For a fun activity for kids from 4 months to 12 years, check out The Little Gym!
For toddlers, a forward roll can come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is a simple and fun exercise of putting hands down, tucking in your chin and rolling on your back, and sometimes it represents that big leap forward -- the one that these little people take -- away from their comfort zone and putting their separation anxieties and that defiant shyness to the test.
Coming from a mother of a super shy girl, who treads like a king within the comforts of her own home and turns meek as a mouse when taken outdoors, The Little Gym has a starry recommendation.
I've seen my girl change in so many positive ways after we enrolled her for the Funny Bugs class, which is aimed at 3- to 4-year-olds. Her physical activities have remarkably improved and our park visits have been revolutionised, I'd say. I see her hanging upside down from bars, going "Oo Oo Aa Aa" like a monkey from under the bench and spreading her hands like wings when trying to balance herself on a wobbly beam. And we've clearly come a long way from the time when she'd sit on a slide's edge refusing to come down on her own.
I've always shied away from exercises; when my child asked me how to get "rolling like a wheel" I was short on words and drew a blank on ideas. YouTube agreed to help but my overprotective motherly instincts kicked in and told me that she could get a crick in her neck or even hurt her head if we came anywhere close to trying out a forward roll. Though contrary to my belief, it took just about two classes at The Little Gym and we have a forward roll champion with us who is now attempting flips holding on to her dad's hands!
Truth be told, I was recommended The Little Gym by several friends of mine before I finally pushed through their giant metal-framed door with a curious toddler in tow. I had surfed through their website many moons ago but my research never went beyond a few touchpad moves. Mostly I'd give up, assuming that my daughter was not ready for such gymnastics -- their fee was a dampener too. For €17.75 a class I wondered what they could possibly teach my tiny tot in an hour that costs me a decent meal of burger and chips at a quality restaurant. This was before I signed up for a trial class and it certainly cleared my mind of those silly comparisons of gastronomical proportions.
The trainers who take these sessions are experts at what they do, seriously! They are at such ease when handling children and (with some sort of divine intervention, I believe) they patiently hold their ground at every nagging step that your child will refuse to take. It amazes me how well in sync they are with their little gymnasts. Annemiek Joosten, the gym director at The Little Gym Amsterdam, tells me that a good trainer-child bond is crucial to them. They recruit the trainers with a lot of caution and care. "All our instructors get an initial training about our philosophy and didactics (how we teach) which is developed by The Little Gym International (USA). We recruit new instructors from different sports academies like the ALO (to become a PE teacher) or Sport en Bewegen and we'd also had good experiences with students from Human Movement Sciences. If we get a good feeling about someone in an interview, the second step of interview is in the class where we assess their interaction with the children. It is essential that the children like their trainers and be comfortable around them. Also, we regularly evaluate our instructors and organise training sessions for them on European level and in-house," she says.
The weekly sessions, which are 45 minutes for children under 3 and an hour long for 3- to 12-year-olds, has its own line-up of activities. It begins with a welcome song, followed by specific activities during free play (with plenty of visual cues to keep them engaged). "The music in our program is specially designed for The Little Gym by its founder Robin Wes and the curriculum director Randy McCoy. We have a bit of storytelling in every song; there are pirates, dinosaurs and sometimes they talk about teamwork. Our curriculum is continuously under improvement and the songs are adjusted accordingly. There are some songs which are sold online too," Annemiek tells us.
The classes Birds, Beasts and Super Beasts are offered to children under 3 years old. Parents are encouraged to be a part of the class, and the emphasis is on introducing an active environment to the child from an early age. Explains Annemiek, "We ask parents to join us for the warm-up and group activities. Parents are role models to their children and it shows the little ones that being a part of a group is okay and fun. In the last parent-child age group, Super Beasts, we start to introduce more activities and encourage the children to follow the instructors. This helps in preparing them for the Funny Bugs, for 3-years plus.
"It is very engaging for parents too. As parents to a small child there are always a lot of notes to exchange and we are always so happy to see playdates sprouting from our classes. We always try and encourage parents to interact." Parents are welcome to stay back for a cup of tea and get talking. One mama to a 2-year-old tells me that their weekly session at The Little Gym is by far her toddler's favourite compared to other programs that her daughter attends. "There is a visible difference in my little one's physical activities since we joined the parent and child classes. She is learning new exercises and is constantly challenging her boundaries with high jumps and funny animal moves."
When you see an environment as nurturing as this one, it is easy to join in the fun and pack off your apprehensions. One forward roll at a time.
Disclaimer: Little Gym 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.
All images used with permission of The Little Gym.