21 Aug 2014
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Kids Rock Out With Mr. Gym at Library

Event at the Oxford public library makes learning fun for children.

Kids Rock Out With Mr. Gym at Library Kids Rock Out With Mr. Gym at Library Kids Rock Out With Mr. Gym at Library Kids Rock Out With Mr. Gym at Library

Singing, dancing, instruments and amplifiers – they would all fit right in at a concert. But do they belong at a library?

You may not think so. After all, libraries are typically viewed as havens of silence and decorum. Yet those things were, in fact, at a library-sponsored event in the Oxford Town Hall’s community room last week. On Feb. 24, Cromwell resident Chris Keithan performed a lively concert as Mr. Gym for close to 40 children and adults.

While playing a variety of instruments, Keithan sang original songs aimed at spreading the joys of physical fitness, a topic that is an important part of his life. Keithan’s regular job is as a physical education teacher for preschool – second grade students at Birch Grove Primary School in Tolland.

“This show is my gym class on the road,” Keithan said. “It’s music-based movement for kids.”

However, a visit from Keithan is nothing like a visit from the usual gym teacher. Sure, he wears the stereotypical sweatbands, shorts and what he calls a “zebra shirt” – a black-and-white striped referee shirt. But he’s got a special accessory that none of my gym teachers ever had: red Converse sneakers.

There’s magic in those shoes. When he puts them on his feet, “I turn into Mr. Gym,” he said, citing the label he was first given by one of his preschool students.

Mr. Gym hopes to convey the importance of fitness, but to some kids, the word “exercise” is as exciting as “vegetables” or “homework.” For these children, exercise is just another chore that has to be done because adults say so.

Mr. Gym changes that mindset. He never forces children to exercise. Instead, his songs carry energy so infectious that kids can’t help but move.

At the concert, attendees got quite a workout. They stretched, walked, and kicked up their heels during “Moving in Place.” For “Train,” children imitated both the jumpy chugging of a bumping locomotive and the quiet snoring of a sleeping train. Then, as Mr. Gym performed “Knee Slappin,'” a 4-year-old girl flapped her arms so hard that I half expected her to float into the air.

Even the shyer children at the edges of the action couldn’t keep still. A 2-year-old girl bounced up and down in her father’s arms. Another toddler rocked his infant sister’s carrier to the rhythm of the music. The room was filled with children who were exercising. Yet if you had asked what they were doing, it’s more likely that they would have just said they were having fun.

A sample of that fun is available to families who missed the show. Mr. Gym’s 2008 CD Freeze Dance can be purchased on his website MrGymRocks.com, as well as cdbaby.com and iTunes. Fans can also look out for Mr. Gym’s upcoming projects, such as a CD by the new Mr. Gym Band made up of Keithan and three fellow teachers.

Keithan dreams of one day creating a children’s book on CD, making a workout video and starring in children’s music videos on Nickelodeon’s TV network for preschoolers, Nick Jr. The Oxford concert-goers who got autographs clearly should hang on to them.

Mr. Gym’s concert was a prime example of what a library contributes to the community. Too often, people confine the concept of a library to a quiet place housing books. In reality, libraries are centers of information where patrons can be exposed to new experiences and ideas, including the ideas that a gym teacher can be a rock star and that physical fitness can be just as enjoyable as it is important.

So yes, singing, dancing, instruments and amplifiers belong at a concert. But sometimes, they belong at a library, too. 

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