With a degree in Early Childhood Education and a master’s in Educational Administration, McGowan taught for 13 years in the Anderson County school system and worked part-time for First Steps.
“I knew my career path early on,” McGowan said. “I wanted to work with young kids, birth to 5 years.”
And she might have kept to that school-based path if the opportunity to take over Gymboree hadn’t presented itself in February.
It was a perfect fit for McGowan and her husband, Daniel, the parents of Connor, 6, and Avery, 4.
“We had talked about owning a business,” she said.
“I was a Gymboree parent. I could see the value of having a Gymboree in our community.”
Gymboree is based on childhood development principles, where age-appropriate classes develop motor, cognitive, social, sensory and language skills and build self-confidence, social skills and emotional awareness.
With five teachers, including McGowan, Gymboree offers four types of programs for kids from birth to 5 years old.
“We are one of the few places that start with classes at birth,” she said.
The core program is Play & Learn. Each class is led by a trained Gymboree teacher.
Children play with their parents or caregivers in a large gym filled with wooden slides and ladders, foam barrels, wedges and mats, and inflatable tubes, balls and logs.
As an educator, McGowan was drawn to the Gymboree program because it addressed children’s developmental needs.
“It is well-founded in appropriate developmental activities and allows children and parents to participate together,” she said.
Classes last 45 minutes with activities changing every few minutes. Every two weeks the configuration of the gym is changed to provide 18 different lessons.
Gymboree also offers art and music classes, open gym times, a Global Kids program emphasizing international cultures and a school readiness class.
The music classes teach 18 different music styles with 12 different instruments so children learn the building blocks of music, including rhythm, tone, pitch and movement.
The School Skills class lasts two hours and is taught by two teachers.
Children have time in the gym as well as science and art activities.
The drop-off class is for up to 10 children, 3 to 5 years old.
The drop-off programs help ease preschoolers into independence. Parents can test the waters with that before they send their kids off to school.
As a mom herself, McGowan appreciates what Gymboree brings to mothers as well as to their children.
“I love that parents can forget what’s waiting at home, like laundry, bills and housework, and come into a bright, cheerful, happy place where they can focus on their child.”