Update: check out the full GALLERY HERE
If you need some inspiration and support, and want your children to develop their social and cognitive skills then Austria’s first Gymboree Play & Music may be just the place for you.
Gymboree, located in Vienna’s 2nd district, offers a fun-filled, age appropriate learning experience for young children, from the smallest babies up to five-year-olds.
It’s a place where you and your child can build creativity, confidence and friendships.
Gymboree programmes, which were developed in the US, are specially designed to help young children learn as they play.
The structured 45 minute sessions - you can choose from Play & Learn, Music, and Art classes - also help you to learn about your child. Parents or caregivers with children aged zero to three participate in classes, learning to encourage their child’s development - whilst enjoying the simple pleasure of playing together.
The centre in Vienna also offers a number of drop-off classes for older children, both in German and English.
The curriculum, designed by educational experts, incorporates activities that build confidence, encourage curiosity, promote independent learning, and develop language, problem-solving and social skills.
The Local sat in on one of Gymboree’s music classes, for children aged between 16 and 28 months. The centre in Vienna is very inviting - bright and sunny, spacious, and sparkling clean.
The teacher’s playful approach made musical learning fun for this active age group.
The lesson had 80’s music as its theme - so great for dancing, both for the mums and their fidgety children! Next week, songs from Broadway musicals are on the programme.
Mums danced with their toddlers and the enthusiastic Australian teacher gave directions and encouragement in both English and German.
It was a warm day but the seven small children and four mums, not to mention the teacher, Kate, all had lots of energy - grabbing maracas and shaking away, seeing what sounds they could make with different instruments.
Kate got them singing along to English nursery rhymes. She’s training to be a singer, and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” really sounds beautiful when sung by a professional. The children also started to sound more tuneful, and already knew fragments of the song by heart.
Another teacher, Sretan, is in Vienna to study opera and halfway through he popped in to join the class, and translated the song into German which provided much hilarity.
Simple structured movements, allowing the children to explore different instruments, and singing songs and playing musical games are all ways the Gymboree programme supports and encourages children’s emerging musical expression.
The mothers in the class are from a range of countries but all speak English and or German. They said that it’s a wonderful opportunity to have this bonding experience with their child, and to see them developing their confidence in these pre-school years.
The parents also love it because they get ideas for activities they can do with their children at home as well.
After the 45 minute class is over there is supervised “free play” in the Gymboree area - which the children obviously enjoy. It’s a safe and clean environment with a specially designed play floor on which the children run around barefoot.
Children are also able to try out different sports, ranging from golf and soccer to baseball - the sport programme changes every month. The Play & Learn programme changes every two weeks, as does the set up for the 160 square metre play floor.
The art and crafts classes give little ones a chance to experiment with paints and colours and lots of different materials.
Gymboree has also designed its own range of special, high quality toys - such as its best seller, a sugar-based bubble mixture, so much nicer than soap bubbles.
There are 700 Gymboree outlets across the world. It’s a proven formula that works, and each Gymboree has a support network. It’s a great solution for international families who may travel between countries - they know exactly what to expect at any Gymboree.
Membership costs €75 a month, and initially you are only asked to sign up for three months - so no long contracts. If you want to get a taste of what’s on offer you can try a ‘preview’ class for free.
Vienna’s Gymboree space is 320 square metres and can also be hired out for children’s parties - which can be organised around a fun theme, such as an ocean adventure or a jungle safari.
Members are also free to come and use the facilities outside of the class timetable.
Margarita Randl runs Gymboree Vienna, along with her husband Helmut.
She personally recruits all the staff and looks for people who are fun and open and not embarrassed to stand up in front of a room full of children and play the fool - “you’re almost looking for someone who’s a bit like an actor, who has that kind of confidence and energy,” she said.
Some of her staff are professional pedagogues, and others just love working with children and are trained Gymboree teachers. “They have to be good at communicating with children. They need to be able to emphasise with the children and understand their needs,” Margarita added.
Gymboree teachers based in Munich and the UK provide initial training and visit once a year to provide refresher courses and advanced training.
Gymboree has a playlist of over 2,000 songs, and it’s not all children’s music but includes artists like the Beach Boys and Abba - only songs with child friendly lyrics of course - adult songs that children can enjoy.
Margarita discovered Gymboree when she was looking for an option for her young son.
“I wanted to find a kindergarten where he would really learn something, and it had to be tidy and sunny, with a professional programme. We visited a Gymboree in Munich and loved it at once.”
“I could see there was a lot of know-how behind it. The programme was put together by a pedagogical institute in the US, called Zero-To-Three. I loved the idea of learning by playing - it really works for small kids.”
Children are allowed to choose what they want to do, they aren’t pushed into anything and as a result Margarita said she has noticed that they really develop their confidence and physical and cognitive skills, “and they have fun, that is what it’s all about.”
She believes that three is a good age for children to start socializing - so it’s not necessary for parents to attend classes with them, but for the younger children it’s about bonding with their parents, and vice versa.
“We want to create the feeling for the children that they are safe. Children between 16 and 24 months are really active, they are trying hard to communicate and they understand a lot. But sometimes they don’t know if what they are doing is right, so they need that look of approval from their parent,” Margarita said.
“Watching my son - he was always so engaged in all the classes and activities. He always wanted to go to Gymboree after his normal kindergarten. Our clients who really love Gymboree started when their children were very young - for example six weeks old, and they have really seen the benefits for their child’s development,” she added.
Enjoying cupcakes at a Gymboree party. Photo: Gymboree Vienna
Gymboree can be a great complement to an Austrian kindergarten. In fact, Margarita believes that children who have attended Gymboree have an advantage over other children when they start school or kindergarten as they have already developed their social skills and self-awareness.
“One mother told me that her son had always been so shy and quiet, and the last to volunteer for anything - but now the kindergarten teacher says that he’s really changed, he’s loud and confident!”
“We also have some children here with slight muscle problems and they are really improving and gaining strength. Now they are really motivated to play in the gym area.”
Many parents complain that some kindergartens in Vienna are just organised around ‘free play’ - the children aren’t learning in any structured way. But this is where Gymboree really excels, encouraging children to learn through experimentation, imitation, and playful activities.
Gymboree is also starting Preschool Playgroups which help prepare two to four-year-olds for kindergarten and school in a fun and caring environment.
This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Gymboree. Sign up for Gymboree's newsletter via their Facebook group.