San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Gym Bus Mobilizes Physical Education for Kids

IT’S a kaleidoscope of colors andshapes: purple, pink, blue, red, yellow andgreen vinyl-covered squares and trianglesof different sizes. Gym balls, stainless steelbars at graduated heights, hardwoodladders and balance beams, knotted ropes,rings and an open-weave climbing net fillthe space. Little bodies clad in blue shortsand white shirts, climbing, jumping,twirling around a bar, flash on and off thescene.It’s the Gym Bus, a mobile gymnasiumfor children and the original creation ofRussian Vladimir Katchan, a physical-educationinstructor who has taught at the universitylevel in both the former SovietUnion and in Costa Rica. He was also technicaldirector for Costa Rica’s Olympicgymnastics selection committee for 13years before striking out in a new direction.The bus, which has had all its seatsremoved, seems filled to capacity, especiallyonce his young students arrive.Nevertheless, Katchan is constantly lookingto make improvements. His next stepwill be to suspend a flexible, circular tunnelfrom the ceiling.“It’s an obstacle course like those usedin military training – only in miniature,”Katchan explained, adding that the smallnessof the space is actually a plus in workingwith youngsters. “They feel moresecure, and it is easier for them to controltheir energy in a contained environment.”ON a recent morning at the Children’sCenter for Creative Learning in BarrioCórdoba, in southeastern San José, 10 students,ages 3-6, filed onto the bus,removed their shoes and socks, placingthem in an orderly row near the front of thebus, and lined up. From their shining eyes,their laughter and their eagerness to proceedwith class, it was obvious they wereenjoying the experience to the max.Cristina Fonseca, owner of the privateschool, said she has seen results inside oftwo months.“My 2-year-old son would always falla lot whenever he ran, and he had flat feet.After only two months working withVladimir, he has much better balance andflexibility. Vladimir also gave us somesimple exercises for his feet, and they haveimproved as well,” Fonseca reported.She has included his optional classes inher curriculum since March. The childrenlove it, and their parents are pleased aswell, she said.KATCHAN came to the school forseveral introductory talks with parents andteachers, and impressed everyone with hishumor, patience and professionalism,Fonseca said. A man in superb physicalshape, he radiates the unmistakable vitalityof an active, healthy athlete. In putting thechildren through their paces, he has a quietauthority and is constantly encouraging andreassuring them, and laughing with them.Katchan said the direct benefits ofgymnastics from an early age – he workseven with infants – are increased strength,coordination and flexibility; indirect benefitsinclude self-confidence, willingness totake risks, courage in meeting challenges,enhanced creativity and a self-possessionnot always encountered in very youngchildren.At the end of the 45-minute class, oneof the smaller children was offered helpputting on her sneakers.“I can do it myself,” she said, brushingaside her would-be helper.KATCHAN is currently giving groupclasses at six preschools. If the schoolshave an outdoor space, he supplements thegymnastics bus program with other gamesand sports activities. Additionally, he offersprivate training, and explains that he willwork with a child alone but prefers it whenthe parents participate as well.Katchan has worked with developmentallydisabled children and thoserecovering from injuries or surgery. Hecan also be hired for children’s parties. Formore information, call 301-0225 or 271-2871, or e-mail or Russian).

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