This is not your everyday indoor play area. Friends Call Me Jim  is something completely new. Mary Petiet visited their magical space close to Museumplein and met the people behind the fun name who are transforming the concept of indoor play for kids.

If you’re over a certain age, you probably remember a time when children were free. Childhood meant being outside on the move discovering the world, yourself, and your body without even knowing it. You were healthy and challenged, and you had adventures. This is the ethos behind Friends Call Me Jim, the new Amsterdam-based gym and playground for kids aged two to seven.  The “Jim” of its name is an acronym for “joy in motion”, and harks back to the freedom we remember having as children. It also defines the mission of this innovative new company: getting kids to discover the joy in motion and gaining confidence to use fun new skills on a daily basis.

Get kids moving and discover the joy in motion while gaining the confidence to use new skills to stay active every day.

Koen Kouwenberg, an Amsterdam entrepreneur who has been working with children since 2005, is the driving force behind Friends Call Me Jim. A father of two, he has always been involved with children, movement and sports. “When I was four or five years old, my mother worried I played only with girls, so she put me into football. I cried. But it was one of the most momentous decisions of my life. I learned sports and movement and playing outside with my friends. I learned to make decisions and take risks, and I learned it on the playground without the grownups. I know what movement and sports have brought me in my life, and that is what drives me,” he said.

Among Koen’s previous ventures was a childcare company called Skol Childcare, which covered 25 locations between Amsterdam and The Hauge. Koen emphasizes movement as a key component of childhood and being human. “We evolved to become human over thousands of years, and in that time children played outside. But in the past ten years or so, the world has changed much more for children than for adults, with the digital revolution, screen addiction, games, and phones. It’s the new world, but there are side effects. Children move much less than they used to, and it’s unhealthy. Cities have become busier and children have lost independence as fear has taken over and children are being more protected,” he explained.

“The basis of the concept is children’s fantasy. As we played outside in our own fantasy worlds, now we are creating that world here for children to play together,” 

~ Koen Kouwenberg 

Friends Call Me Jim is a mostly indoor concept that is attractive to both children and parents using stories and 2D technology to stimulate imagination and movement in children. “The basis of the concept is children’s fantasy. As we played outside in our own fantasy worlds, now we are creating that world here for children to play together,” Koen said.

The Jim team consists of people with backgrounds in physical education, dance, athletics, sports, art, storytelling, and technology. They all share a love of moving, and a drive to help children discover the value and pleasure that physical activity can bring them now and throughout their lives.

The gym is a bright, air-conditioned space painted in soft colors. There is a play area for younger siblings, and a place for parents to sit, have coffee, chat or work while they can watch the kids play through a glass wall. There are two studios. The playscape studio contains traditional playground staples such as boxes, slides, monkey bars, and a climbing wall. The lightscape studio is an innovative virtual world where children will find fantasy characters and scenarios they can get to know and interact with projected upon the wall. The floor beneath becomes alive with lights and projections, which become a course of hurdles and obstacles with music through which children journey together to reach an exciting destination.

Guided by an instructor in both Dutch and English who takes children into the story and tells them what they need to do, the kids learn from and play with the Jim family of five characters. Each character has an attribute of physical literacy scientifically based on how children develop motor skills. Because every child is different both in terms of their physical ability and their personality, the different Jim characters give every child someone to identify with. There is Strong, Fast, Floaty, the Bouncy Twins, and Bendy, and together, the children, characters, coaches, and parents are the Jim Family.

“Friends Call Me Jim is an answer to the lack of movement in the digital city world. We are using a minimum of technology to create a fantasy world with 45-minute long movement programs consisting of ten episodes. One episode goes underwater. Movement will be like this in the big cities because there is no space anymore,” Koen says.

Friends Call Me Jim is 300 members strong and open six days a week, as well as Sundays for birthday parties. They offer after school pick-up service for four and five-year-olds and they host birthday parties. Summer camp runs for the first and last week of the season, 15-19 July and 19-23 August this year. These adventure classes will spend some time outside on the local playground, but home base is inside.

To learn more about Friends Call Me Jim and its programs visit their website or their Facebook page.

Winner of the 2018 Amsterdam Mamas Recommends Award for “Best Toddler Class” and “Best Younger Child Class” 

Note: Friends Call Me Jim has paid to be featured on Amsterdam Mamas because they believe that their services would be of interest and benefit to our readers, and we think so too. For more information on sponsored posts and advertising on Amsterdam Mamas, please see our Advertising and Disclosure policy.

Photo credit: Friends Call Me Jim

Mary Petiet
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Mary Petiet is an author, poet, and freelance writer. Her work is inspired by her native Cape Cod and her experiences in the Netherlands. The author of the recently released Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems, and Owl Magic: Your Guide Through Difficult Times, Mary is also the founder of Sea Crow Press, a small independent imprint curating creative nonfiction and poetry to give her titles a home.