I’ve always been passionate about fitness. As a child I would try every sport that I could get my hands on. I didn’t care if it involved a ball, a stick, a beam or a pair of goggles – I just wanted to do it!
That passion for movement led to a sports and exercise degree at university, where I found my second passion – child development – and studied the effect that exercise, or lack of, has on children’s development.
My love of being active didn’t stop when I reached adulthood. It led to an active career as a Captain in the Army, during which I was fortunate enough to travel from mountain to mountain across Europe as a competitive biathlon skier. I left the Army in 2003, and moved into recruitment. After five years in recruitment, I decided that a desk job wasn’t for me. I wanted to make a difference again, like I had in the Army, and I looked for a new, more fulfilling opportunity.
I stumbled across The Little Gym through an old school friend. It sounded like my dream combination of child development and sport. But I wasn’t convinced that it could be as good as it sounded. So I took my one-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to do a class at every The Little Gym in the UK.
When I walked in, it was always a wow moment. I was knocked out by how friendly and colourful each gym was, and how enthusiastic the staff were. The way they made us feel so welcome. And it didn’t matter where I went – the facilities were always incredible, and the experience was really wonderful. It was so different to what I had been used to with Charlotte’s activities. It was purpose built (not in a church hall or scout hut), bright and engaging. The staff were highly qualified in both gymnastics and child development. And the welcome was incredibly warm.
I took the leap and opened The Little Gym Harrogate when Charlotte was four – and she added another The Little Gym to the list of gyms that she’d visited. Today, nearly 700 members come to our gym in Harrogate each week, and now Charlotte has a sister and a brother – and they’d all go to the gym every day if they could!
It isn’t necessary for children at our gym to be good at sport, or to find fitness easy. The beauty of our gym is that it caters to every child as a unique individual. We nurture their abilities, encourage them to be involved, and help them to develop a love for movement without them even realising – they’re just having too much fun to notice! We have also helped many children that are scared to go into classes without their parents. In a matter of weeks, they just blossom – they are learning to do forward rolls on the beam, and they are just so proud of themselves. We love to see them just bursting with pride as their confidence grows.
We have parents that say they never learnt to do a cartwheel, and they always wished they had. They want their children to know what it feels like. The feeling of flying, upside down, feet whipping through the air. It’s a skill you have for life that you can get joy from anywhere – in a field, on the beach – and carry that huge sense of achievement with you.
Parents tell us their children love coming each week. Some of them have little sleep charts at home and they count down how many sleeps it is until they get to come back to The Little Gym each week – “One more sleep, Mummy!”.
One of the reasons they love our classes is down to how imaginative our instructors are. Instead of climbing onto the vault and jumping off, the children are climbing a mountain and jumping across a swamp full of crocodiles. We see children coming out of the gym after class holding imaginary things in their hands after pretending to collect feathers in the gym, and running over to their Mums and Dads saying “Look, Mummy, I have lots of beautiful feathers”.
Each child is unique, and we are so lucky to work with them every day. We love getting to spend time with them in the gym while the grown-ups have a cup of coffee and relax in the foyer.
Thanks for letting us enjoy their company for that special hour a week!
Kate Henebury is currently not instructing any classes.