Learning and growing at The Little Gym

Activity: Franchise provides non-competitive programming for children from 4 months to 12 years

of the HeraldJanuary 29, 2014 

Nayara Shin loves anything that has to do with dancing and music. It’s why her mother, Gisllene, registered her at The Little Gym of Puyallup’s Jazzy Bugs program, which combines ballet, tap and gymnastics.

“She loves it,” Gisllene said of her 3-year-old daughter. “I love that she is meeting other kids her age, and like that she is listening to instruction and learning how to tell her body how to do specific moves.”

Gisllene said she plans to put Nayara in The Little Gym’s hip-hop class when she turns 4.

“She is so musically and artistically inclined, and I can see her going to that,” Gisllene said.

Gisllene is one of more than 200 parents who have joined The Little Gym of Puyallup since it opened in 2003. It’s a franchised experiential learning and physical development business with more than 300 locations worldwide. It provides programming that gets children from 4 months to 12 years active, thinking and socializing.

The Little Gym’s slogan is “serious fun.”

“Kids are having fun, but there is serious growth going on,” said Tom Watrous, the operator and owner of The Little Gym of Puyallup. “The serious side is what is important to parents.”

Watrous and his wife, Lori, took ownership of the Puyallup location on Jan. 1. The family has a personal connection to The Little Gym franchise. Tom said he and Lori brought their twin sons and daughter up through the program. Their sons are now 15 and their daughter is 17.

“A couple of my kids went on to be competitive gymnasts, but all of them have a great confidence in their abilities,” Tom said. “(The Little Gym) provides a great foundation for that.”

The Little Gym was founded in 1976 by Robin Wes, who opened the first location in Bellevue. Tom said Wes’ background is in gymnastics, but he didn’t like how he was trained.

“Feedback he received was always negative,” Tom said of Wes. “He wanted positive feedback throughout for children. He quickly realized that music was a great way to keep kids engaged.”

Wes developed curriculum-based activities that hit on 3-dimensional learning: “Get Moving!” for physical development; “Brain Boost!” for learning and problem-solving development; and “Citizen Kid!” for leadership development.

Watrous said curriculum is designed at the corporate office in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Music is arranged for each program. A season of programming is 40 weeks long and follows the regular Puyallup School District schedule. About 25 classes are offered weekly and are non-competitive, so children can progress at their own pace, Watrous said.

Programs offered throughout the school year and during the summer include parent/child classes; pre-kindergarten and grade-school gymnastics; dance and sports skills. Karate is offered at some locations.

“Classes can go up to 18 kids and, on average, it is eight kids,” Watrous said. “Our ratio is no more than eight kids per instructor. At our Puyallup location, it’s about six kids per instructor.”

Watrous said the gymnastics curriculum is based on skills sanctioned by USA Gymnastics. The Little Gym is a member of USAG, he said.

When Watrous and his wife had their kids go to The Little Gym of Auburn, he said the building of physical skills was evident.

“They learn different skills, like problem-solving,” Watrous said. “Starting so young, they got to interact with other kids and learned what it’s like to share and that it’s OK to step out of their comfort zone.”

Watrous said he plans to grow The Little Gym of Puyallup’s schedule of existing classes.

“We’re a good place for kids to learn, grow and make new friends,” he said.

If You Go

The Little Gym of Puyallup is located at 3850 S. Meridian, Suite 6, on South Hill. To learn more about classes or other programs, visit www.thelittlegym.com/puyallupwa/pages/default.aspx. For more information, call 253-435-7400.

Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at andrew.fickes@puyallupherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.

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