Let’s Get the Wiggles Out: A Survival Guide to Open Gym for Toddlers

We’ve all been there – it’s 7 a.m. and you’re staring down the remarkably long and dark barrel of a day with no scheduled activity for your toddler. When you find yourself confronting conditions as treacherous as these, you probably start evaluating options that look a little like this: you can (a) crawl back into bed, pull the covers over your head, and desperately pray that your little one’s “if you can’t see me, I don’t exist” theory miraculously morphs into scientific fact, (b) substitute some Bailey’s for your normal coffee creamer and hope for the best or (c) get yourself over to your local gymnastics center for their open gym session so that your child can wear herself out on something other than your sofa. It may not be the most enticing of all the choices, ladies, but let’s explore option C today.

When I first walked into an open gym session at Alamo Gymnastics Center, I surveyed the landscape and my initial impulse was to turn on my heels and walk back out. Boy am I glad I don’t trust my instincts very often.  Where I saw a structureless space with randomly scattered bars of varying heights and a patchwork of red and blue gym mats, my daughter saw a wonderland of activity and opportunity beyond her wildest imagination. I’ll never forget how wide her eyes were as she turned around to look at me in joyous disbelief that I, boring ole mom, had actually transported her to the toddler version of a Caribbean vacation nor how quickly she darted into that gym victoriously screaming at the top of her lungs in what can only be described as a state of wild abandon.

Don't think this looks like the most fun you'll have all week? Well, that's because you're not a 2 year old!

Don’t think this looks like the most fun you’ll have all week? Well, that’s because you’re not a 2-year-old!

Open gym is a pretty succinct but descriptive term for what this activity is: a gym that is open for unstructured play. It is a fabulous gift not only to kids but also to moms as it’s a drop-in sort of thing – no reservations or commitment required; it’s affordable; and best of all, it will wear your children out. Need a more respectable sounding explanation of how you choose to spend your time? Try this on for size: you’re going to work on developing your children’s gross motor skills. Regardless of how you justify it, trust me when I tell you that you need in on this action. There are several gyms in San Antonio that offer open gym sessions for children of various ages, but my experience is limited to the toddler class at Alamo Gymnastics Center, so here are the details:

Essentials

Where: 16665 Huebner Rd, San Antonio, TX 78248

Who: Children under 5

When: Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 am – 11 am.  Try to get there on time as the line can get pretty long (read: frustrating for your child who has been promised a morning of trampoline-infused joy), and there is a limit on the number of children they can admit. I don’t think I’ve ever been there when the cap was met (and I’ve been in a pretty full gym), but I’m told it can happen.

How much: $5 per child/session with the 11th session free using a frequent visitor punch card

Wardrobe Considerations

You: If you want to blend in with the crowd, throw your hair up and your black yoga pants on like you do every day and head out the door. If standing-out is more your style, arrive fully accessorized with a fresh blow out and your best date night make-up.

Toddler: Comfort and ease of movement are of paramount importance. I have on occasion seen children dressed in gym leotards, but it’s certainly not required. Don’t overthink the shoe selection as they will be coming off at the door anyway.

Potential Pitfalls

Chalk bins: If your child is like mine and has a knack for finding things that aren’t meant to be found, you’ll want to watch out for the open containers of powdery chalk that sometimes pepper the floor. It’s amazing how much devastation a fistful of white chalk can wreak on clothes and hair and everything else. It’s pretty enduring stuff. Like glitter…but less glamorous.

Water fountain: My daughter has an insatiable thirst for water. I’m usually ok with that, but I make exceptions in the presence of water fountains. I’m not a germophobe (at all), but even I recoil at the sight of the water fountain at the gym. Maybe it’s the stool that lives underneath the fountain that looks like a swamp thing or maybe it’s the fact that my daughter’s hair pools in the fountain as she drinks from it or that it gets her shirt completely soaked as she leans forward and completely envelops the spout in her mouth. Whatever the case, we went for 9 glorious months before she noticed there was a water fountain in the room. Now I can’t keep her away from the thing. Learn from my mistake – divert attention away from the water fountain using any means necessary.

My daughter after a ridiculously extended session at the water fountain. Note the soaked shirt and smug grin.

My daughter after a ridiculously extended session at the water fountain. Note the soaked shirt and self-satisfied grin.

Other moms: Open gyms can serve as an outlet for you too…a social outlet. The danger is that you might get so wrapped up in commiserating about your lack of sleep or time or ability to focus on anything other than the Kardashian’s next debacle that you forget to keep your eyes trained on your budding gymnast. It happens to the best of us, but try not to let it happen too often or for too long. Watch your kids. This is particularly important over by the rope swings.

Special Circumstances

Pregnancy : If you are in the late stages of pregnancy, the foam pit is not your friend. Avoid it at all costs lest you find yourself drowning in a sea of sweat soaked foam amidst the wide-eyed wonderment of the toddlers teetering on its banks. Seriously – don’t get in the foam pit.  It was manageable for me until my seventh month at which point I did get stuck and had to rely on the kindness of a complete stranger (who risked being pulled in herself by my heft as she hoisted me out) to rescue me. I nearly lost my maternity jeans in the debacle. It was embarrassing.

Foam pit - frenemy #1.

Foam pit – frenemy #1.

Mommy to a newborn: If you want to bring your baby along to play with  your toddler, I have a couple of recommendations: 1) Wear your baby in a sling/pouch/carrier. It’s hard enough to keep up with your whirling dervish of a toddler when you’re on your own much less if you’ve got one arm occupied trying to hold a baby (or a car seat). 2) Bring someone along with you. I’m a big proponent of strength in numbers, so bring a friend or relative or an Olympian sprinter. Someone who can keep up with your biggest little one if you need to rush to the bathroom to change an emergency blow-out or retreat to the waiting area to feed your baby.

What am I forgetting? Do you have any tips about surviving open gym? Have you too faced the shame of getting stuck in the euphemistically termed “marshmallow pit” of death?

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4 Responses to Let’s Get the Wiggles Out: A Survival Guide to Open Gym for Toddlers

  1. Kayla Ryan February 13, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    My daughter goes to River City gymnastics it is a great place but no open gym and there is no foam pit thank goodness

  2. Taylor
    Taylor February 8, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    I had no idea that this existed. Thanks for the useful info! We will have to give this a try before my daughter turns five!

  3. Amy February 7, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    haha we love alamo gymnastics open gym! i have been in the foam pit we call “the many squares.” Another mom quickly suggested we take off the socks because they disappear in there.

  4. Shana February 7, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    I had heard of a similar open gym in Heights, but Alamo Gym is much closer to my house. Thanks for the entertaining info.