Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Little Gym or Gymboree?

Some of my mommy friends have been asking me whether Gymboree is better than The Little Gym or the other way around. Although both play/learning centers have similarities, they differ in their program formats and approach. 

Gymboree and The Little Gym are both international franchises and are popular worldwide. They also offer various programs that help promote physical, social and mental skills for early childhood development. 

Caleb has attended classes/ programs in both centers so I have a pretty good idea on how they differ. But before I share my review on each, let me first give a background on each and the programs they offer. 


GYMBOREE PLAY & MUSIC

Gymboree claims to be the global leader in early childhood development programs. It has over 700 locations in 36 countries, offering various classes that help develop cognitive, physical and social skills for children ages 0-36 years. Gymboree offers 6 types of classes. All classes are clustered according to age level.

1.  Play & Learn - open to kids 0 -3 yrs old years old (6 levels)  

2.  Music - open to kids 6 months to 5 years old (3 levels)

3.  Art - open to kids 18 months to 5 years (3 levels)

4.  Sports - open to kids 3-5 years

5. Family - multi-aged learning for family members to enjoy with their little ones

6.  Pre-School - open to kids 3-5 years 

MEMBERSHIP/ RATES:


Before you can enroll your child to Gymboree Play & Learn, you first have to be a member.  Annual Membership Rate is P2,000 and the Lifetime Membership (valid until the child turns 5 years old is P4,000.  As a member, you get to enjoy the following benefits:

  • 20% discount on gym play. Current Regular Rate is P350. Members only pay P280 per hour of gym play. 
  • 5% discount of birthday and theme parties
  • Free Gym Play Coupons (Annual members are given 5 gym play coupons while Lifetime Members are given 10 gym coupons.)
  • Gym Membership can be used worldwide
  • Freebies and Discounts from valued partners
TUITION FEES:
  • P3,600 - once a week class for 4 weeks
  • P6,600 -  twice a week class (or 2 programs) for 4 weeks
LOCATIONS IN THE PHILS:

GMA:  Eastwood, SM Megamall, Robinson's Magnolia Place, Trinoma, Greenbelt 5, Manila Polo Club, Alabang, Hotel Sofitel and Rockwell

VISMIN: Banilad Cebu, Parklane Cebu, Lanang Davao City, SM Gen San

(Source: http://www.gymboree-ph.com)


REVIEW:

I first took Caleb to Gymboree only for gym play when he was just over a year old. They had a branch then in Serendra which was quite convenient for us since I used to do my grocery shopping in Metro Market Market.  I chose to get an annual instead of the lifetime membership as suggested by a friend. This turned out to be a good decision because I think that kids can easily "outgrow" playing in the gym. I rarely see big kids in Gymboree, probably because older kids like a bit more challenge - higher slides and ramps, more difficult obstacles and wider space to run about. After a couple of months of taking Caleb to our weekly play date, he became familiar with Gymboree and actually looked forward to going there.

When we attended one of their open house events held in Fully Booked BGC, Gymboree gave away discount voucher to the participants worth P1,000 that can be used for their classes. 

Among all the programs they offer, I was most interested in their Play & Learn and Music class.  Before I enrolled, I took the liberty to schedule a trial class first. The trial class came with a P700 fee, but it was later deducted to the total tuition fee so it was like getting 1 free class.

Both classes have different themes each week. For the Music class (M3), kids were introduced to different types of instruments and genres. They made use of several props like scarves while they danced to slow and fast music. Caleb also learned basic concepts of sound like rhythm and beat while the kids mimic the beat with their instruments.   

MUSIC CLASS - Level 3

Exploring different musical instruments in Music class
Dancing with scarves in Music class

PLAY & LEARN LEVEL 5

The Play & Learn class involves more physical activity while promoting creative movement and imagination and cognitive development. Each week, they have a theme where kids get to explore the gym area through pretend play activities. 

Caleb enjoyed the pretend play activities so much. He particularly liked the theme where they pretended to be dogs searching for "bones" (a game of hide & seek), playing in the garden, lining up for a bath and finally taking a nap. He also liked the singing. It is here where I learned that singing/music is an important tool in teaching kids. Caleb learned to pack away his toys through the songs we learned in Gymboree. 

The staple activities in the Play & Learn are the bubble time and parachute time. Little did I know that the simple thing of popping bubbles actually improve kid's hand and eye coordination while the parachute time helps color recognition.      

