Tips for Adding Childcare to Your Gym

happy kids in gym daycare

If you’re looking to breathe some new life into your gym or fitness center you might want to think about adding a childcare program for your members.

But before you hire a babysitter and start advertising, here are a few things to consider.

Offering childcare at your gym is an investment, something that you should plan out carefully and consider whether or not it’s the right choice for you and your gym members.

Who is your membership?

Millennials are now the largest generation of people in the United States and they are entering their prime working and spending years.  The group of people we refer to as “millennials” was born between 1980 and 2000, making their age range 17-37.  This generation who has grown up amidst all the technological advances of the last two decades outnumber even the Baby Boomers.

While Millennials are slow to spend money on big purchases like homeownership or cars they are the group most willing to spend money on health and fitness.  In general, eating right and exercising are areas that Millennials take very seriously and are willing to shell out their hard-earned money on organic, non-processed foods, and for the right fitness center.

Add to that the fact that the average age that Millennials start a family is around 30, and boom, you can see that a large part of this generation is smack-dab in the middle of starting a family (or, has already started a family).

If the majority of the members of your gym fall into the Millennial generation, then offering childcare could be a way for you to earn additional revenue, provide extra value – and gain an edge over your competition.  But, if your members are mostly older (or still in college), you might want to pass on offering childcare.

Once you’ve determined you have the audience for childcare, then you need to determine whether or not it’s financially feasible for you.  There will be a cost to set up whatever type of childcare you decide to go with, from staffing to insurance to creating a kid-friendly space and filling it with kid-friendly activities and toys.  A cost-benefit analysis will help you figure out whether this option will be financially beneficial to you.

Another very important consideration is how you will charge your members for watching their children.  

  • Add a family plan to your membership tiers.  Charge more monthly for the members who want to take advantage of the childcare option.
  • Charge per visit.  Rather than a recurring monthly fee, charge members each time they check their kids in.
  • Add a youth fitness program.  If you think that having kids’ fitness classes is the way to go, then you could charge a monthly membership fee for children and offer the classes or activities as part of their membership.

Practical Advice for Adding Childcare to Your Gym

When it comes to offering childcare, or even child fitness classes, to the members of your gym, think about the old adage “anything worth doing is worth doing right.”  You can’t designate the old storage closet for a childcare room and expect Millennial parents to come flocking to your gym.

There is a lot of information online detailing how parents feel about shoddy childcare at a gym.  The bottom line is that you could lose members if you don’t put in the time and effort.

Gym Childcare Options

There are several types of childcare you could offer your members (for an additional fee, of course).  Some involve more organization and forethought than others.

Full-Service Care

Just like the name implies, this option provides all the amenities found in non-gym childcare.  Diaper changes, feeding, maybe even allowing parents to leave the gym premises for a short time.  This is the deluxe option and would require hiring plenty of responsible adults to watch kids, setting up a safe, positive, kid-friendly environment where children of varying age ranges can play or color or run around, having diaper changing stations, and a designated eating area.

Basic Care

Basic Care would cover the basics: a large room meant to hold children of all ages in a single space, adult supervision, and toys to play with.  It would not include any diaper changing or feeding options and would be meant only for parents who are at the gym, not allowing for off-premises privileges.

Self-Care Play Area

If you want to dip your toe in the childcare pool without having to invest in a lot of additional staff, a Self-Care Play Area could be the best solution.  This would be a play area that is clearly visible to parents as they work out, and parents would be the ones required to keep an eye on their own children.  This option would be best for older children who know to stay within the designated area and won’t be tempted to run out to find their parents in the gym.

Fitness Classes for Kids

Another way to keep kids occupied is to offer fitness classes for children a few times a day.  For example, a music and movement class for young children involving tumbling or dancing to music or a Kids Yoga class for older kids.  The classes could take place a few times a day, which would allow you to have sign ups and staff for the offered times.

