THE LITLE GYM
The Little Gym may be an international franchise, but the Shaker Heights
location is just that: a Shaker institution focused on the children of the city.
The color scheme, equipment, and basic layout resemble those of other Little Gyms
around the world, but spend any time in the gym with its directors, instructors, or owner
Paula Pascarella and you’ll find a place that’s proudly Shaker-centric, where friendships
are made. “You don’t walk in and see a franchise,” says instructor Samantha Polmanteer,
a former collegiate swimmer with obvious affection for her job. “You walk in and see a
comfortable place. We’re a staple here in Shaker. We become friends with the families.”
Like all its chain affiliates, the now 13-year-old Shaker Heights Little Gym centers on
a large, padded room outfitted with balance beams, springboards, and parallel bars, and
accepts everyone from infants as young as four months old to middle-schoolers aged 12.
There are classes intended for little ones and parents to take together and programs
designed to get budding gymnasts ready for competition, and a great deal for everyone
THE LITLE GYM OF SHAKER HEIGHTS
20707 Chagrin Boulevard
46 FALL 2018 | WWW.SHAKER.LIFE
in between. In summer,
the offerings are slimmer,
as children travel or go to
camp. In fall, winter, and
spring, however, the place
is hopping. Literally.
The Little Gym’s
primary objective is
“Serious Fun.” Its goal is
to develop sports and dance skills in a friendly, encouraging environment. Only if a child
sticks with the programs and truly aspires to compete do coaches get into the business of
“It’s all about doing your best. This is a place where your child can be herself,” says
instructor Katy Higaki.
Physical skills aren’t the only priorities. Gymnastics and dance may be the medium,
but much of the message is cognitive, social, and artistic.
Photo courtesy of The Little Gym
Even as the coaches lead children in
games, tumbling exercises, and other fun
movements, they’re also instilling academic
knowledge and teaching patience and
problem solving. They even address personal
responsibility. One branch of The Little Gym’s
“Three Dimensional Learning” philosophy is
called Citizen Kid, meaning emotional and
leadership skills. There’s a reason the coaches
think of themselves as teachers.
“We hide the work within the play,” says
gym director Darnell Wilson. “We have to amp
up our game to keep them interested. Getting
kids to be social, that’s a big one for us.”
Just as The Little Gym is much more
than a gym, so is the adjective “little” a bit
of a misnomer. Over the course of a typical
non-summer week, some 650 kids pass
through its doors, and Wilson, Polmanteer,
Higaki, and others come to know every one
of their names.
That number is increasing, too. As society
in general grows more health conscious, more
parents in Shaker are taking steps to keep
their kids active.
“It’s changing all around the community,”
Wilson says. “It’s like an uprising, an
upwelling of good.”