Bubble Time

Under the parachute in Play & Learn class


Overall, I'd say that Caleb benefited much from attending classes in Gymboree. The teachers were all friendly, well-mannered, patient and good in communicating with young children.  If you're considering of enrolling your child in Gymboree, let me recommend the following:



1.  Although you can enroll your child as early as 6 months, I personally think that 9 months is the best age to start.  


2.  If your objective is to help your child improve his socialization skills, make sure that you sign up for classes that have at least 4 kids who attend regularly


3.  It would help if you first take your child to gym play so as to familiarize him/her with the environment before enrolling in a class



4. If you can, I suggest that you attend the class with your kid. If you have work, schedule the class on a Saturday. A lot of kids there just go with their yayas or caregivers (even if they have the time to stay with their kids). Remember, they grow up too fast! Don't miss out on the opportunity to bond and learn together while they are still young.
THE LITTLE GYM
The Little Gym is a fitness and development center for children ages 4 months to 12 years. They pride themselves with their motor development and gymnastics-based programs that promote strength, flexibility,balance, rhythm, motor skills, muscle tone as well as good listening, cognitive and socialization skills.  The Little Gym offers the following program:

1.   Parent- Child Development Programs - 6 months to 3 years old, 
4 Levels

2.  Pre-School and Kindergarten Developmental Gymnastics - 3 to 6 years, 3 levels and 1 intermediate level by invitation only

  
3.  Grade School Recreational Gymnastics - 6 to 12 years, 1 level and 1 intermediate level by invitation only 

4.  Sports Skills Programs - 3 to 6 years, 2 levels 

5.  Martial Arts Program - 4 to 12 year, 2 levels


MEMBERSHIP/ RATES:

Annual Membership:
  • P1,960 per child for the first family member
  • P1,512 per child for other siblings in the same family
Quarterly Tuition Fee:
  • P14,180 for once week class (12 sessions)
  • P23,880 for 2x a week class or 2 programs (24 sessions)
LOCATIONS IN THE PHILS: Makati (Fort area), Pasig-Mandaluyong and Alabang

(Source:  www.thelittlegym.com.ph)


REVIEW:

The first time we tried the parent-child class in The Little Gym, I knew that their program will help improve Caleb's motor skills development.  I was impressed with how the other kids could confidently hang on bars, cross on balance beams and roll like tiny gymnasts. But more than the physical skills,  I wanted Caleb to have the same confidence that the other kids seemed to have. 

Randy and I are both active and it is our desire for Caleb to also engage himself in sports later on. But we figured that before we can introduce him to any kind of sport, he has to first learn how to let go of his fears and feel confident about what he can accomplish.

The Little Gym also has similar activities with that of Gymboree, particularly the bubble and parachute time. They also have a different theme per week. But unlike Gymboree, The Little Gym focuses on motor skills development while incorporating movement, gymnastics, sports, games, listening, interaction and socialization.  

As expected, Caleb was a little dubious to try some of the gym activities, particularly jumping and crossing the high balance beam. I did not want to pressure him so I just let him focus on the skills he enjoyed  like the forward rolls and bar swings. 

His teacher was very patient with him. Although Caleb refused to try some of the activities at first, she never pressured him. Instead, she offered alternatives for him to try, consistently affirmed his strengths and continued to encourage him to take risks. At the end of the first term, the kids had a show day/class "graduation." His teacher also gave him an assessment of his strengths and areas for improvement.


Showing off his strong muscles as he hangs on the bar


Our ninja warrior hurdles the obstacles of the spider web


Learning how to balance on his own in the low beam

To personally encourage him, I would take videos of the activities/ skill of the day and show it to him at home. I helped him practice on his jumps and always assured him that I believe he can do it. Pretty soon, he was able to overcome his fear of falling and also became more confident in trying new activities.

I could only wish that I took Caleb to The Little Gym when he was younger so I could have known about his inhibitions earlier on.  However, I'm glad that he is now more confident of his own abilities and potential.


No more hesitant to cross the high balance beam


He is now confident to jump on his own!


THE VERDICT

So to answer the question which one is better... Gymboree or the Little Gym? I'd say... go try both programs and decide for yourself. Although they have similarities, they are different in many aspects. It all depends on you and your child.  Perhaps, these personal observations which can help you decide:

1. Taking your child to The Little Gym will require you to be more patient and active (since you will have to teach your child to perform unfamiliar skills, help him hang on bars, run around with him, etc.) Be prepared to run, sing, dance and jump with your kid.  I did it while I'm pregnant so I think you can too!   

2. The teachers at the Little Gym seem to be more experienced and trained in handling children. The center proudly displays the credentials of their teaching staff and all of them majored in child development or education. All of them are also involved in sports like martial arts or gymnastics.

