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How to Create a Great Kids’ Area for Your Club

By: Bruce Carter

Bruce Carter

The question on whether to offer a kids’ area is a continuing one in the health and fitness club industry.

Some say very few members use the area, so why waste the needed space and add to the payroll? This is especially true if a club is offering lower prices or if it is smaller in size.

Yet, others say it’s a necessity to attract parents who could not join, unless they had a place to leave their kid(s).

The purpose of this article is to assume that you are planning to have an area for kids, and therefore, how do you achieve the optimal kids’ space?

Kids’ offerings in clubs fall into three general categories:

  1. 1. Some of them have too little space, are too crowded, dirty and cluttered. Most people wouldn’t want to leave their kids in such a space. Yet, some will because they have no other option.
  2. 2. For some of them, you’d be okay or even happy to leave your kid in the space. It has some room and energy. This usually adequately serves the purpose of a kids’ area.
  3. 3. Your kid loves what he sees in the kids’ area so much that a potential member may join as much for his kid as he does for himself.

Here are recommendations for creating the best kids’ space for your club:

Safety – No matter what you choose, safety is the first concern. Design and décor should be inviting but minimize any potential problems. For example, all wall outlets should be GFI rated.

Size – In general, a kids’ area should be a minimum of 200 – 250 square feet. Anything smaller puts you in the first category above. Depending on the size of the club, kids’ areas can be between 300 to 800 (or more) square feet for the second category. The third category needs over 1,200 square feet to adequately make the space a “draw” for kids and parents. It is imperative to have a bathroom in any kids’ area.

Design – Depending on the size of the space, design may be very basic. As you get into the larger size spaces, it is desirable to have kids enter into a “corral” or gathering area with a small reception desk before they enter in to the main space. This enables the staff to better control who goes in and out of the space. This space is separated by a half wall (30 inches high) and a half door. This area would also have cubbies for parents and kids to store certain items.

The use of windows is good for people to see in, especially if the area is attractive and inviting. However, when kids are able to see the parents, they often can start crying. So, it’s a good idea to use a one-way film on the glass so kids can’t see out. Also, it’s a good idea to install a monitor (or “kiddy cam”) at the cardio area enabling parents to see their kids in the space.

For larger spaces with pro-gramming, an office and storage is recommended.

Finishes – Kids’ areas take a lot of wear and tear, so the finishes should make the area easy to keep clean and maintain.

Flooring is best with some type of rubber or soft vinyl product. Rubber should not be mostly black but should have more color in it. Carpet is okay and should have padding under it. However, lower cost carpet options will typically last only 3 – 5 years. The bathroom floor should be vinyl or tile.

Walls should be painted semi-gloss or satin but will need to be painted regularly. It is recommended to use either laminate, rigid sheet vinyl or carpet on the sides of walls in areas where they get dirty easily. This will look better and will be easier to clean, so it will take less time to keep the area clean.

Colors – Bright energy colors work well for these areas and can look different than other areas of your clubs. Use more than one color in the room.

Graphics – There are many graphics choices appropriate for kids’ areas online, such as art.com or shutterstock.com. Also, there are great decal options available online to stick on a variety of colorful characters or scenes for the walls. These are inexpensive and easily add more fun and energy to the space. The graphics need to work for girls and boys of the general ages of those utilizing the space. You may also choose to have a mural painted, but the end result should have a quality look to it.

Things such as kids’ blackboards also allow kids to be creative, and colored chalk is a good idea. It is also important to have some type of TV (bigger, such as 60″ is better) for video games and movies, and remember these types of items have to be positioned lower on the walls.

Furnishes and Toys – It is best to use durable and easy-to-clean plastic for much of what you provide in your area. Obviously, very small items should be avoided and a range of options for both girls and boys are needed. There are wonderful options online for such items.

Lighting and Ceiling Accents – For the most part, lighting can be somewhat basic, including using indirect fluorescent fixtures. In larger spaces, colorful children-oriented drum lighting is a good option. There are a variety of colorful, yet inexpensive, ceiling accents to use, including Chinese lanterns (without lights), hot air balloon lanterns and kites.

Noise Issues – Kids’ areas, if next to an area that requires quiet, such as a yoga studio, should have sound insulation in the walls. Ideally, the walls should go to the ceiling.

Some other key aspects for larger kids’ areas include considering having three different sections. One is the main area for kids between 2 – 8 or so. The second section, that is much smaller, would be for infants up to two and if they are sleeping in a carrier or stroller. The third section is for ages 8 – up to early teens. This again is a smaller section with counters for playing video games. Typically, there is no place for this group to go, especially young teens who you do not want (and they do not want) to mix with 5-year olds in a kids’ area. This gives them something entertaining to do in a space of approximately 100 square feet.

It is important to note that, when doing an area with three different sections, have the spaces separated by half walls 30 inches high, with half doors. This enables staff to monitor all the areas, eliminating more staff for the areas.

If you want to create an area in the third category, where families join as much for the kids experience, as well as the adults, then in addition to more space, more programming will be needed.

Programs such as dance classes, early education classes and active play games with staff are all positive additions. Consider adding such items as a climbing playscape, dance revolution (where kids dance with music on a colorful floor unit that lights up when the kids move on the unit while looking at coordinated movements on a monitor). There are also a number of interactive play units for walls and floor space that get kids active while having fun. Items such as exercise equipment machines have not proven to be in much demand because kids do not see these as fun.

If you decide to have a kids’ area, make it special, no matter what size it is. If you have kids (of if you don’t, find someone who does) and ask, “Would you want your kids in the space?” These areas can be a competitive asset but should be well thought out, not taking the “token gesture” approach that you have child care. Colorful fun and play is the goal.

As published on clubinsideronline.com, August 2014.