BY: DELLIA RISMAY
It’s a story we are all too familiar with: the vast majority of Canadian children aren’t getting nearly enough exercise. In between sitting at a desk for most of the school day and then coming home to do hours of homework, sometimes the only physical activity a child will partake in for the day is what they got during recess, or in a physical education class. And even after a child finishes their homework, to unwind after a long day, their first instinct may be to reach for a game console or a cell phone over a soccer ball. Chandall Walsh, the Program Director of a mobile gymnastics and dance program called Monkey Movers, hopes to change that.
With over fifteen years of experience coaching gymnastics and dance, and twelve years of a being a certified fitness professional, Chandall knows the importance of getting enough physical activity firsthand. According to Statistics Canada, less than 7% of Canadian children and youth meet the daily recommendation of sixty minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least six days a week. Chandall points out that for many kids, the issue comes with their level of interest in the activities they’re doing. “For kids to be active, they have to enjoy what they do. You can’t force them to do something because they won’t maintain it in the long run. That’s the whole concept of Monkey Movers: it’s something new and different.”
So, what makes Monkey Movers so different from other activities, like gymnastics and dance classes? Well, for one, Monkey Movers has a school bus that’s been completely transformed into a mobile gymnasium circuit, complete with things like trampolines, a rock wall, and a zipline—yes, a zipline! “The kids come on the bus, and the bus is visually appealing. They just go ‘wow!’ to see all these different things in the bus. Once they get on the equipment, they just love it,” Chandall explains.
Chandall also emphasizes that all children are made to feel welcome during sessions, which is great news for parents of children who may be new to gymnastics, or who are shy in group settings. “We’re constantly encouraging them”, she says. “There’s no judgment here. We’re just here to help kids out. If they’re struggling with the monkey bars, we’re here to assist them, we let them know that they can finish it off. Same thing with the rock wall. We are motivating them and keeping them active. The main thing is keeping them moving throughout the whole time.”
Monkey Movers got its start when Chandall created her Mobile Movement Program, where she would go into schools and daycares to teach gymnastics and dance to students. However, she found that many of the facilities did not have the space for the equipment that she brought along for the children to use. That’s when Chandall started doing some research and discovered the concept of having a gymnastics class on a bus, an idea that has already been implemented in the United States. This idea, combined with Chandall’s experience with teaching gymnastics, is what brought the mobile gymnastics bus to the GTA.
When it comes to fitness, Chandall is an expert. In addition to being a former gymnast and dancer, she is also a personal trainer and teaches Pilates and yoga. “This is just my everyday life, being fit and healthy, and working with people of all ages,” she says. Since she likes fitness, health, and working with others, her venture into creating Monkey Movers was only natural. “I thought, ‘I have my personal training business, and I’d like to diverse into gymnastics and dance since I have that background, and I like working with kids,’” she explains.
Chandall has worked in several locations, including Toronto, Brampton, Milton, and Mississauga, teaching children new, exciting ways to exercise and be active. And she’s making sure that as many kids as possible have access to Monkey Movers, by making the program completely mobile. Though she and her staff are often found at daycares and schools, they also cater to special events, such as birthday parties and festivals. Chandall says the recreational, non-competitive atmosphere of Monkey Movers makes it easy for parents to test the waters and see if more formal gymnastics lessons would be a good fit for their child. “We really want to be that stepping stool for them to have an interest in gymnastics,” she explains.
Even if a child doesn’t necessarily want to continue doing gymnastics at a higher level, they are still taking away with what Chandall calls physical literacy. Much like kids need to learn skills like reading or writing, she says it is also vital that they have the tools they need to become physically strong and healthy. “There are skills that you have to work on, that strength and that balance. It just doesn’t come, you have to work on it,” says Chandall. She also points out that gymnastics is the foundation of all sports, so regardless of what sport a child may do in the future, they will need the strength, conditioning, and coordination that her program teaches.
To help children acquire those important physical skills early on in life, Monkey Movers offers a unique class called Parent n’ Tot, where toddlers, accompanied by a parent, participate in circuits, songs, games, and organized play. Chandall says that while the age group for Monkey Movers is between one and twelve, the best age group for the program is children aged three to four. However, she saw an interest from parents who had children as young as fifteen months, so she decided to create the Parent n’ Tot program. For older children, a Monkey Movers session with the bus can include warm-up stretching, circuits with rings, monkey bars, a balance beam, and a mini-trampoline.
At Monkey Movers, the goal is to establish a foundation of physical wellness that will go on to inspire a child to make healthy choices and stay active for their entire lives. “Our mission statement is ‘To set the foundation of physical activity in children,’” says Chandall. “We want to build confidence-our children are the future.”