Cast wizard’s spells and swim with dolphins
Walk into Gymboree Lido Center and you’ll hear all kinds of sounds: children and adults singing, hands clapping, feet stamping, bongos being drummed, not to mention occasional bursts of laughter. Sometimes a cranky baby may let out a cry, but very soon he’ll recover and join back in the fun.
Gymboree is a parent-child program aimed at infants as young as 40 days and as old as 5 years, and has been embraced by parents across 27 countries over the past 30 years. Courses are divided into several categories: Play, Music, Art, Yoga and Global Kids. Each is designed to help a child’s physical and intellectual development through interactive activities.
At Gymboree Lido Center, all the sessions are conducted in classrooms equipped with multi-colored foam facilities such as slides, swings and geometric objects. Kids can run around or jump on the padded mattresses without risking a bump on the head or a scrape to the knee. In the Play session, toddlers and parents follow the instructors into a world of imaginary adventures. They climb mountains and roll down slopes; dive into a big blue sea and swim with dolphins; dig into a wizard’s bucket and make magic bubbles; sneak into a chef’s kitchen and make dough loafs.
Music class gives kids a chance to sing and dance – solo and in groups – to all sorts of melodies and rhythms. In one recent class, music instructor Jason Cruz played a simple song on the stereo and led older kids in a sing-along; meanwhile, parents and babies danced in a circle. Best of all, babies in each class get to pick their music maker of choice from a pile of toy instruments. It’s no surprise that most babies pick drums – they make the loudest noise.
“Children have so many peculiar ways to express themselves,” says Cruz, who hails from the Philippines and has been the music and art instructor at Gymboree for three years. “My job is to instruct the parents to observe them and explore the kids’ potential through these fun activities. I also learn a lot from children – it’s just fascinating how they think and interact with each other.”
In Art class, toddlers tap into their inner Jackson Pollock by drawing graffiti on a large canvas and making crafts such as toy spiders created from straws and wool threads, or even piecing puzzles together to form different paintings. In Yoga sessions, the little ones stretch their arms and legs and imagine themselves as cats, dogs and elephants. Global Kids sessions have a regional theme every week – children learn about the music, dance and famous landmarks of a specific part of the world.
In this safe and comfortable environment, kids can express themselves freely and interact with teachers, parents and with one another. “We don’t discipline kids here,” says Carina Hu, an early childhood development consultant for Gymboree. “They’re here to have a great time, make friends and communicate with their parents and instructors in a very relaxed atmosphere.”
It’s not just little ones who benefit from these activities; parents also have something to gain. Xiao Ting, mother of 10-month-old Zhong Zhong and 3-year-old Xiao Xiao, found that regular play classes helped make it easier to part from her children when she has to head to work. “My kids feel really happy here, and they become independent from their parents as they interact with other children,” says Xiao Ting. “At the same time, attending these courses and experiencing happy moments together brings us closer.” Amani Zhang
Gymboree’s regular classes are held daily 9am-6pm, all conducted in English. Parents are encouraged to consult the experts at Gymboree about enrolling their kids in age-appropriate classes. A free trial class is available by reservation online. Special-themed sessions are also offered for parents twice a month.
Gymboree Lido Center
1/F, Lead International Building, 2 Wangjing Zhonghuan Nanlu (by the road-junction between Jiangtai Lu and Jingshun Lu), Chaoyang District (5166 0516)
For additional class types and schedules, visit www.gymboree.com.cn