Running Rings Around Kids
Port Melbourne hub Kids in Motion is a genius hybrid of different fitness disciplines for all ages.
David Hannan’s brainwave came in the early 1990s, while he was teaching kung fu in Santa Monica. During some time out, he did what any self-respecting fitness fanatic would do and headed for the ocean. But he found himself sidetracked by one of the beachside gyms.
“They had some of those rings all in a row, so that people can swing from one ring to the other,” he recalls. “I thought that was amazing. In my head I was deciding that if I ever set up a gym I was going to put that in, because that’s much more fun than traditional gymnastics elements like Roman rings.”
Over the years, David had been teaching gymnastics, martial arts and circus – he’s a former trapeze artist – but hadn’t yet tailored his own approach that draws on all those disciplines and more.
“When I was growing up, gymnastics liked to sell itself as the foundation to all sports,” he says, “but if you just teach kids how to do cartwheels, how are they going to socialise? I thought, right, I’ll take all the good things from gymnastics, mix it in with some fun things from circus, some self-empowering things from kung fu, and then mix in ball sports, which will help kids socialise.”
Now he has a purpose-built facility in Port Melbourne, which includes five rock-climbing walls, areas set up for ball skills and even a brain gym, with blackboards and exercises on how to improve focus and memory. Given that David’s written a book called The Art of Teaching Without Teaching, we’re confident that part will be just as fun. Meeting Scout, the therapy dog, can only be a bonus.
David’s a firm believer that kids need to challenge themselves to feel a sense of achievement. “There’s a sense of adventure that comes from children doing something that seems impossible or that’s out of the blue,” he says. “You tend to find that kids get a much bigger growth spurt and, I dare say, a sense of empowerment from doing something that’s challenging and adventurous, that they don’t necessarily get from just learning a new skill.”
The Kids in Motion team work hard to continually surprise their regular kids by reinventing activities with the same equipment. Take the rock-climbing walls. “We allow the kids to create their own climb and we give them cool names,” says David. “So, we’ve got climbs like the Hot Henry Barber. Henry was an amputee rock climber back in the ’70s who had a bad temper, so they called him ‘Hot’ Henry Barber. So suddenly a kid’s got to climb it in a bad temper. Or some other kid might say, ‘What if I put a chicken on my head and climb to the top and drop it?’ And that climb suddenly becomes the Chicken Head Challenge.”
David’s been recruited to do all sorts of activities over the years. One father was too old to teach his kid to learn a bike and run beside it, so he recruited David. And David’s also worked on fast-tracking kids who have not taken part in sports before, to bring them up to speed with other children their age.
“I find it quite easy to be animated and silly and a little crazy and fun for the kids,” he says. “Then they laugh at you and they are okay laughing at themselves when they feel uncomfortable. So, I do a lot of that and I might create stories and things and tie the challenges back to their imagination. As for the other teachers, they all have different strengths. I’m most concerned about keeping a class safe and productive.”
In David’s opinion, it’s not just iPads that are a threat to kids’ physical health. There’s also the fat that population growth in Melbourne has led to fewer playgrounds and backyards, or traffic-free suburban roads to cycle in.
“The other big thing is that when I first started 21 years ago, there seemed to be a trend with schools and local councils of cutting out adventurous play equipment for fear of litigation,” he says. “It became very bland. Children weren’t challenged anymore and you had a big drop off of kid’s strength and courage.”
David and his team hold day classes for pre-schoolers; after-school classes for different ages; school holiday programs and birthday parties. An hour-long class ranges from $25-$34 and newcomers get a free trial.