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If you’re like me, being trapped inside on a cold winter day with young children is a recipe for insanity. During the warm weather, I think I spend 80 percent of our days outside – either in the backyard, on walks to one of the local playgrounds or parks, or on the many trails in our neighborhood (thank you, Curlis Lake Woods and Howe Habitat behind Toll Gate).

Thankfully, Motion Gym on Rt. 31 in Pennington exists to break up the monotony of long days inside. I first discovered this local spot when our family first moved here two years ago. One of my local moms groups was hosting a meetup there for open play. We basically had the run of the place – trampolines, the floor mat, rings, bars, balance beams – you name it. My older son had a blast; it was close to our house and a steal for $5 for an hour of fun. It quickly became our go-to spot for rainy day play.

Recently, however, I noticed a change at the gym. Instead of the typical unstructured open play sessions, the free periods are much more structured, supervised and frankly, lovely.  It was a little nerve-wracking to have the kids bouncing sometimes two or three at a time on the trampolines, and bumping into each other as they ran through the place.

The updated structure is courtesy of Karen Santini, the new recreational program director, who joined the gym in September. Santini has experience at Gold’s Gym, PEAC Health & Fitness and the YWCA Princeton.

She recently shared her vision for the gym in a letter to members that went out this fall. Noting that the playgroup and open gym sessions are geared toward toddlers and preschool aged children, Santini says the class is now “semi-structured”  and while attendees are still able to use almost any piece of equipment, instructors must be present with each child. She also notes that the red and yellow trampoline – a favorite of many kids due to its bounciness – is actually not safe for toddlers and preschool aged children to use as it requires strong head, neck and body control and it is unsafe for kids’ heads to wobble around while jumping.

In addition to having trained instructors working with the kids, Santini has set-up the floor mats with a variety of objects in various stations – climbing mats, a slide, a basketball hoop with balls, hula hoops, and other toys that are of interest to both my preschool age son and infant. The gym also plays child-friendly kids music during the sessions, which are still $5 an hour.

I recently met Santini on a visit to the gym as she went around and introduced herself to all the parents there. She was friendly and welcoming and seems excited about her new role at the gym.

Open play sessions happen every day of the week except Thursday and Sunday, so check out the online calendar at http://www.motiongymnastics.com/playgroup.html for more information and we’ll see you there!

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Andrea Fereshteh has been writing for as long as she can remember. An avid journal-keeper as a child, she dabbled in dramatic notes to her parents and designed her own stationary. With a zest for small talk and meeting new people, she pursued journalism in college and worked for nine years in PR, writing and media relations for the higher ed and nonprofit sectors. She has a mousters and ducktorate from Disney University and is a mother to two lively boys who inspire her to just keep writing, just keep writing.

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