After one look at the pristine pools packed with toys, and it’s no surprise why La Petite Baleen’s four San Francisco-area swim facilities are so popular with kids. What may be surprising however, is that the flourishing network of schools started humbly in the backyard pool of John Kolbisen and Irene Madrid.
In 1979, the public school teachers were brainstorming ways to integrate their passion for educating kids with their love of the water. Starting with their own three children, some neighborhood kids, and one cleverly disguised frog, John and Irene began teaching swim lessons with a rather progressive philosophy: They approached swimming not just as an extracurricular activity, but as a means to boost self-confidence, build friendships, and learn to overcome fears.
More than 30 years later, La Petite Baleen has become a renowned family of schools, partnered with the U.S. Swim School Association and the Swim for Life Foundation. Part of the success has to do with how children are grouped. In weekly sessions, pods of tots of similar age, skill level, and personality evolve at a similar pace—earning individual achievement ribbons as they do. Kids make friends in the group, and the recurring scheduling means that they can stay enrolled with their new buddies indefinitely or until they grow their own dorsal fins. Each location’s indoor pools are kept at an inviting 90 degrees, in an attempt to make even the most timid student to feel comfortable in the water. Perhaps most importantly, the teachers participate in ongoing training designed to encourage empathetic, yet firm teaching methods.
Members at Curves, a fitness center designed for women, rotate around a circuit of hydraulic resistance machines that have been designed to work with female bodies and promote weight loss, strengthen bones, and increase metabolism. An experienced trainer is always nearby to help manage participants’ machine maneuvering and muscle making. Instead of fiddling with weight stacks and losing momentum, the hydraulic machines use your own body weight, fitness level, and aerodynamic water bottles to create resistance that matches abilities, decreasing the risk of soreness or injury. Because traditional lift-and-lower motions can create bulky muscles, each machine uses push-and-pull motions to help create toned, lean muscles perfect for crushing a grapefruit without looking like you can.
Snap Fitness 24-7, bustling with cardio and strength-training gear, throws open the doors to its state-of-the-art facilities 24/7. Before exercisers put sneaker to treadmill or lift their first weight, personal coaches meet with them to talk about their fitness goals before suggesting a personalized fitness plan based on each client's strength, and cardio condition. The gym keeps members motivated with regular check-in calls and demystifies healthy eating with custom online meal plans designed by nutritionists.
Where as many people prefer to chat with others during lunchtime, patrons of Yoga at Change look forward to quieting their minds. These 30-minute meditation sessions occur three times a week, and like the rest of the non-profit's curriculum, strive to inject some introspection into otherwise bustling days. Though "yoga" is in the studio's title, meditation figures heavily in many of its class and workshop offerings—Slow Flow yoga mixes it with Hatha poses, and Integral lessons combine chanting, meditation, and restful movements. Mothers can also channel meditative energy during Mom Baby Yoga and Yoga with Babysitting, specialty classes that allow them to engage in relaxing postures and meditation while staying connected to their little ones, who spend the sessions stretching out with their parent, sleeping, or playing.
The holistic philosophy of Yoga at Change is that all people have the right to spiritual insight, a healthy body, and a peaceful mind. The instructors strive to accomplish this through a blend of self-reflection, breath, and physical balance. The staff believes that there are several roads to wellness, and that all of them should be accessible, regardless of the client's skill level. They schedule several discounted or free demonstrations, and also offer a scholarship program to fund yoga practice for those in need of financial aid. Students attend classes based on their desired intensity—gentle, moderate, or vigorous. They can also register for workshops that address a slew of alternative health topics, which in the past have included treating lower back pain.
With the help of her kids, certified personal trainer Jodi Hamilton-Eichensehr designed a family-friendly playspace celebrating the fun of fitness with games and obstacle courses centered on a giant animal-themed jungle gym. Guarded by a toucan and gorilla, the gym's labyrinthine interior conceals bridges, tunnels, ladders and slides, as well as a trapdoor to the Fountain of Youth. As kids traverse the gym, their bodies covertly enjoy a full cardio workout while building balance, hand-eye coordination, and confidence. Small-group fitness classes teach children about nutrition before building up their appetites with activities such as dashes through the jungle gym or sprints across a running track peppered with hurdles. Jodi also hosts adult classes, which emphasize fun, varied fitness, from cardio to strength training, to build parents' stamina during capture-the-flag tournaments at the office. Staffers also host unforgettable soirees for birthdays, which split guests' time between the jungle gym, party room, and video arcade.
Junior Gym's instructors believe that physical activity and self-confidence go hand in hand. That's why they keep all of their gymnastics, tumbling, and fitness programs noncompetitive. Kids aged 6 months to 7 years old can step through the entrance's blue archways and into the 4,600-square-foot fitness facility, where, under the tutelage of seasoned instructors, they might learn to walk a balance beam or partake in social-development activities replete with music, movement, and parachute games. These activities unfold amid a maze of mats, bars, and obstacles, which the instructors rearrange weekly to confuse any infants plotting a mutiny.
As an alternative to regular fitness classes, Junior Gym's instructors also host camps and the Terrific Tots program. During these loosely structured sessions, CPR- and first-aid-certified teachers tell stories, help kids make arts and crafts, and serve healthy snacks.