3.  The Little Gym's gym area is more apt for big kids to explore while Gymboree seems to appeal more to younger kids. 

4.  Cost of tuition per class in The Little Gym and Gymboree are almost at par. 

5.  Unlike The Little Gym, Gymboree is open for gym play outside of class. If you enroll your child to 2 programs/classes a week, you can bring your child to play for free even if he/she does not have a class.

6. Gymboree has more centers/ branches, most of them are conveniently located in malls. Although you only take your child to class in one branch, you can take him/her to any branch for gym play.

7. Gym Play in Gymboree is also open to non-members. This means you can bring a friend/ sister/brother to play with your child.

8. Gymboree members also have free gym access to other Gymboree centers worldwide.

Whatever learning center you choose, I only have one recommendation. That is to personally join your child to class if you can.  No learning center/ school can ever replace the learning that you can impart to your child. Savor the opportunity and you would be surprised how much you can also learn.





Monday, July 7, 2014

Getting Started In Homeschooling

One of my goals as a stay-at-home mom is to make sure that my little one's day is fun, productive and purposeful. To accomplish this, I had to set a schedule that is most suitable for his temperament and personality. 

It was a challenge for me at first, particularly because we did not have a household helper since he was a year old until he was 2 years and 8 months. Attending to my toddler's needs while I juggle household, wife duties and my freelance work was something that I had to master over time. 

With much patience and determination, I started to "informally" teach Caleb about numbers, letters and phonics when he was a year and a half. We used books, educational DVDs and toys, but more importantly, we used common objects inside and outside of the house to supplement his learning experience.

I am blessed that Caleb is a fast learner and has very good memory. He is hungry to learn new things which motivated me to continue teaching him. He mastered the letter sounds in just 1 and 4 months and his vocabulary was extensive for a child his age.  But aside from numbers, shapes, colors and the alphabet, I also taught him to take on small responsibilities at home like throwing the trash, packing away his toys, keeping his shoes in the shoe cabinet, putting away his dirty clothes in the laundry basket, even cleaning up after his spills. 

Learning about the Letter 'C' using common things around the house

Caleb counts our grocery items before mommy puts them in the pantry cabinet

When Caleb turned 2 years old, a friend suggested that I consider the homeschool program called "Little Hands To Heaven."

I have to admit that I had my qualms about homeschooling. My main reservation was my ability to fulfill the responsibility of teaching my own child. I knew it was going to take a lot of time, patience and understanding. Nevertheless, I kept my heart open to God's leading and just prayed for my concerns. 

God revealed a lot to me during those times. First, He asked me to surrender my doubts and feeling of inadequacy. Second, God assured me that if I trust him, He will be the one to give me the ability, patience, creativity and wisdom I needed. Third, God dealt with my concerns on homeschooling. One major concern I had is until when I should homeschool. Should we just do this only for preschool and then send him to a traditional school when he turns 5 years old? God did not give me a definite answer, but he did impress upon my heart to take it one day at a time and just trust him in every step.

Despite my apprehension, God's direction for me to homeschool Caleb was very clear. After doing my own research, I decided to buy the materials needed for the Little Hands To Heaven Program in our last visit to the US.


Little Hands To Heaven Program by Carrie Austin, M. Ed. with supplementary resources - Small Talks About God and A Child's First Bible by Kenneth N. Taylor, complete volume of Focus On The Family's The Singing Bible Audio CD

We have been on the program for the past 6 months and so far, Caleb has learned and matured a lot since we started. 

What I liked best about the program is that it is both bible-based and educational. Caleb is learning about different characters and stories in the bible while applying them to practical lessons for values and character formation. I love how the program is able to integrate the basics of preschool like phonics, letter recognition, math and art skills through fun activities and projects that include dramatic play, active exploration and music time.

On my part, I like how the program is made simple and easy to follow. The activities are already laid out for every session, but it also allows you to be flexible and creative. The lesson for the week is centered on a particular bible story or character and letter of the alphabet. It may seem repetitive, but this makes it easier for my preschooler to remember the lessons. 


Baby Moses in a basket art work. He traced the dotted lines of the letters 

Learning about letter formation using grains
For now, we are doing our "school time" three times a week and I take him to The Little Gym for his physical and social activity once a week. I think that he already got used to the habit so we can already try to do it five times a week when he turns 3 years old next month.

I am glad that I took on the challenge to homeschool because nothing else gives me a greater sense of fulfillment than by taking an active part in the learning development of my child.  Sometimes I still get overwhelmed by the thought of how more complicated it is going to get, especially when I give birth to our second child. But as God has impressed upon me, I just need to take it one day at a time and simply allow Him to empower and direct me.