HAMDEN — Shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, 20-month-old Mya Spadacenta bounced into Rascals Gym and unloaded her tiny coat, shoes and socks.
She was ready to romp.
“She loves everything,” her mom, Kim Spadacenta of North Haven, said of the multitude of playscapes and activities. “Her favorites are the swings, the balance beams and the slides.
Rascals children’s gym on Whitney Avenue is celebrating 25 years in business this month, and founder Steve Schulefand said he’s at a point where women who came with their children are now bringing their grandchildren.
“I love working with kids. To me, kids are honest and real,” he said. “They should be able to be rascals. They should be able to explore and check things out.”
Miniature chairs with hooks above them line a wall on the right of the entry door, so children have a place to store their shoes and socks. They play in bare feet and their parents wear socks while crisscrossing a bold red rug with a beige center.
The hour long program for the “Wonderful Ones” began with everyone sitting in a circle clapping and chanting: “The children at Rascals say good morning and now it’s time to play.”
Sesame Street and Dr. Seuss characters offer a familiar and encouraging presence along the walls while the girls and boys head full force for bungee cords, swings, a rock climbing wall, trampolines, jungle gyms, seesaws, basketball hoops, treehouses and, yes, even a rollercoaster.
Parents monitor games along with Schulefand and his instructors Lauren Fournier, Lisa LaGaipa and Kate McLoughlin, who are there to make sure the playtime is safe and somewhat structured.
Kathy Lee, a stay-at-home mom from Hamden, said her 20-month-old son, J.J., was more timid when they first started coming to the gym. “He’s warmed up over time and he’s gained confidence,” she said. “I happen to live right around the corner, so it’s super-convenient for me.”
Rascals also provides a haven for children with developmental delays to meet outside the home with staff from KidSteps Family and Children’s Center in Madison. MacKenzie Hanna, an early intervention specialist with KidSteps, said in warmer weather they periodically meet families at parks.
“Kids have a chance to meet other peers and parents get to meet other parents,” Hanna said.
Schulefand said families also host parties at the gym for children 1 to 8 years old.
“Next week, we’ll dress up all week. Halloween’s my favorite holiday,” he said.
Rascals Gym started in Fairfield and moved to Hamden 17 years ago. In honor of the gym’s “birthday,” Schulefand said, families can attend unlimited classes for the upcoming November-December session for an additional $25.
Tuition for an eight-week session is $115 for one-hour classes or $110 for 45-minute classes. Most classes meet once a week.
Schulefand said the staff there rearranges the play areas so families do not get bored. “Every week, we do different things. They explore more by moving the gym around,” he said
Angela Carter can be reached at 789-5752 or firstname.lastname@example.org.