As Joanne Gross, 32, bobs up and down on a treadmill at XSport Fitness in Merrifield (8190 Strawberry Lane, Falls Church, Va.; Xsportfitness.com), she flips the channel on her machine’s TV to the video feed from the childcare center. Her daughter, Kelsey, 1, is prone to separation anxiety, but for now she’s busy trying to access the climbing maze. So Gross can keep running. “I can check on her through the workout and make sure she’s having a good time,” Gross says. “If she’s not enjoying herself, I can see that and adjust my workout as needed.”
Like Gross, most gym members don’t kid around about getting exercise. That’s why many area gyms are adding ways for parents to feel more comfortable about dropping off Junior, including video feeds and enriching educational programming. “The days when children sat in front of a TV watching ‘Dora’ are more of the old way. Computers, learning and interaction are becoming more and more important,” says Michael Fowler, operations manager at the Sports Club/LA (1170 22nd St. NW; Thesportsclubla.com).
Gym childcare facilities differ from day cares in that kids can’t stay longer than two hours, and parents must remain in the building. Also, most centers, which typically take children 3 months to 12 years old, don’t give bottles or change diapers. But they let parents work up a sweat instead of sweating the small stuff. “It gives moms or dads an opportunity for a much-needed step away,” says Brian Moody, vice president of operations at Results, which entertains 25 to 30 kids at its Capitol Hill location (315 G St. SE; Resultsthegym.com) every day with activities such as story time. “It really makes a big difference in their life to be able to do that on a daily basis without having to line up a baby sitter to come to their house.”
Questions To Ask
Employees at gym childcare centers go through extensive criminal background and drug abuse checks, and they’re all certified in infant and child CPR and first aid. But not all gyms require previous experience with children.
That’s why it’s important to do your homework before leaving your children in a new place. “One good thing to do is spend the first session here with the kids to see how the teacher’s assistants interact and to become comfortable with the person that’s going to be watching your child, just like you would any baby-sitter,” says Fowler. Here are some questions to ask when shopping for a gym baby-sitting service.
* What are your certifications and experience?
* What happens if my child gets hurt or in case of emergency?
* How long do you let my child cry before alerting me?
* How do you contact me?
* How many children are usually here when I plan to come in?
* What’s the caregiver-to-child ratio?
* Can my child eat in here?
For Gym Rats-in-Training
Where: Sport & Health
Cost: Included in family membership
Sport & Health (Sportandhealth.com) has 25 area locations, most of which have Kidz Klubs. The youngest guests relax in swings or bouncy seats, but older kids get moving. “In the toddler stage, we do programming like arts and crafts, ballet and dance classes,” says senior vice president Nancy Terry. At 5 years old, they can also do sports, such as soccer and tennis.
For TV-Free Kids
Where: The Sports Club/LA
Cost: $9 per hour per child
“One thing that really separates us from everyone else is we don’t have a television,” Fowler says. “We’ll interact with them — blow bubbles, read books.” He refers to the four For Kids Only staff members as teacher’s assistants because “we definitely feel and that’s our philosophy that it’s educational. They should benefit from it, too.”
Where: Life Time Fitness
Cost: $6 per child per month
Every half-hour, Michelle Eberhardt’s team at Life Time Fitness in Fairfax (9602 Main St.; Lifetimefitness.com), initiates a new activity, such as yoga and freeze dance. “We don’t make the kids do it, but it’s there,” she says. Freer spirits can climb the giant play set, use the air hockey table or toss a ball around. And when they’re older (6-11), they can venture — with supervision — into the gym to play basketball or soccer. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, students also have the option of getting help with their homework in the computer center, which has 10 Apple desktops.
Written by Express Contributor Stephanie Kanowitz
Photos by Lawrence Luk