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Gymboree and Learning Through Play

This week, we were excited to sit down with Sebhia Dibra, the managing director and co-owner of one of our newest KidPass partners, Gymboree Park Slope.

Sebhia spoke with us about the concept of “learning through play,” which is at the core of Gymboree’s philosophy, and how that ties into her own work and outlook on early childhood development.

Tell us what you do at Gymboree.

As the managing director and co-owner, I basically I do everything, from managing the day-to-day operations, to teaching, to vacuuming the floors. [Laughs.] I love kids. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years: working with kids.

What made you want to work with children?

It was a gift in disguise. In 2008, I was in finance, and that was a really tough time for a lot of people. At that time I was making more babysitting than I was making at the corporate office, and that was an advantage for me, because things were shifting all over the place. What started out as a gig turned into something I was extremely passionate about. It opened a door; my heart just opened up completely to children.


How did you get started at Gymboree?

I started working there part-time, and then I got promoted. I’ve used my experience in marketing to kind of take Gymboree to the next level. I’m working with the corporate office right now, leading webinars nationally for early childhood education. I also have a nonprofit called The Conscious Generation, [which] is geared towards mindfulness and meditation and changing the education system completely for children of all ages.

What do you mean by changing the education system?

The Zero to Three organization, one of the leading organizations for early childhood education in the country, created all of the curricula at Gymboree. And what I love about that is it’s about learning through play. That philosophy is becoming so popular today. It has mainly been seen in research overseas. In Finland, for example, children have some of the highest test scores in the world, because what they do is let them focus on some kind of curriculum-focused activity—like science, or math, or reading—for 2 hours. And then they let them play for the rest of the day. Gymboree’s philosophy has been around for 30 years, but it’s just getting to the cutting edge of popularity now because of this new research.

Learning through music and play is something a lot of kids do not get to experience. Kids will be in school all day long, and then parents will expect more. And I don’t mean this in a condescending way—some kids can actually brilliantly handle it, all this demand—but kids do get frustrated, or inattentive. They need some downtime just to process and be creative, because when we don’t think about anything, that’s where that creative space comes in.

It’s also very important [for parents and kids] to have one-on-one time. So some of the classes at Gymboree are drop-off, but some need a parent, and that’s because we’re fostering this parent-child relationship. When you come to Gymboree, your child’s not only learning, but you, the parent, are learning, too. And you’d be surprised how much the parents don’t know.


Like what?

We have tons of parents that come in from other kid-focused activities in the Brooklyn area who say they do not know what they’re doing with the kids; they’re expecting them to do somersaults, and flip upside down, and do all these activities that are just not developmentally sound or safe for their child’s age. That puts stress on the parents, thinking that their child is not at the stage they should be, but we have teachers who understand development phases — such as gross motor skills at each interval — and know better how to handle children of each age group. We offer full-spectrum classes that go beyond gross motor skills and foster a one-of-a-kind environment for the benefits of cognitive development.

How are the classes at Gymboree structured?

They’re teacher-led, and then the parent is there to kind of guide the child. But we do it in a way that’s really cool. For example, Play & Learn, one of the activities listed for KidPass, is done in our huge indoor gym. They have music, they have time to play on the equipment, which changes every 2 weeks. It’s playtime, but it’s also learning time, so they’re doing both at the same time.

What are the age groups you cater to?

Our schedule is aligned with the Zero to Three organization, and they go by a systematic way of approaching this. Classes are 0 to 6 months, 6 months to 10 months, 10 months to 16 months, and so it goes in stages. We work with kids up to 5 years of age.


Do you have a preference?

Honestly, I do not. I understand all the levels so well. So I love holding babies, but then when I get to the older kids, the 4- to 5-year-olds, even the 3-year-olds, some of them are so whip-smart; some of the things that come out of their mouths are just amazing.

Do you have a favorite part of the job?

Not only interacting with kids, but interacting with the parents. I get to educate them on so many things they do not know, or help them understand the kinds of classes we offer, and the critical importance of Gymboree and our philosophy. This includes the core developmental stages of early childhood education. It can be overwhelming for them, trying to do the best thing for their children. So that’s a really important relationship that I love to foster, because they really feel at home with us. We teach their kids — and sing, read, paint, and play with them. That trust we build with each child is just as important with the parent.

To check out what Gymboree Park Slope has to offer on KidPass, head here!

And for more on Gymboree Park Slope, check them out on Instagram. You can also check out more of Sebhia’s work here.

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