Sitting in front of the TV isn’t going to keep young children happy for too long, nor is it going to help their development. But playing outdoors in Bangkok isn’t an option for many children either, with a severe lack of wide open space. What’s the solution?
Taking your child to one of the many activity centres spreading across Bangkok could be one way of speeding up your child’s development, and letting them have fun at the same time. Here’s a rundown of what two of them offer.
"We just let them have fun," says Pichet Sithi-Amnuai, director of Thailand’s first Gymboree Play & Music, a centre for children aged just a few weeks to four years old.
Gymboree centres first began in the US in 1976 – there are now more than 420 around the globe – and Bangkok’s first opened last August. The Gymboree philosophy is based on the notion that children "learn" more during the first year of their life than any other, and that 50 per cent of a child’s learning foundation is established by the age of four. Learning here means understanding themselves and the world around them, rather than anything academic – and it’s non-competitive.
The programme involves parents coming with their child for two 45-minute sessions per week for the "Play" programme. One session is planned, and the other is simply an opportunity to use the equipment. Parents and children can also come for the weekly 45-minute "Music" programme.
"The programmes are also something that parents and children can take home with them," says Pichet. "We want the parents to come so they can see the learning curve that their child is on. It’s about children learning to trust their parents, and about parents seeing their children laugh and have fun."
Pichet and his wife Jib hit on Gymboree when looking for some suitable activities for their first child, Prim, who’s now aged three and a half – and liked it so much they bought a franchise.
Now there are over 300 children attending classes – maximum of 15 children are allowed per class – that are conducted in English, from 9 to 4 each day. Teachers don’t have to have an academic background in education, but they do need a background involving children, and a lot of energy, says Pichet. "The first line of our advertisements for teachers says ‘energetic’ rather than ‘degree’."
The Little Gym
Five years ago Patcharapa Suthimai and Kitinan Nisalak Choy, both THAI employees at the time, began searching for an appropriate place for their children to play and learn. Patcharapa has two girls, now aged 7 and 11, while Kitinan has two boys, aged 6 and 8.
"At that time, there weren’t many places where children could exercise in a safe, clean – and airconditioned – environment. We fell in love with the Little Gym program when we saw the video from the US about it," says Patcharapa, who is now co-director with Kitinan. The Little Gym also began in the US in 1976, and now has around 100 centres operating around the world, mostly in the US."Plus, a lot of the programs we looked at were only for children aged up to six – we wanted something that went to an older age."
So they set up their first Little Gym, and last year opened their second. Classes are tailored for children aged from four months to 12 years old, seven days a week, with a maximum number of 14 children per class. English is the lingua franca, with some Thai and Japanese spoken too. Parents come to class with children aged up to three years old.
Like Gymboree, The Little Gym stresses non-competitiveness in its programs. "We have a motto – you don’t have to be the best, you just have to try your best," says Patcharapa. "Gymnastics is the basis for all activities – through gym children learn coordination, flexibility and balance. And if we can instill a love of sports into a child and they enjoy exercise, they’ll also learn how to take a chance. They’ll develop self-confidence in doing things."
Staff at The Little Gym must have a degree in physical education. "That was the thing that we were scared about at first – finding teachers. Gymnastics is not something that anyone can teach. You also need to have a love of children, and patience," says Patcharapa.
Gymboree Play and Music
Citi Resort 39 Annex
181/9 Soi Promsri 1
Tel: 662 7662
Cost: Annual fee Bt2,500 for both music and play, or Bt1,000 for music only. Then Bt1,500 per month (8 sessions) for play, and Bt1,000 per month (4 sessions) for music.
The Little Gym
147/2-3 Baan Prompong Condominium
Tel: 260 4083-4
622 Floor 8/4 Emporium Tower
Tel: 664 8994-5
Cost: Annual fee Bt2,500, then Bt1,300 to 1,620 per month (4 sessions) depending on age.