Q+A: Marika Zappas and Emily Zyczkiewic, The Little Gym
Providing both a space for kids to play and have fun and classes to help with their development, The Little Gym is dedicated to the growth, safety, and happiness of your children. We stopped by to have a chat with Marika Zappas and Emily Zyczkiewic; Regional Director and Gym Director of the Dumbo location to see what makes The Little Gym different from other options in Dumbo.
You have locations around NYC. What made you decide to open here in Dumbo?
Marika: We were filling up in our Brooklyn Heights location and needed to expand. Our owner Charles saw how quickly Dumbo was growing and developing into its own community. Opening a center here was an obvious choice - a better way to provide for our families, and an opportunity to expand what The Little Gym could do for Brooklyn!
You offer gymnastics classes for older children 10+, which is different than all the other places in the neighborhood. Tell us about this program!
Marika: Because we’re called "The Little Gym," people don’t always think that offer programs for older kids. However, we are really excited by the opportunity to take our philosophy of "making kids feel safe where they’re at" and applying this to older students. We're teaching them competitive, advances skills that they won’t learn anywhere else. Having a range of teachers who are knowledgeable from 4 months to 12-13 years old is something that really sets us aside from other businesses.
Congrats on being 40 years strong! What are you looking forward to this next year?
Marika: This Dumbo location opened in April of 2018, so we’ll probably throw a big party for our next anniversary. And we are always looking for different ways to celebrate our members and celebrate the community. We have a Nanny and Parents celebration week and we always do award ceremonies to celebrate our students.
How important is it to you that the kids have a safe and comfortable environment to express themselves and develop?
Marika: This is one of our primary concerns. Before anything else, before pushing a child to try any new skill or even join in an activity, we want them to feel really safe in this space. If you have a 2-year-old that needs to spend a few weeks just watching or doing their own thing before the join the larger activity, that's ok. We want them to build that trust in the environment so that later when they’re choosing to do it they’re making that choice on their own.
Emily: They have to trust us. It’s okay for a kid to just sit and digest it all, and have them see how it works, so that they do get comfortable and they do trust you. Once they get there, they want to just bounce off the walls and do all this crazy stuff!
How does it feel seeing the kids grow into their own personalities throughout the classes?
Emily: They really become a part of our lives. We get to watch some of our little babies start to walk and such. I get excited to come to work because I have these relationships not just with my kids, but with the parents and the nannies too. It's really become a part of my life.
Marika: You grow with the family a lot too. Kids that I taught when they were one, it's cool to see certain traits still present when they’re six years old. It’s fun to be like “woah you were that little baby that was running around me but now you’re like 11 and working on your own”. It really is special when you see that growth–it’s not like a normal school.
When I take vacations I’ll be sitting and I’ll be like “Oh. I should be teaching my kids.” It’s not like a job where you come in dreading it, you come in to be a part of the relationships you’ve built with these kids.
What would you say is the best part/most rewarding part of your job/day?
Marika: The fact that we get to see little kids grow into amazing gymnasts is really awesome to see. I had a kid in class just today–she’s 1½ now, but she was one year old when she started and she probably spent her first 2 or 3 classes just crying most of the time. Now she's become the girl that anytime we’re learning something new, she is the first one by my side, all ready to go.
Emily: We're not a competitive place. Other gyms or dance studios that are competition focused are really strict, and there isn’t a lot of room to learn and make mistakes on your own. Here, mistakes are encouraged!
What’s your favorite place in Dumbo?
Emily: When it’s warm I spend a lot of time down by the water. You see people taking pictures over by the bridge, especially engagement and wedding photos. You have the bridges, and the community all around you; you get to just sit and forget where you are for a minute. Just watching the whole city shift into nighttime is beautiful.
Marika: Same– I love the water. I try and take the ferry as much as I can! One thing I’ve noticed here, more than at our other locations, is that there really is such a strong community feel here in DUMBO. Walking around it feels like a small town atmosphere in a big city. You see a ton of families walking around saying hi to one another. We also love working with other local businesses in the area, so it’s really cool to just walk around and explore.
Both: Also Dumbo Market. They all know us there by now!