By Diane Ako
Someone in Kailua just celebrated a first birthday... but what, no baby luau? Well, it's not a kid. It's a kids' gym!
MyGym in Kailua opened last summer. The first thing you notice when you walk into MyGym is the bright, primary colors on each wall. And the amazing gym equipment. Ropes, ladders, slides, trampolines, ball pits, swings, and more. It looks like kid heaven.
“My Gym has been in business for over 25 years so all this equipment is tried and true. It’s all custom-made for MyGym. It’s age appropriate and safe – as you can see, it’s padded. It’s also bright and colorful so it stimulates children to climb and want to try things out,” explains owner Emily Pick, who opened the facility in July 2008 with husband Tom.
For a monthly fee, you can bring your child to one 60 minute structured class and three “free plays” a week. The gym caters to children from six weeks old to 13 years old. Up until age three and a half, a parent has to participate in the class as well.
Hawaii Kai mom Nicky Oxley drives all the way over to take her 15 month old daughter, Jaime. "It's the cleanest, with the friendliest staff. I love their jungle gym equipment, and that everything is new. I checked out every other kids' center before I signed up for this one. While there are closer facilities to my house, I don't mind driving the extra distance."
Pick says, “We incorporate not only the physical development but the emotional and cognitive development as well. It’s not a space where they can run amok and meet other kids. We have structure so the kids are challenged. There’s an opportunity to really succeed and learn.”
Child experts agree. Clinical psychologist Dr. Steven Choy, who has been working with young children for a quarter century, says places like MyGym are “ideal” because they let children play and learn. “Studies show movement, drama, and music stimulate cognitive development. Scientists aren’t sure why, but they have found that physical exercise helps building childrens’ brains.”
Parenting consultant Kathy Bentley of Kathy’s Parenting Solutions echos Choy’s sentiments. “Children learn through movement and interaction. And, I like that they tell the parents what each exercise is developing; for instance, that putting out this tunnel will help with spatial development.” She adds, “It’s also a good place for parents to meet other parents. You get to talk, share ideas, and learn as a parent.”
In the structured class, perpetually cheerful staffers have a routine they run the kids through. Class starts with “Circle Time” in which all the parents sit with their child around the perimeter of a big red circle on the carpet.
“We have an unparalleled student to teacher ratio,” points out Pick. “We never allow more than 18 children per class, and we always have two teachers on the floor. Any time there are more than 15 kids, we have three teachers on the floor. We make sure each kid gets individual attention and that we maintain a safe and fun environment.”
After parents introduce themselves, the teachers sing songs that help the kids learn about, say, their body parts. After this brief hello, the teachers put on some perky music and set the kids free to play for a bit.
While the kids play on their own, teachers set up a game for the children to explore. It varies each time, but they’re all designed to teach the kids something. For instance, they once put a stuffed animal at the top rung of the built-in wall ladders, and encouraged the children to climb to the top to get the prize. This, announced the teachers at the start of the game, taught motor skills and strength.
In the next segment of the class, they bring out toys in a big turtle shaped bin. It’s called Turtle Time, and the teachers encourage the parents to sit away from the children to foster independence. After this is over, they put on the Clean Up Song and teach the kids to help put away the toys. I’m sure all the parents appreciate that!
Finally, they end with a song and a kiss from a hand puppet. It’s wonderful theater for the children. Sometimes Pick herself teaches a class, which is a treat because she is a trained thespian. She has a degree in fine arts from Carnegie Mellon University, and worked for years in Honolulu Theater for Youth (you may remember her as Emily Tam). To keep her skills fresh, she sings with dance band Paradise & Company.
The facility is ever changing. “We reset all the equipment weekly so every time the kids come in it’s an entirely new place. With childrens’ attention spans being short, it keeps them engaged and stimulated. And, it’s fun!” says Pick.
Pick reminds me that kids’ play is, well, much more than just kids’ play. “The kids learn socialization skills. They learn how to feel fantastic about themselves- that’s the most important one. They learn about fine and gross motor coordination, about strength, balance, imagination and creative play.”
That’s just for the toddler class. “The older kids learn how the body works; nutrition, skeletal and muscular system, and how a healthy lifestyle can enhance your quality of life. We really lay the groundwork for living a healthy lifestyle,” says Pick.
At age three-and-a-half, the children attend classes alone. Pick elaborates, “We want to start encouraging kids at that age to develop a sense of independence and to feel like they’re doing it themselves. It’s also helping get them ready for school.” If parents want to, they can watch from the lobby.
Currently, 250 children are signed up at MyGym, which makes a parent wonder about hygiene. Pick anticipates this common question. “If we aren’t teaching, we’re cleaning. We use non-toxic cleaning products. In fact MyGym Enterprises partnered with a cleaning products company called BabyGanics that’s completely environmentally friendly and green so we’re incorporating that into the gym.
Every morning when we come in, we deep clean. In between classes we sanitize. At the end of the day we deep clean. Once a week we take apart the whole gym and everything gets really scrubbed down top to bottom- the bathroom, lobby, everything.”
Pick and her staff of eight spend – get this – three hours a day cleaning. She can come to my house any time! “Everyone knows their job. We put music on. We make it fun. It goes by pretty quickly. It just becomes part of your day.”
She hopes to expand to Honolulu and Kapolei, with the goal of opening her second gym in a year.
If you mention you read about the gym in this blog, MyGym will give you a free first class and $25 off the membership fee!
Enchanted Lake Shopping Center
1020 Keolu Drive, Suite C-7A
Watch Emily Pick, KHNL's parenting expert, every Wednesday morning around 6:45 am on Hawaii's NBC affiliate, Channel 8! She presents cute crafts and kid friendly toys and tips to keep your little ones happy and healthy. Her video segments are uploaded to khnl.com "Dash & Diane."