New mothers are often eager to get out to the gym. Not only is losing the baby weight a great incentive, but it’s an opportunity to do something active, self-focused, and (by taking advantage of onsite childcare) ALONE! Using the gym daycare is a great way to give moms and chance to recharge both physically and mentally. For stay-at-home moms, the childcare at the gym is a great way to give children a social experience even if they don’t attend pre-school.
Here are some tips for choosing and using the gym daycare:
Centers should be clean, engaging and well-organized – A great gym daycare is bright and clean, with all areas of the room visible to staff at all times. In general, the childcare should look as though it is an important, valued part of the gym, not simply stuck in an extra room as an afterthought.
Look for age-appropriate toys. Ideally a separate room or space would be designated for infants and toddlers below age 2 ˝ or 3 (who still mouth toys) – if not be sure that toys with small parts are reliably inaccessible. Entrance/exit doors and doors to bathrooms or kitchen areas should be childproofed. Bathrooms should be child-friendly and clean.
Options should be available for kids to eat when they are hungry or when you designate, not simply at pre-set times, as your start and end times at the gym may not always correspond to planned meal times and it is unacceptable for a child to go hungry. A safe, outdoor play area can add a lot to the kids’ experience. Any use of television should be limited to short duration and not constantly on in the background.
Look for consistent, experienced staff – A gym daycare should always have a minimum of two staff members at all times, ideally more. Be sure that children are adequately supervised, even if one staffer is engaged in checking kid in or out or helping a child in the bathroom or kitchen. Staff should be actively engaged with the kids and keeping their gaze moving around the room, not primarily chatting with one another or discussing personal affairs within earshot of the kids.
Ideally, full-time staff provides the most consistency for the center and for the kids. Staff who are solely or primarily assigned to the childcare with regular hours create the most familiarity for the kids and are happy to be there as opposed to being “stuck on the daycare shift.” If the gym does not have dedicated full-time staff for the childcare, staff with regular weekly shifts can still offer parents the chance to follow a gym routine and have familiar caregivers for the kids.
A larger daycare with a dedicated staff may also have a supervisor that can offer assistance if questions or problems arise. They may also offer such bonuses as opportunities to leave kids at the gym (usually for an extra fee) and be able to go offsite, either for the evening or even for errands or meetings during the day.
Included Childcare vs. Extra Fees - Even though gyms with “free childcare” [Read: included in the monthly dues] can be significantly more expensive, they can have many benefits. The centers tend to be better larger and better funded. And while many gyms say they offer childcare for a “nominal fee,” those fees tend to be $2-5 an hour, which, if attending regularly, can add up to equal as much if not more per month than the more expensive centers.
Almost more importantly, pay-by-the-hour centers offer a subtle disincentive NOT to go to the gym, because you really have to want the workout to spend the extra money. When the dues are higher and the daycare offers a certain amount of free hours a day (usually 2-4) there is a desire to make the most of money already spent even if you have to force yourself to go. If the goal is to get in shape, it may make more sense to go the prepaid route.
Choosing a gym daycare that makes you feel comfortable and that kids are excited to visit is an important factor in building a regular fitness routine and making the most of health club dues. Be sure to give the quality and consistency of the childcare facilities, staff and cost structure significant attention when choosing a gym.