On most Friday nights, you can find the Barberry 6 relaxing at home, watching the Orioles or playing Kerplunk. It’s too hard for us to find a place that’s fun, affordable, and accommodating for our 3 boisterous boys and newborn girl. So, when I heard that FUNdamentals, an early learning and activity center in Forest Hill, was having an Olympic-themed event the whole family could enjoy, we signed up right away.
The owner, Natalie Henry, was a classmate in my high school’s “Working with Children” program, which gave students who were considering becoming teachers and day care workers the opportunity to experience firsthand what it would be like to teach preschool-aged students about colors, numbers, letters, and social skills. I remember Natalie being a standout instructor. Everyone wanted to be in her group. She’s creative, upbeat, and burning with energy, which are some of the most important characteristics to have when working with very young children. Natalie usually runs daytime and evening classes for kids from ages 18 months to 5 years, but she’s recently added themed events for the whole family on one Friday night a month.
At 5:30 pm on 8/26, Natalie warmly greeted my two friends, myself, and our combined total of seven children at the door of FUNdamentals. The lobby area was full of bright colors and festive red, white, and blue “Olympic” decorations, including a stage where the “winners” could pose with their medals at the end. Beyond the lobby was an enormous space (bigger than my house, for sure) full of moon bounces, a train table, a ball pit, hippity-hops, and tons of balloons. The little guys ran around on the cushy mat in socks and bare feet. There was so much to do that no one got into an argument – not even my Frank and Leo.
After about half an hour, Natalie very gently sang a song to gather the children around her so she could whisper the instructions to them. She was like the Pied Piper when she led the bigger kids off to a separate, smaller area to do some coloring and a toilet-paper tube and tissue paper “Olympic torch” craft and the little guys to a circle time exercise. They sang some silly songs, including one about sticking bubble gum to various parts of their bodies (the hair had to be the worst!) and played a few games.
The grand event was the series of activities and obstacle courses Natalie set up and demonstrated. There was a balance beam, some “weight-lifting,” basketball, and several other games to keep big kids and little kids engaged in a little fun Friday night competition. Even the adults got little chalkboards to “score” gymnastics.
As the petite gold medalists (they all were, of course) left the arena, Natalie made sure they took photographs at the photo booth and brought home some prizes – glow sticks, kites, anything and everything that could make a kid feel like he or she was a winner. (Even I felt victorious for finding a great place for my family to spend a Friday night — for a grand total of $25!
While Natalie was acting as ring master, I took the time to talk to her family, who had all come to support her in this big new venture. I learned very quickly that she has always been gifted with children and that owning a place like FUNdamentals was always her dream, but that because she had children of her own, she wasn’t sure how she could balance working at home and running a business. When this place came on the market, she took it as a sign from God that it was meant to be…but she proceeded with caution for fear of having her heart broken.
When I asked her about it, Natalie said, “I’m trying to teach my children not to pray for selfish things. It was a test for me not to ask for this business to be mine. Instead, I asked for God to be my guide, to light my path, and I would follow.”
Natalie runs FUNdamentals with the mind of a natural teacher and the heart of Christian woman. There is no doubt that God made her for this wonderful place and this wonderful place was made for her. All of us left with our spirits uplifted.
We can’t wait to visit again this Friday, September 16th, at 5 pm for Super Hero Night! It’s $10 per child or $25 per family and people of all ages are invited to join in the FUNdamentals at 2211 Commerce Drive in Forest Hill, MD 21050. Hope to see you there!