Swinging at We Rock the Spectrum Kid's Gym. Credit: April Chan
Have a kid who can't get enough swinging, jumping and zip-lining?
The new We Rock the Spectrum Kid's Gym, which opened last month in Federal Way, delivers not only these opportunities but also climbing walls and nets, a trampoline, kid-sized exercise equipment and much more — all designed to get those wiggles out.
On the gentler side, children who love pretend play can also indulge their inner doctor, princess or lemonade stand-owner with an assortment of Melissa and Doug toys and puzzles available in the gym's arts and crafts section. There are also plenty of chalk and coloring tools for kids who love to express themselves with art, plus a complete puppet show set-up to role-play to their hearts' content.
My kids, ages 7 and 4, and I went recently to try it all out.
Rocking the spectrum
At a glance, the gym's many features would be enticing for any kid. Someone familiar with children who experience sensory processing issues, however, will recognize a lot of the equipment is especially curated for them.
We Rock the Spectrum is a worldwide network of franchised gyms. The company's website outlines the special pieces of equipment present in all outlets — which all kids are welcomed to enjoy — and how they are best utilized to serve kids with special needs.
Colin Hirsch, the owner of Federal Way's new We Rock outlet, is a local special education teacher who has worked with children in kindergarten through twelfth grade. He currently teaches students in third, fourth and fifth grades.
Hirsch says the sensations of swinging, spinning and hovering are especially good for helping kids he works with to self-sooth. For some, it could just be simulating the feeling of being carried and protected, he explains. That's why there are so many swinging pieces to the gym.
On busier days, typically weekends, when some kids might become overstimulated, the soothingly blue Quiet Room in the rear of the gym features tactile toys for quiet play; the gym also provides headphones for kids who are more sensitive to noise.Music therapy is also a feature of this gym. Hirsch has created a complex noise-making and fidget-friendly wall of toys at the back space for busy fingers to explore, featuring a xylophone, assorted locks and touch lights.
My kids found lots to enjoy. My 7-year-old son loved the zip line. My daughter, an introvert, liked the pretend play toys most.
Hirsch's experience as a teacher has fed his desire to continue to support his students outside of the school setting, and he's found a perfect way to do this with the gym. Any issue that arises in the gym can be turned into a learning moment, he says. “I want to support families through whatever process or situation they are dealing with.”
While Hirsch said the gym is designed for children from infancy through early adulthood, he has a special place in his heart for older children with special needs or challenges — the ones who may get the funny looks on public playgrounds and schoolyards because they're different: they're not interacting with others, they're not "acting their age" or they're wearing diapers.
Even high school-aged kids need a safe space like this gym where they can be themselves and hone their social and vocational skills, he says. Hirsch hopes to offer classes focused on teens and young adults, such as mock job interview workshops, in the near future.
“It's a place where all kids of all abilities can learn and grow together and feel safe and comfortable and not have to say 'sorry,'” he says. “You just be you.”
Good to know
Federal Way's We Rock the Spectrum Kid's Gym is the second franchise in the Puget Sound region. The Eastside Seattle gym opened in Bellevue about a year ago. Families familiar with the Bellevue location will note the new Federal Way location is a smaller space, but it offers much of the same play equipment, in accordance with the company's sensory equipment guidelines.
Both gyms also offer We Rock Care, a daycare service in which We Rock staff care for kids with more involved needs while parents step away for a break. It presents a unique opportunity for kids of all abilities to play together, and everyone can learn from each other.
Inclusive play and playing together
At We Rock gyms you'll encounter kids on the autism spectrum and with other types of special needs, in addition to typically developing kids. I found it helpful to stay with my kids while we played which helped ease communication concerns. (For example, when playing at the Bellevue gym one day, a boy came into my daughter’s personal space as she was playing with blocks and took them from her. She asked me why he did that and seemed satisfied with my reply that he probably wasn’t aware she was already playing with them.)
Staff members are also helpful in addressing any issues or behaviors that not everyone will understand. For the We Rock Care program at the Federal Way gym, Hirsch says his aim was to keep the adult to child ratio at one to four.
The new We Rock the Spectrum gym in Federal Way and its Bellevue counterpart feature plenty to keep kids of all abilities busy and happy, and they are best enjoyed when parents are attentive and play along. Leave your phone catch-up for another place and at We Rock, plan to engage in fun and creative play with your kids.
If you go...
Hours: Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Call ahead (253-987-8877) on weekends in case there are special events or parties booked.
Cost: $12 per child; siblings discounted to $10 each. Passes and memberships also available.