FREDERICTON–Shortly after Katie Gillingham returned to work following the birth of her son, she realized how much energy young kids like hers have. With nearly no weekend fitness programs for kids her son’s age, Gillingham had the idea to start one of her own.
With encouragement from her friend, BizzFitness Gym owner Eric Bissonnette, Gillingham started Movin’ Munchkins, play-fit programs for kids under five years old, which she runs out of Bissonnette’s gym. The programs have been going strong since April 2013 and Gillingham has just expanded to run programs in Saint John as well.
“I just had this ‘aha’ moment of wouldn’t it be great if we ran a kids program and I approached (Eric) with my idea and he said ‘Katie, you need to do it,’” Gillingham said. “A month went by and he said ‘Katie you need to do it.’ So a month later I started the program … He provided mentorship and gave me some tools to get started. Without him it wouldn’t have started.”
Gillingham runs five sessions a week out of BizzFitness Gym with her small team of program leaders with backgrounds in early childhood education, special needs training and teaching. The Movin’ Munchkins programs are also run out of daycares, usually in the winter when outdoor play isn’t an option.
“The teachers really like that because it’s a new face, it’s new ideas and I find the kids are really receptive when I walk in and I can wear them down and then they nap much easier,” Gillingham said.
Gillingham says her play-based programs are helping parents spend more time with their children while working off some of the kids’ extra energy. Gillingham has built the programs to do just that while emphasizing the fun of play. She came up with ideas for what the kids should do by watching them play and figuring out what they need and want.
“A lot of the activities have come out of watching them play and taking the materials and doing what kids do with them. I have a formula that works now and I’m always adding programs or activities but I have a formula that is very solid right now,” she said. “I call it instructor-led, play-based program, so it’s a program that offers something for everyone.”
The Movin’ Munchkins Play-Fit program starts off with movement to music and moves on to activities involving obstacle courses, parachutes, bean bags, intros to sports and finishes with stretches. Gillingham says the repetition is needed for young children but that they also change up the activities to keep kids interested.
Gillingham has found much support in the small community she’s built in Fredericton. Her programs fill up quickly and word about the quality of her programs travels fast on social media and between parents.
“It’s kind of neat to see that cycle and watch families grow. I’m very receptive so I really want to know what families need and being a mom myself with two kids under five, I’m kind of in it so I understand what families need,” Gillingham said.
“It’s been pretty amazing because it happened by accident and now it’s my job and my business. I’m hoping to grow it into the larger centres … I’d like to take it across Canada. That’s a large dream but I feel that it’s a model that would work very well.”