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January 6, 2004 > The Little Gym

The Little Gym

The Thrill of Victory without Defeat

Ann Rossi's visit to a friend in North Carolina turned out to be a life-altering experience. While there, her friend's young son kept asking if it was time to go to gym class. Although his class was held weekly, he was impatient and excited in anticipation of his next visit. Ann was fascinated. "I wanted to see what this was all about and on the day of my departure, I went with her to pick him up and was amazed by the facility." From that glimpse of The Little Gym, Ann decided to look into the concept and liked what she saw. "I loved the whole positive environment; to see the kids 'light up' when they can do something."

The Little Gym features an open, clean, well padded room that includes balance beams, parallel bars, steps, and plenty of room for group activities such as relays that encourage "monkey walks," cartwheels, "donkey kicks," and headstands. A "party room" is located on the opposite side of the waiting area. As parents show up with their children, many greet each other while excited kids quickly stow shoes and socks along with extra clothing in a storage cubicle then wait impatiently for a staff member to open the door to the gym after some brief comments on safety. Their bright eyes and squeals of laughter while running and jumping speaks volumes.

The Little Gym program focuses on kids, infants to age 12, helping to develop motor skills while having fun in a noncompetitive environment. Classes are loosely grouped in parent/child classes for infants and toddlers; pre-kindergarten and progressing into advanced levels for grade-school children. The emphasis is on individual advancement at a child's own pace, the concept is to create a non-threatening atmosphere where all are welcome at their own level of achievement. Although The Little Gym programs are arranged for infants from 4 months to 12 years of age, Ann says that currently, children at the local facility is designed for children from10 months to 12 years old. Younger age group classes are 45 minutes in length, while classes for those over 3 years are 1 hour.

For younger ages, 10 months to three years, parents participate with the children. Ann says that the more the parents do, the more the kids will do. "The children look up to their parents as role models." From ages 3 to 6 years - preschool, kindergarten - The Little Gym programs are geared more toward separation and allowing the kids to work more on their own. Parents are usually not involved in these classes, but the open atmosphere of the gym, with plenty of windows for viewing, allows parents to watch. Ann adds, "Everything is done at the children's pace. When they are ready, they will do it. Eventually it all comes together!"

Trained staff "team" members interact with the kids to keep them busy in structured play and encourage group and individual play. Ann says that The Little Gym encourages listening skills and cooperation and, as the kids progress, they become confident and able to follow directions while developing an expanded trust in their physical abilities. Each class follows a lesson plan and is geared to developing specific motor skills. A gymnast on staff assures that the programs are conducted safely.

Older kids enjoy the atmosphere at The Little Gym giving them a chance to improve motor skills and agility without the pressure, demands and expectations of competition. Kids are busy, but directed so they can use their energy in positive and constructive ways; group games, completing an obstacle course or work "one-on-one" with an instructor on a specific skill. Ann knows that if the kids are idle, problems can develop. Lesson plans and designed with that in mind. "Every week, we have a different theme. Every week, we rearrange the gym and every week our songs and musical activities change. But, every week, we continue to build and improve gymnastic skills."

Watching Ann and her team deal with The Little Gym participants gives assurance that the "emergencies" of youngsters are defused easily and with understanding and compassion. Watching a camp session is a blur of movement where children laugh, dance, sing and are having a great time while staff is carefully managing their activity and making sure all are included no matter what their skill level.

Classes are arranged for fall and winter/spring "semesters" that span approximately 21 weeks. A summer session lasts about 10 weeks. Although each class is designed to develop specific skills and reinforce previous activities, each gymnast becomes proficient at his or her own pace. If a gymnast joins the class during the semester, there is a range of activity and expertise so new members will feel welcome. There is a small annual family membership fee and tuition payments can be arranged in installments, if desired. Although nonmembers can participate in camps and "Parent Survival Nights," members are given a discount.

During holiday and summer vacation periods, The Little Gym holds "camps" that give children a chance to spend some time working off extra energy while providing a welcome respite for parents. Camps include obstacle courses, group activities, arts and crafts and snacks. Boredom is banished by the exuberant atmosphere where everyone is introduced and shows the group something they can do like make a funny face, skip or dance. Social interaction continues while campers are engaged in running, jumping, shimmying, tumbling and balancing.

Music geared to the activities accompanies the bright colors and excited movements of kids truly having a good time. Activities are geared to a theme such as "pirates" or related to the time of year. For instance, sliding along a balance beam is a snowboard move in winter while other movements may be a skating, skiing or mountain climbing movements. A cool down period allows kids to calm down with an arts and crafts project, a snack and group games in the gym before parents reunite with their kids. "Parent Survival Nights" are also scheduled on some Friday nights to help parents and kids spend a little quality time in their own environments.

The Little Gym specializes in unique birthday parties. These are private, fully supervised events that are filled with music, games and a fun obstacle course. Ann says that parents are often surprised at how easy it is to hold the party at Little Gym. From invitations to supervision, set-up and clean-up, The Little Gym team does it all.

Watching kids on the gym floor confirms the validity of the Little Gym philosophy. Ann says, "We use a lot of positive reinforcement with 'high fives, yeas, clapping and whatever gives encouragement. I don't go to work anymore, I go to play. I have a good time." With a smile, she adds, "I get to be a kid again."

The Little Gym
5700 New Park Mall Rd., Newark
(510) 794-6660

Note: Ann Rossi and The Little Gym team invites the community to an Open House Saturday, February 7th from 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.

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