Martin Petrov, owner, on how this unusual place helps kids be stronger, smarter and have some serious fun
A healthy mind in a healthy body is a millennia-old ideal in education. The Little Gym is a modern way to achieve this ideal. The international franchise teaches children aged from 4 months to 12 years not only gymnastics, but also how to communicate, be a team player, learn, overcome their shyness and much more. The Little Gym appeared in Bulgaria in 2017, thanks to the enthusiasm of Martin Petrov. We talked to him to learn more about this unusual, and highly effective and fun way to help our children be healthier, stronger, more active and aware of their physical and social environment.
The Little Gym is an international franchise established 46 years ago, with over 400 locations all over the world. However, its Bulgarian branch opened as late as 2017. How did you decide to open a kids' gym in Bulgaria?
I first came across The Little Gym when my younger daughter was part of the program in The Netherlands. At that time, I had started considering a career change – from the formal, lawyerly world of international criminal courts to something that benefits children and supports their growth. The Little Gym seemed to provide the perfect opportunity.
I could see the sparkles in my daughter's eyes after each class, how she grew more confident, physically stronger and more emotionally balanced. And above all, having so much fun while acquiring new skills. Realizing that The Little Gym was an international franchise, I decided to bring it to Bulgaria so that Bulgarian kids could also have access to the world-famous educational program while expat kids, already familiar with it, could socialize and make new friends in a familiar environment.
What makes the activities in the gym on 118 Bulgaria Boulevard different from other kids activities?
The purpose-built, bright, colorful, and professionally equipped gymnastics facility is the obvious difference that our clients notice. Our gym is – dare I say – amongst the most modern facilities for children in the country. There, parents can observe the classes while enjoying a cup of coffee or tea. But what makes the real difference is the patented child development program, taught by specially trained instructors. The program is based on the so-called 3-dimensional learning and helps children develop their physical, cognitive, and social skills all at once. To this end, our classes follow structured weekly lesson plans that build upon and further develop freshly acquired skills, consistent with the recommendations of leading child development institutions for each phase of the child's development. Our teaching methodology promotes learning through play in a non-competitive environment where each child is treated with respect and advanced to the next level at their own pace. As a result, we grow concrete skills and parents observe measurable results.
For children with what abilities and talents is The Little Gym?
Quite the opposite – every child is welcome at The Little Gym. We do not create professional athletes. Our goal is to develop every child's full potential regardless of their physical capabilities or the challenges they may be facing at any given time. Every child is different and various factors affect their development. We therefore allow children to grow skills at their own pace while stimulating them to try new things and give their best – not be "the best." This leads to an upward spiral where the more they try, the better they become, and the better they become, the more they want to try. All in growing their confidence that they can overcome any challenge. While not our main focus, we also work with children with special educational needs who, evidence has shown, benefit tremendously from the program.
What skills in children are developed by The Little Gym program?
While at first sight at The Little Gym we teach gymnastics, sport is just a vehicle, a tool that we use to help children develop key physical, cognitive and social skills. In addition to locomotor skills, children develop strength, balance, flexibility, and space orientation. These are crucial skills to acquire in the very early childhood, which is why they are the focus of our classes for children 4 months – 3 years old. The children above 3 also learn how to control their emotions, take measured risks, take decisions, follow instructions, overcome their shyness, be team players and communicate effectively in a group setting. Needless to say, at The Little Gym the kids move all the time and channel their never-ending energy into useful learning while having fun playing with their friends. Because for them it is all a game. They do not realize they are actually learning. This is why our motto is "Serious Fun."
Do The Little Gym activities affect kids' performance at the kindergarten and school?
Absolutely! For example, for most children in the younger groups (4 months to 3 years), The Little Gym is their first experience being part of a group with other kids. They learn to communicate, socialize, share, be patient, follow a routine. These skills prepare them for and help their adaptation at the nursery or kindergarten. The classes for kids 3 years and above also develop skills and abilities such as focus, curiosity, creativity, analytical thinking, following instructions, etc., that help the boys and girls do better at school. For all age groups, the targeted development of locomotor skills, including fine motor skills, positively affects children's learning and memorializing abilities, and even their handwriting.
Sofia, 118 Bulgaria Blvd, phone: 0888 594 441