Avoiding the Pitfalls

If the math works out and you think the effort of adding childcare to your gym will be worth it, then avoid these pitfalls to keep both parents and kids happy and coming back.

DO: Have a Very Clear, Very Visible Policy

Be upfront with your members about what you do, or don’t, offer for childcare options, and what they can expect from you.  Will your staff change diapers?  Are parents allowed to bring food?  What are your check in and check out policies?

Once you’ve hammered out your childcare policy, have it printed and put where everyone can see it.  You should also print out copies and have parents sign them as a way to acknowledge that they’ve read and understand your policy.

Why do this?  Having a policy will show that you’ve really thought about how to provide the best childcare experience for your members, and that you’re organized and committed to making sure things go smoothly for everyone – your staff included.

DO: Get Your Insurance Ducks In a Row

According to Jennifer Urmston Lowe, National Accounts Manager, from SFIC, “The most important items for fitness facilities to keep in mind when adding a childcare service to their amenities, are the importance of background checks for all employees, making sure the child care room is visible to the floor, that children are never left alone with a single employee, [and] parents need to sign waivers for their children [to participate].”

Make sure to check with your personal insurance agency and/or landlord to find out what steps they need you to take to minimize your (and their) liability.

DO: Figure out a Child-to-Adult Ratio

Most states have laws governing day care ratios.  Look into what the ratio is for your state for the different age groups (in California the ratio is one adult for every 12 toddlers, for example) and make sure to adhere to that.  This is an important safety issue.  Having too few adults for too many children could cause a problem.  Make sure your child care is well-staffed.

It might take some time to figure out the best way for you to go about doing this, since parents will likely want to come at different times of the day.

  • Look at when your most popular exercise classes are taking place.  Plan to beef up your staff during those times.
  • As part of your policy, have a signup sheet for childcare.  That way you’ll have an idea for how many kids to expect during various times of the day.
  • Survey your gym members.  Ask directly when they would be most likely to use the childcare.
  • Don’t be afraid to put limits.  Part of your policy should be to limit how many children can be signed in to childcare.  The reasoning is to keep both staff and kids safe.
  • Consider having a room for infants and toddlers, and a room for older kids.  Again, this is for safety reasons.  Even the best childcare workers will have a hard time taking care of infants, toddlers, and older elementary kids at the same time.  

DO: Consider the Room(s)

Think about the physical space where you’ll house your childcare space.  What are the rules that caregivers and children will need to follow?  Will children of all ages be in the same room?  Do you have enough space to have a room for infants or classes, too?

Where will parents drop off and pick up?  Will you keep the door open or closed?  Will you have separate areas for kids who want to sit and read or do an art project?  How close are the bathrooms to the kid room?  How often will you clean the toys and equipment?

DON’T: Assume That Children Will Entertain Themselves

You might think that kids should be good at figuring out something to do, but quite often the opposite is true.  

Offering a few activities that kids can engage in will add value to your child care.  Parents will see that you are providing more than a pen in which to cage their kids and want to bring their kids.  And won’t mind paying the extra fees.

Think about having some go-to art projects, story time, movement activities, or fitness classes.

Should You Offer Childcare At Your Gym?

No matter what kind of childcare you decide to go with, start by looking into the laws around providing childcare for your state and county.  You’ll need to do background checks on childcare staff, and make sure they’re first aid and CPR certified.  Your particular state/county will likely have other restrictions you’ll need to be aware of, such as the ratio of adults to children.  

Before making the big decision to invest in adding staff and making changes to your facilities, take a look at your members, even survey them.  Do they want childcare?  Will they pay extra fees for it?  

Then think about how you would want to implement a childcare option at your gym.  What sorts of physical changes would you need to make to your facility?  What kind of childcare would you offer: babysitting?  Activities?  Classes?  

Deciding to offer childcare at your gym is a big decision, one that should not be taken lightly.  But look at all the information you have at your disposal and you’ll be able to see if this would make sense for you.

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