Tri-City gymnastics academies offer open gym sessions for families with small children

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 6, 2013 

A lot of noise filled Mid-Columbia Gymnastics Academy's Kennewick location, and Racer Burchard contributed more than his share, along with his brothers.

"I'm knocking," the 3-year-old quadruplet said as he banged a toy hammer against a large-scale model school bus. "I'm trying to fix it."

Racer was one of about 30 children at an afternoon open gym session at the academy Friday, all playing on toy cars, in a model pirate ship or in the gym's bounce house. With the Tri-Cities fully in the grip of winter cold, the academy's two locations serve as a warm haven for parents to take their children to burn off some excess energy.

"I have very active kids; I don't know what I'd do," said Carolyn Franklin of West Richland.

Franklin started taking her son Liam, now 2 1/2, when he was just a little older than 1 year old to the academy's gym on Fowler Street in Richland, she said. They now visit the Kennewick gym, at 8382 Gage Blvd., as it has more for very young children, such as Franklin's 1-year-old daughter Maddie, to play with.

"We come in the wintertime a lot, maybe four times a week," Franklin said.

Star Morris, director for the Kennewick facility, said the academy, which offers gymnastics, cheer and tumbling classes, began offering open gym times to families with young children about 15 years ago.

"We don't have anything going on (during the day), so we get the kids in here," she said.

While both of Mid-Columbia Gymnastics Academy's locations have open gym sessions, Morris said her facility has a bit more to offer because it has a more open schedule during the day. The play area's pirate ship and school bus models are holdovers from the Three Rivers Children's Museum, which closed in July 2011. There's also a princess' castle and a plethora of other toys.

Dawn Brooks of Kennewick said her daughter Sophia, 91/2, and son Shiloh, 6, don't come to open gym as much as when they were younger but it's still a place they love to visit.

"They've having a pretend banquet in the galley of the pirate ship," Brooks said.

The open gym is convenient for Brooks and her children. She wants them to play with their friends, but doesn't want to deal with bedrooms in chaos following a playdate. They've attended several birthdays at the academy, and said it was nice to not have to worry about having 15 children running around the house.

"You want to be able to walk away from it," Brooks said.

Ruth Chriesman, nanny to Racer and his brothers Ryder and Max and sister Mia, said open gym works great for her as it's easy for her to watch the quadruplets while they get over their cabin fever. What comes after a visit is nice too.

"Then they take a nice nap," she said.

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