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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Toddlers Find Place To Romp and Roll

Masha pulls up in her big red sports car. After pointing to the gas tank, some petrol is poured. Without even a thank you, she takes off, running over a small child on the way, flashing her wad of rubles in her hand defiantly.

It could have been an ugly scene, but thank goodness Masha is only 2-years-old -- her little red corvette is a plastic version that she pushes with her feet.

Masha and others have found a sanctuary where they can zoom around in plastic cars and rock on oversized, alligator see-saws. On the fifth floor of an old dress factory near Dinamo metro, past the babushka keeping guard, is the "Toddlers' Gym" -- a spacious, sunny room where children can play high above the slushy, dirty streets of the city.

And play they do. To the tunes of a Barney sing-a-long, children roll about in cushy foam blocks, jump on trampolines and sometimes buzz by in that red plastic sports car.

"I think it's perfect," said Pirgitta Meester, a young Swedish mother with a 20-month-old son. "It's the perfect place for him to come and spend some energy. She drives for more than an hour from her home in southern Moscow to reach the toddlers' gym.

Run by a group of expatriate women, the gym has been operating for over a year. With equipment imported from England and covered by insurance taken out by the group, the toddlers gym provides a safe, clean and cheerful environment.

"It's the best environment for children of this age," says Vicky Eggmann, a mother with an infant and son who just left the sunny land of Brazil to live in Moscow. "They can't play outside. It's too cold. Here they have the freedom to run around."

But the benefits aren't simply for the children. "You can make a lot of connections here," said Casey Sams, a mother of two who has been coming to the gym for four months. "I found my nanny here," she said, adding, "And I get to speak English with adults."

From where to find formula to organizing children's play groups that rotate among family homes, the gym offers the chance for moms and dads trade child-rearing secrets.

"It's a real boost coming here and talking to other moms," said Sams.

The gym is designed primarily for children up to age five. "If they are over three, I recommend that they come with a friend," said American Kathy Kohut, who has been organizing the gym for the past year but who will be leaving Moscow soon to return home. Children under three are usually content playing with parents, she said. Above that age, they need other children their age to play with, she said.

The toddlers gym is open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon. There is an initial membership fee of $30 for a family of two and $50 for families with three children or more. Each visit to the gym is an additional $5 and children must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, contact Lena Ilina at 213-2908.