The Little Gym at the new community stadium at Monks Cross opened its doors in April, offering classes to children from 4 months to 12 years old. Mumblers Fiona and Ashley take their children (aged 3.5 years and 19 months respectively) to weekly classes, and share their experiences here.
Fiona & Wilf – Funny Bugs class (3-4 years)
Like quite a few children, my 3 year old had lost a lot of confidence in physical skills like climbing and balancing when playgrounds and soft play were closed due to lockdown last year. When I saw that a branch of The Little Gym franchise was opening in York at the new community stadium at Monks Cross, I was keen for him to try it out.
There are different classes depending on the child’s age, so we attend Funny Bugs (age 3-4). At this age, the children are encouraged to participate in the class on their own, although the gym room is glass fronted so parents/carers can see (and be seen by) their children. The teachers are alert to the fact that some children may be shy and hesitant to be on their own at this age, so parents are welcome to come in to comfort their child if that helps to settle them in, and any nervousness is managed sensitively.
Classes are well structured, with the hour-long class split into different activity segments of just enough time to allow the children to have a few goes at something but to continue to engage their attention. The session starts with a 5 minutes free play on the equipment, before going into a group session – depending on the week, this might be using the air track (like a long inflatable pillow) to practice jumping/bouncing; moving or drumming rhythm sticks to music; or physical exercise involving early alphabet/phonics recognition. In these parts the children are often learning skills without realising.
The class is then split into 3 smaller teacher-led groups (each with a maximum of 6 children), with each group focusing on a separate piece of apparatus – this has included high beam, hanging rings, parallel/asymmetric bars, springboards onto mini “vaults”, floorwork including assisted forwards rolls. The children are brilliant at taking their turns fairly, and the teachers keep it moving so that the children aren’t kept waiting long between their turns. The class then comes back together for another group activity before the end of the session – this could be a letter treasure hunt around the room; a game of “Disappearing Islands” (like musical chairs but with hoops); or using a pool woggle to dribble a soft ball around the floor. Whilst classes have a formal structure, the leaders recognise that preschoolers sometimes want to do their own thing, so whilst participation in the exercises are actively encouraged, the children also have some freedom to run about if they wish as long as they are doing so safely.
The facility is brand new so all the equipment is in great condition and the space is bright and clean. The waiting area outside the gym is set up with chairs, tables and sofas so that parents can sit comfortably for an hour to view their children in the class. From a Covid point of view, the instructors wear clear visors so that their full face can be seen. There’s a mask policy for waiting adults. Sanitiser stations are dotted about and the equipment is cleaned between classes. The class teachers are warm and professional, and pull off the tricky feat of keeping a room of excitable preschoolers engaged for an hour in a fun and friendly atmosphere.
We’ve now had a month’s trial period and my little boy’s confidence in his physical ability has absolutely skyrocketed – he loves it. With an annual membership fee per family then monthly membership per child, it’s quite a financial commitment, but for us it’s a good investment for an hour, and comparable moneywise to swimming classes, horse riding etc. If you have to miss a class then there is an option to catch up within the year so that you don’t lose out. No special outfit or equipment is required – children wear t shirts and joggers/leggings, and are barefoot.
Ashley & Pixi – Beasts class (19-36 months)
After a ridiculously long year of social isolation with my children, I was delighted to see the Little Gym pop up in my Mumbler emails. I took my 19month old along for the taster session feeling a little nervous considering her minimal interaction with children her own age has been limited to waves from the trolley in Tesco.
I was totally delighted when we arrived. We took the park and ride up to the new leisure centre, which is situated right next to the stop, and the atmosphere was immediately welcoming and calm, despite the buzz of little ones’ excitement.
We signed up to the monthly membership which allows for one core class a week and the freedom to attend another if we choose (an option available to Under 3s only, and dependent on class availability). Pixi is in the Beasts class which is for children aged 19months – 2.5 years and although she is in the younger age bracket, she was instantly comfortable and confident in exploring the space.
The class lasts 45 minutes which is the perfect timing and is filled with a variety of teacher-led activities and time and space for the children to explore the equipment. We have been for several sessions now and each week the equipment has been alternated. The children are encouraged to participate in the structured introduction and ending, but with the freedom to go off as expected at this age.
The mix of songs, play and opportunity to learn new skills is perfect and we are really pleased that this new space has opened.
The Little Gym, York – York Community Stadium, Monks Cross Drive, YO32 9AGF
Find out More about the classes by clicking the image below: