My 20-year-old self would be a bit shocked that I’m a The Little Gym owner! At the time, I was studying international business and art at University. Teaching children how to forward roll, somersault, listen or make friends wasn’t on my radar.
Until I met Alexander de Wit, owner of The Little Gym Europe, 15 years ago. He was looking for someone to open a gym in The Netherlands. My partner thought that it might be a perfect fit for me.
I wasn’t convinced. I wasn’t a teacher; I was an art historian. I had never taught children. The only link I had with The Little Gym was my background as a gymnast.
I visited Alexander at The Little Gym Waterloo, and I was struck by the international atmosphere, the positive environment, and the openness. Each parent had a different, wonderful story of why they came and were happy.
One Mum was telling me that their house was very small, and her child had so much energy. The Little Gym was their ‘other’ place where he could burn off steam, learn and laugh, and she could have the break she desperately needed.
I thought, wow, if this helps families in Waterloo, it would definitely help families in an international city like Amsterdam. So, we opened The Little Gym Amsterdam franchise on a Saturday in 2002. And then, in 2009, we opened The Little Gym Den Haag.
Parents are always telling us we have a big impact on their children. One mother was telling me about her twin boys: “You know, they go home and pretend to be you. They are with you an hour a week, but they pretend that you are super heroes at home. You are a little bit magical in their lives.”
And we do try to make our gym magical for the children. We create a fantasy world in the gym where children can do what is natural to them. We provide boundaries and structure, but also the freedom to move in their own world. We get a lot of children that are scared of trying new things. In our gyms, there is no judgement – they feel safe to fail. That encourages learning, confidence, courage and friendships. That all stays with them, they take it home, and they want to re-live it.
Thousands of members have passed through our doors this past 14 years. And many of them have become friends. A group of young Mums – half Dutch and half expats – met at our first Funny Bugs class. They are still close, and one of them even opened her own The Little Gym in Czech Republic.
Getting to know the children, managing the classes, and seeing the children laugh and learn is wonderful. That combination of being a teacher and a listener is a gift in my life. Just last month I was stopped in a coffee shop and proudly shown photos of two young men that were once toddlers in our gym. That was a magical moment.Peter-Paul van ReenenOwner – The Little Gym Amsterdam and The Little Gym Den Haag