As an early intervention specialist who works with young children and their families, Audrey Graham sees parents and other caregivers feeling isolated, especially in the colder months when there are fewer events going on in town, and the chilliness can make it hard to get outside.
Now and through the month of February, Graham is hosting Toddler Gym every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Center Street Gym, located at 203 East Center Street, as a solution to overcoming those challenges. There is no charge to attend.
Graham approached the City of Moab in 2009 about using the Center Street Gym to host a regular gathering in the winter for children ages 5 and under and their caregivers, so little ones would have a place to be physically active and socialize, and parents could have a welcome change of pace.
The City of Moab agreed to Graham’s proposal and Toddler Gym began.
Graham knows much about the joys of parenting, and also the difficulties. When her daughters were little, she spent her days caring for them.
“I struggled with loneliness, isolation and boredom,” Graham said. “I consider (Toddler Gym) a social (and) emotional safety net for parents and kids. It’s important to have a reason to get out of the house.”
Graham said that during Toddler Gym there is a big, soft pad on the floor for babies to lie or crawl around on. Balls and other toys to play with are provided to the children.
“After 16 months, kids really need to start interacting with other kids, get used to new places,” Graham said, adding that it might take two or three visits to Toddler Gym for a youngster to get comfortable in a new setting and begin to have fun.
She advised parents and caregivers to come at least a few times, and not assume that if their child doesn’t like it the first time that they won’t grow to enjoy it as a playful activity.
Graham pointed out that Toddler Gym is also an opportunity for children to learn social skills, such as taking turns, and to “get away from screen time” with some physical activity.
“Makes for good nap time,” she said.
Claire Core has attended Toddler Gym with her daughter Hazel.
“My daughter, who is almost two, loves seeing friends, so we loved Toddler Gym over Christmas break because so many families made it out to the gym to run around, ride tricycles and scooters, and make up games with the box of materials that are provided by the Center Street Gym,” Core said.
Core is a moderator for the Moab Mamas group Facebook page, which connects members for group gatherings, toy exchanges and other family-friendly events. The Moab Mamas group has helped get the word out about Toddler Gym and update its members, like when Toddler Gym had to take a day off because the gym was closed for repairs. It has since reopened.
There are some basic rules for Toddler Gym. Caregivers and children should attend only when healthy. Adults must remain with their child and guide their behavior, so the typical disputes children have can resolve peacefully. Water is allowed in the gym, but no other food or drink. Participants can bring toys, but only ones they are willing to share with others. Toys must be safe for the gym floor, so as not to causing markings or other damage. Electronics are not allowed during Toddler Gym.
Graham said she is occasionally on hand to facilitate Toddler Gym, as she can work some time for it with her job, which involves getting parents and children to socialize and interact.
As a facilitator, Graham helps parents and their children to engage in play, and reminds participants of gym rules. She leads fun activities, such as a game involving a parachute, which is a fun treat for the children to play toward the end of Toddler Gym — only after toys are put away, of course.
She said this is a way to “make the fun stuff a motivator to do the not-fun stuff.”
After the parachute game, Graham does a short goodbye routine so the children can say goodbye to each other and goodbye to the gym, which she said reduces the tantrums when playtime is over.
Graham said she would like to find other people in the community to serve as facilitators and encourages anyone who may be interested to call her and leave a message; she will return calls after work hours.
Three-year-old Piper, who has attended with her little brother, Lucas, and her father, Ryan Lowe, agreed to be interviewed about her favorite part of Toddler Gym.
“There’s kids of all ages,” Piper said.