45 Years of Gymboree Play & Music

In a month where we’re celebrating a significant 45 Anniversary, we feel it’s important now more than ever, to take a look back at just how far we’ve come. 

In the Beginning

Long before Gymboree Play & Music was launched in 1976. Joan Barnes, in her early 20s, had taught modern dance to children in New York City before organizing a children’s recreation program for the Jewish Community Center in San Rafael, California

She was serving as the recreation administrator at that center when, in 1975, she came up with the notion of offering exercise classes for babies with their parents. The idea stemmed partly from her personal desire to share physical fitness playtime with her own daughter.

Her baby exercise classes were such a hit that parents lined up to bring their babies and toddlers to attend the exercise sessions. Recognizing the commercial potential of her idea, Barnes left her job with the Jewish Community Center and opened her first commercial children’s workout center in 1976.

And thus Gymboree Play & Music was born. 


By 1984, 125 Gymboree franchises were operating in 20 states. The franchises were typically operated by women, many of whom had training in occupational therapy or education. Classes were usually held in church halls and community buildings, and parents were charged only $4 to $8 per 45-minute session. 

Our early classes varied to accommodate children ranging from three months to four years in age, typical sessions included the children hanging from bars to build up arm muscles, popping soap bubbles to develop eye-hand coordination, or walking on inflated logs to improve balance. 

By 1987, our chain had grown to include more than 350 centers throughout the United States and in several foreign countries. Aside from the rapid sales growth, it was all too-evident that by the mid-to-late 80’s, Gymboree Play & Music had become an established and respected brand by parents around the world.


Over the next 5 years, the Gymboree brand continued to build a global reputation by opening its first retail store in 1989 and expanding its play centers into countries like Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Indonesia, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Mexico before going public in 1993 pushing the brand further into the global spotlight. By the end of the 1990s our Play & Music programs allowed master franchisees to open in the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, and Ireland. 


Throughout the early to mid 2000’s the Gymboree Play & Music brand underwent several changes, but ultimately thrived as parents around the world found resonance with its innovative approach to early childhood development, education and music.

While the retail component of the business fluctuated, the demand for play based education continued to increase, allowing Gymboree Play & Music to become its own company in 2016.


Today, after 45 years of our commitment to families and learning, Gymboree Play & Music has more than 700 locations globally that have supported the growth of hundreds of thousands of kids from around the world. 

If you are interested in learning more about our company, and our franchise opportunities, please visit us online, or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

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