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The Power of Play

We recently interviewed Jodi Levine, founder & owner of Jodi’s Gym for the 28 Days of Play project. We are thrilled to share her perspective about why play may feel hard for some parents.

Written by: You Plus 2 Parenting

Jodi Levine is in the business of kids fitness & movement education, but she also understands the importance and power of play.  As the owner of the Upper East Side institution Jodi’s Gym, Jodi pioneered the concept of parent & child gym classes nearly 32 years ago when she decided to bring all of the joys, benefits and fun of gymnastics to NYC children without it having to be a competitive sport.

Over the years, Jodi and her staff have coached thousands of children (ranging in age from 9 months-12 years,) through cartwheels, handstands, and somersaults, helping them to develop and improve their skills while fostering a love for fitness & movement.  More importantly however, Jodi has provided a space for children to PLAY!  Says Jodi: “In our programs, we provide opportunities for kids to be playful and explore.  We do not believe that imparting skills alone is in the best interest of our students.  Our youngest classes offer a healthy and happy blend of  play and instruction. We provide an environment that allows for both.”

When asked about her personal philosophy of play Jodi replies “Play is essential to a child’s social, cognitive, emotional, and physical development.  It is a child’s job to play!!!  Children learn most about their world when they are playing.”  Jodi believes that the unstructured opportunities that children have in her gym to play & explore, to use their bodies, discover their strength and to do it with their parent’s involvement is of utmost importance.  She notes that a child is more engaged when a parent or caregiver is fully present, interacting with their child, and leading by example.

Through the years, Jodi has seen a shift in parent’s willingness to stay connected and play with their child during class.  Instead, parents and caregivers sometimes line the perimeter of the classroom, distracted and not in the moment rather than observing or interacting with their child.  Jodi wonders if parents play less with their children now because they may feel silly or worried about how they will look if they are on the ground engaging in play.  ”Perhaps they feel they are being judged or not playing “ correctly,” or perhaps they are just plain tired.”

Another important factor that Jodi feels impedes play is that parents have become extremely focused on “teaching” rather than playing when they interact with their children.  She explains:

“I find in our youngest classes, parents a decade or two ago, were more comfortable with the idea that children were learning so much by just being in an environment such as Jodi’s Gym. Parents were more comfortable following their child’s lead, rather than worrying about a child not following directions or the “structure” of a class.  Parents were more understanding that a two year old needs to and should explore and move at his own pace.

I meet with many parents today who are feeling pressure and stress about providing every learning opportunities for their children. Many simply do not realize that when children are playing with friends, or even playing alone there are tremendous learning moments taking place.

It seems  that some parents, somewhere along the line, got the message that they need to impart as many skills as possible to their little ones as soon as possible.  Many feel pressure to “ teach” rather than to allow children to learn by playing.”
In spite of knowing how important play is, Jodi also admits that she struggled through certain types of play with her kids when they were young.  ”I absolutely hated playing board games like Pretty Pretty Princess, but I enjoyed pretending, painting, playing with cars, trains, Lincoln Logs, Legos, blocks and just about anything active or outdoors… skiing, sledding, dancing, running, hiking, hula hooping, ball games, frisbee tossing, & bike riding.”

With her children now grown Jodi is qualified to give this advice to parents with young children:  ”Let your kids be kids. Give your children lots of opportunities to just play and have fun that is not always teacher or caregiver directed.  Let them explore and let them be little. Childhood is a magical time and it can never be replaced.  Make fun memories… take the time to laugh, to relax, to enjoy each other.   There is a lot more to childhood than imparting skills!”

Thank you Jodi for lending your voice to the 28 Days of Play project!