As much as we enjoy covering all of the brand-new kid spots that open in NYC every day, we also love telling you about long-time neighborhood gems. Little local businesses like Queens' Sunnyside Arts Cooperative and Elliott's Gymnastics on the Upper West Side are very popular in their communities, and offer great classes and activities for families.
Today, I'm writing about one of my family's favorite local spots: the Midwood Martial Arts and Family Fitness Center. The center has been serving our community since 2006 and, despite its name, offers a lot more than karate. I first came across Midwood Martial Arts when I was looking for a playgroup for my then 15-month-old. (She's now about to turn four!) Opened by husband and wife team Alfred DiGrazia and Alison Morea (both black belts), the center offers a variety of athletic classes for all ages. And since there's nothing like Midwood Martial Arts in the immediate area, families come from many nearby neighborhoods like Flatbush, Ditmas Park and Kensington to play, tumble, kick and meditate.
Midwood Martial Arts and Family Fitness Center is a cozy place, with a modest-size classroom. Although there is stroller parking, it's cramped, so it's best to leave yours at home. There are a handful of Parent and Me offerings for families with young kids, like storytime, Music for Aardvarks sessions and creative movement. As children grow, they can try more advanced athletic activities, like karate, gymnastics and yoga.
There's also a Tuesday playgroup started by retired NYC public school teacher Harriet Rhine. My daughter made so many friends here. You can see how much fun the kids have in this slide show. It's well worth the $1 donation and tots get to enjoy the usual fun, like toys, nursery rhymes and storytime with their peers.
When she was a little older, my daughter attended a karate class taught by Sensei Alison. She and the other kids practiced stances, punches and kicks, and even learned how to count to ten in Japanese. In more advanced karate classes, kids learn partner techniques, sparring and stepping drills.
We also took a gymnastics class for preschoolers. This did wonders for her motor skills, and she really loved the fun warm-ups and floor exercises, like jumps, modified push-ups, animal walks and an obstacle course. I was really impressed with how the teacher maintained focus and got the kids into correct forms. It was amazing to watch my child do a handstand and hold it for 10 seconds!
Most classes at Midwood Martial Arts are offered on a drop-in basis. You can save a few bucks by buying multi-class packages and then just presenting your card whenever you decide to come. There are a few exceptions to this policy, so it's best to check the website for a complete schedule and current prices.
After class, my daughter and I always hit Salud, a family-owned Latin organic store just a few doors down from Midwood Martial Arts. The staff makes amazing blended smoothies, delicious soups, sandwiches and wraps, and an exceptional Mexican hot chocolate.
Midwood Martial Arts and Family Fitness Center is located at 1302 Avenue H at East 13th Street, 718-258-5425.
Read about other great places for kids' classes in our Classes Guide.