managed by Charles Kim. He also oversees the branch located in Tribeca. When I asked Marika just how they ensure the framework from Corporate made it to the children of New York City she spoke very highly of Charles and his hiring process. This didn’t come as a surprise to me because we often see Mr. Charles. He’s always holding the door for us or helping move strollers. You can tell he is in charge without micromanaging. Marika said when he hires new staff he looks for a background in child development. Whether it is past child care experience, college classes, or a major or minor in child development, all of the staff that is hired has an interest in children and helping them learn. He almost always hires college graduates, which I personally think makes a big difference compared to a high school student looking for a side job.
Once hired, the staff does in-house training. They are given instruction on what to expect at each age. Ms. Marika said it’s a continual learning experience. First an employee starts in drop off classes with the older children and then goes down to parent/child classes. The senior staff goes to workshops and trainings organized by The Little Gym Corporate.
Ms. Marika talked about how they hire many different types of personalities and backgrounds when it comes to their teachers. There are outgoing teachers, quieter teachers, silly teachers, teachers with dance backgrounds, teachers with gymnastic experience, and teachers that just love children. After The Little Gym many teachers go on to get their Masters or continue to work in child education. Different children click with different teachers.
Ms. Marika believes each child is different so it’s good to have different teachers to choose from. I could see that just in my two kids. Conroy loves to pretend that he’s a super hero, or an adventurer, or an animal. He gets in that world and he wants you to come along for the ride. When we were doing summer camp classes it was the first time he went to The Little Gym without me. At first he was a little sad, but as soon as Ms. Jocelyn realized he was “Gekko” and Conroy realized she was excited to play along, he was immediately ready for me to leave. His imagination continued into the regular year and Mr. Liam happily plays the part of “Cat Boy” while he teaches class. If that doesn’t demonstrate how focused these teachers are on each individual child, I don’t know what does.
Georgia was also up for an adventure, just not as talkative. I still remember the day that she said her name out loud in front of the entire class. For some reason she would get so shy during that part of opening circle. She had no trouble hanging from the high bar or balancing on the beam, but when it was her turn to say her name she would refuse. I truly believe Ms. Kim was equally as proud the day she said it loud and clear. I basically burst into tears.
KNOWING THE NEEDS OF THE COMMUNITY
For us, one of the biggest benefits that I hadn’t previously thought of before joining The Little Gym - Brookyln Heights was the instant community. Knowing the needs of this community is another reason The Little Gym is so successful.
Warning: I’m about to get a little sappy here. For us, The Little Gym was like a safe-zone…a worry-free zone. Yes, it starts with all the padding and the fact there isn’t much the kids could get hurt on, but in continues with the music they play. Especially when we started, it was often music from the 50’s - when life seemed less complicated. On hot days it was the cool air conditioning we needed and on cold days it was the warmth. There was no pressure to be returning emails or cleaning the house because it wasn’t accessible. It was 45 minutes of not checking my phone, not thinking about traffic or bicycles flying by, not concerning myself with anything or anyone else besides my daughter (and later my son).
The Little Gym recognizes that for city kids this space is our “space.” Most of our apartments are small and when it’s too cold (or too hot) for the park this is where kids can be free. This is where the open play is extremely beneficial. In addition to your weekly class, you also gain access to the open play sessions. The Little Gym knows how important this is to families and has even added additional times when there was enough interest.
In our early days at The Little Gym, it was the base of our schedule. I was determined to get my money’s worth, so we would go to our class + one open play per week. I remember one specific time when I was having a horrible day…we had spent the entire morning at the Verizon store trying to figure out some problem. When we left I was spent…and probably on the verge of tears…. we popped into the open play and it fixed everything. I was immediately in the best mood.
Being a stay-at-home (and sometimes work-at-home) mom, The Little Gym provided an escape from home and from work. It was a moment in our day to refocus and remember why I decided to spend my entire day with my child. I would fill with pride when they tried something new. There were constantly little moments of pure happiness…their excitement when the bubbles come out or when they figured out “slap and clap” on their own. I remember seeing older kids climb up to the high bar while their parents would stand by proudly. As I spotted my daughter as through I was an extension of her body, I thought, “how do those parents have so much confidence?”. Then just weeks later, it was me standing back, video taping Georgia as she swung like a monkey without any hesitation. I can easily say The Little Gym helped me grow as a parent as much as it helped Georgia and Conroy grow as kids.
The Little Gym has built a community. Charles stresses the importance of being friendly, caring, and always helping with strollers. This is a huge help for us city dwellers, because our stroller is basically our car – and many times it’s difficult to maneuver. All the staffers are there for us if we need something. There were days I forgot wipes and even one time I forgot a diaper! The Little Gym never hesitates to help a parent or nanny in need. Their bathrooms are extremely clean. Living in Brooklyn, that in itself is a luxury.
THE LITTLE GYM IS FOR EVERYONE
Marika emphasized that The Little Gym is for all children. The focus isn’t to become an Olympian or do everything right. It’s about taking one step at a time, trying new things, and having fun. It’s very easy to switch classes if something’s not working or if your child’s nap schedule changes. They want you and your child to have the best experience possible and it is truly felt.
As a parent, I want to emphasize that The Little Gym is for all types of families. My experience is from the stay-at-home mom’s perspective because that’s my life, but I can say from observation that children who come with nannies, babysitters, and other relatives get to experience it all the same. When we’re in class we are all one. Everyone is on the same page. I’ve found that it’s the perfect place to emphasize the importance of waiting your turn and sharing. This can sometimes be difficult at the playground, but at The Little Gym the rules are set from the beginning and everyone follows them. The Little Gym also makes it easier for working parents to experience class. They have many class options on the weekend and the early classes are perfect for parents who can go in to work a little late. I’ve watched parents start their day beaming with happiness and pride because of the wonderful experience they got to have with their child. One week towards the end of each session Little Gym has “Show Week” where the children get to show off their skills. Everyone is invited to come to class and it’s usually packed with parents, grandparents, and friends there to support their little one.
The Little Gym understands as parents, we are busy. So they have figured out how to be a part of our schedule and our lives without getting in the way. The occasional email about your child is a welcome in your inbox and the option to have a birthday party there is a weight off of some parents’ shoulders.
WE LOVE THE LITTLE GYM
In conclusion, if it’s not obvious already, we love The Little Gym – Brooklyn Heights. It has over delivered on the added joy it has provided to our lives. I’m so happy I was able to sit down with Ms. Marika and find out a little of the behind-the-scenes operations. Knowing all of this now makes it clear just why The Little Gym feels like home to us. The kindness, knowledge, and understanding of the staff are exceptional. When you pair that with the structure and fundamental philosophies for The Little Gym Corporate, you have a winning combination.
I have to thank all of our family and friends who have given gift cards and money to go towards our Little Gym tuition, especially Auntie Rachael. Without those gifts, I really wouldn’t have been able to buy new clothing over the last several years! If you are like us and were concerned about the expense, we highly recommend asking for gift cards towards The Little Gym in lieu of birthday and holiday gifts that will take up space in your small apartment. Even a small amount towards class is helpful. It adds up and can make a true difference in your child’s life.
I hope sharing our experience has helped some of you decide to join The Little Gym and watch your child have a wonderful time. If you see us there, be sure to say hi!!