Veteran moms know that the onset of winter weather creates the ultimate Toddler Paradox. The weather outside takes many of our best “energy burning” activities out of the mix, but the beginning of cold and flu season makes many indoor options feel like an invitation to sickness! One of my mom friends used to call toddlers “mini petri dishes,” and though the phrase always got a good laugh when she used it, we all knew there was an undercurrent of uncomfortable truth to it!
As the owner of Gymboree Play & Music for over 10 years now, I am constantly asked about cleanliness in our facility, especially during the winter months. Instead of being bothered by these questions, I welcome them! Keeping a facility that is absolutely as clean as possible – even during flu season – is a challenge, but it’s one that we are up to and happy to talk about! There’s no reason to keep your children inside all winter to keep them healthy. Instead, I recommend that you ask the following four questions before taking your kids into an indoor play/gym facility, and choose your outings carefully!
1. Are ALL of the surfaces in the facility able to be sanitized immediately and independently? At Gymboree, 100% of our surfaces are non-porous, meaning that we can sanitize as much or as little of our facility as we need to at a given time – from one ball that makes it into a child’s mouth to our entire playfloor or every bit of our equipment. Watch out for porous materials like carpets and uncovered foam pieces – these collect germs and cannot be easily or frequently sterilized. I don’t mean to be crass, but if bodily fluids (including nasal secretions, vomit and other perils of childhood) cannot be sanitized off of it/out of it immediately, you can assume that it is teeming with germs that you’d probably rather your child not touch/crawl on/climb in.
2. What are the facilities’ protocols for regular cleaning? How about for “spot” cleaning and getting dirty objects out of circulation? At Gymboree, we sanitize our entire site every night. This includes our floor, our equipment, our playballs and our props. In addition, we keep a “yucky bucket” on our playfloor – this is where all items go after they go into a child’s mouth or are otherwise unusually dirtied. These items stay out of circulation until they can be thoroughly and individually cleaned. Beware of attractions like ball pits – these are very difficult to clean thoroughly and generally are deep cleaned (all balls and all surfaces of the pit) very infrequently.
3. How do they keep the outside from coming in? The bottoms of our shoes carry all sorts of things that we’d really like to keep out of our bodies. Thus, you should look for facilities that don’t just suggest – but demand – that everyone who walks in the play parts of the facility take off their shoes (including ALL adults, even those who just want to walk across the playfloor to get to the bathroom!). At Gymboree, adults are even required to wear socks while on our playfloor (kids can go barefoot). We keep clean socks at the desk at all times for parents to borrow if needed!
4. If you pay for classes by the month or semester, how liberal is the facility’s make-up policy? This is a critical part of keeping a place clean, as a restrictive make-up policy encourages parents to bring “borderline” kids into the facility because they don’t want to lose classes they have paid for. Look for extremely liberal make-up policies that are family-focused, not business-focused. At Gymboree, we have an extremely liberal make-up policy (even allowing members to do make-ups in types of classes other than the one they are enrolled in), which encourages parents to keep kids home if they are the least bit questionable in terms of health.
No matter how hard we work at keeping our facilities clean, we know there will always be parents who opt-out of classes and playspaces during cold and flu season, and we certainly respect that decision. However, it IS possible to keep clean play spaces for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, even during the sickest parts of the year – healthy toddlers NEED to run and jump and play, especially during the winter when life is generally more sedentary. You just need to seek out facilities that put cleanliness and the health and safety of members and guests at the very top of the priority list. We certainly do that at Gymboree! So, keep asking us how we keep the place clean! Like I said, we love to talk about it!