Starting Gymnastics as a Preschooler
Technique, USA Gymnastics January 2003
Parents often ask the question of when to start their young child in a gymnastics program. This is quite an important issue to address due to the knowledge that children develop their fundamental movement skills between the ages of 2 and 5. Each stage of a youngster’s development presents critical learning periods. In general, a child will benefit from his/her involvement in gymnastics regardless of the age that he or she begins! The magic is that they experience challenges and new skills as they mature.
A 3 year old student’s pride in being able to walk on a two foot high beam is as much a milestone as the 5 year old who learns a one – armed cartwheel. The type of activities toddlers attempt in gym class is quite different from those performed by 5-year old students. The class activities are guided by developmental stages of the students.
As muscular and skeletal strength develop during the formative years, children gain more confidence and a greater ability to perform physical skills. Child development specialists graph developmental stages by age. Children come in all sizes and shapes and have their individual timetables of growth. Therefore, the charted stages of development are used as a much - needed guideline for curriculum development. Preschoolers are commonly placed in a specific gymnastics class by their age, not by their ability.
Preschool gymnastics directors and teachers develop their curriculum with age - appropriate activities in mind. Experienced teachers take into consideration the children’s mental and emotional maturity when presenting lesson activities. For those who demonstrate an aptitude for gymnastics at a young age, advanced classes are offered. In 1995 USA Gymnastics launched a course for instructors of preschool age children.
The course is titled KAT, Kinder Accreditation For Teachers. More than 3,000 preschool gymnastics instructors have proudly earned this teaching certification. Parent / Tot Class Activities The tots group, ages 20-36 months, experience thrilling moments in the gym which range from rolling on mats to playing group parachute games. The tots are encouraged to climb, crawl, and jump from station to station.
Objectives are basic motor patterns and therefore, simple to complete. Tot and parent share all of this excitement as they work through each class as partners. An additional benefit of being involved in gymnastics at this young age is the opportunity to socialize with other children of the same age. Sharing, following simple directions, and social skill development are all-important aspects of a Parent/ Tot Program.
There is more than meets the eye going on with participation in gymnastics at a young age. Brain growth for one! The vestibular mechanism is located in the ear canal. This mechanism is responsible for balance. During gym class a myriad of opportunities exist for honing the skill of balance. When the vestibular mechanism of the brain is stimulated through gym class activities, it in turn, stimulates other areas of the brain to grow. What an exciting outcome for being involved in a movement program at a young age.
Class Activities for the 3 Year Old At this age, the social skills of sharing, helping others, and listening politely are as important to learn as gymnastics skills. Gymnastics classes are typically youngsters’ first experience with a “school” setting. Gymnastics classes for this age group caters to the children’s need for social development as well as movement education.
Perpetual motion is the name of the game with 3 year olds. Learning by doing is their motto. Teachers of this age group present the students with basic gymnastics skills such as rolling, swinging, jumping, and balancing. Body positions, which they will use month after month, are instilled through repetition. These positions include: tuck, straddle, pike and stretch.
More difficult skills such as backward rolls, handstands, and cartwheels are attempted with the aid of the teacher. Mastery of these skills is not expected at this age. The 3 year olds are presented with combination of skills to learn in order to improve memory. The learning of proper gymnastics terminology is also an important element of the curriculum at this time.
Class Activities for the 4 Year Old Development of social skills is still of high importance at this age. Partner activities are introduced as well as relays and group games with multiple tasks. Progression of challenging skills for vault, bars, beam, tumbling, and trampoline are presented to the 4 year olds.
The teacher may “spot” the child during skill performance for safety and learning purposes. Safety is foremost in the teacher’s mind with all the age groups. With an increased attention span and improved strength and flexibility, gymnastics skills are acquired more easily at this age. Improved listening skills accelerate the learning process. Circuit stations at this age may involve three steps per task at each station. Throughout the class the teacher encourages problem solving and creative thinking. Longer skill combinations are introduced to this age group.