What started as a local playhouse in a suburb of Chicago has turned into an international phenomenon, spreading awareness and inspiration to everyone it touches. GiGi’s Playhouses are Down syndrome awareness and educational centers that provide resources, specialized teaching, and support to individuals with Down syndrome, their families and the community.
GiGi’s Playhouse centers evolved into educational centers with a focus on national awareness for Down syndrome. All of our programs are free to our families and are therapeutic in nature. Each of them are designed to work on specific skill development in several areas including speech and language, social development, and fine and gross motor skills. Our literacy program alone teaches thousands of kids with Down syndrome to read around the nation! The newest awareness project “One Million Voices”, along with our “i have a voice” campaign, seeks to change outdated perceptions and replace those images with beautiful, thought provoking, intelligent images.
In just 9 years, 12 Playhouses have opened and there are more in the works! GiGi’s is committed to the important mission of spreading positive and accurate information about
Down syndrome through education. We know that by helping individuals with Down syndrome reach their highest potential, we can change outdated perceptions that people may have. The end result is a world that is empowered with knowledge, compassion, and inspiration – what a better place for all of us!
GiGi’s offers over 20 different types of programs, 15 of which are educational in nature. The program development is very strategic for children with Down syndrome and their families. Each and every program has a purpose with specific goals in the areas of social skill development, speech and language, or academic achievement. The programs are structured within the following categories:
Prenatal Diagnosis support • Open Play • 2 & under
Crawlers • Walkers
Social Skill Development ..
Hop, Skip & Jumpers (3-5yrs) • Playhouse Pals (6-8yrs) •
Kids Club (9-12yrs) • Teen Group (13-17yrs) • Friday Friends (18+)
Literacy • Phonics • Handwriting • Math •Skill Builders
The Positive Beginnings programs are geared towards the perception that the parents, siblings and family members have towards their new baby with Down syndrome. These programs allow parents to feel the fear associated with this new and unfamiliar diagnosis, but then put that fear in its’ place and replace with hope and appreciation, even excitement. The end result is that the parent sees their baby as just that — a baby, their son or daughter. Not as a diagnosis. Once the parent gets to this point, the child’s potential is limitless.
The Crawlers and Walkers programs are designed to give each child a firm base on which to stand, literally. Though each child will be receiving Early Intervention therapies outside of GiGi’s, it is important that the parents are reinforcing those gross motor skills daily. Children with Down syndrome have low muscle tone; thus the more practice at crawling, walking and general gross motor skill development, the better. The programs that GiGi’s provides, allows yet another place where the parents can network and learn new strategies to ensure the success of their child’s walking skills. These programs are facilitated by licensed physical therapists.
Social Skill Development
Once the kids are walking, the focus of GiGi’s programs becomes social interaction. These are the kids who are in school or just graduated from school and thus friendship development is very important. These skills include anything from turn taking, making eye contact, inviting friends to play, appropriateness in public, etc. Consequently, friendships are developed through each class as well.
The Educational component is beneficial at any age and as the students are able to meet success, the end result is a better classroom experience for these students, their teachers and the parents as well. These programs are run by teachers and therapists.
It’s important to state that each category (positive beginnings, therapy, social, educational) is reinforced at every level. During the Positive Beginnings at Open Play, socialization is reinforced because they eat lunch together which provides a great setting for practicing social appropriateness. During Social skill development programs, the activities incorporate gross motor skill practice. Thus, the social, educational, and therapeutic components are cross categorical — meaning each is practiced and developed in every single program offered. As a result, the self esteem of both the child and the parent increases. This self esteem is what propels individuals with Down syndrome to be successful.