Articles
Seeing The Wheels Turn

 

One of the most fascinating elements of teaching gymnastics to preschool children is the opportunity to see their brains at work. Observing a child attempting to follow directions and try a new skill is like seeing the inner workings of a clock. “Bend your nose down to your toes” is a direction for doing a forward roll or leaning forward in “butterfly” (sitting with legs bent and feet touching.) Sometimes a child will touch their nose or toes or both after hearing that direction, and then start to move one towards the other.

Juggling the pace for preschoolers is tricky. Preschoolers need to keep moving because their attention spans are short, but they also need time to process directions. When their brains are sending messages all the way down to their toes, it takes a little time. That message is building or strengthening a neurological pathway as it travels. In an adult, that message moves almost instantaneously down a well-worn path. Combining physical and mental activities helps the brain develop.

Another example of combining physical and mental tasks is following an obstacle course. Preschool gymnastics classes use obstacle courses or stations for teaching skills on the equipment. The bar station is made up of multiple activities on bars and rings. Watching a child go through an obstacle course often provides chances to see the wheels turning. The child may be deciding if she can really fit inside the tunnel.

 

Swinging on the monkey bars may seem scary, but watching the kid in front of them swing his toes to touch the balloon looks like fun. Following a sequence is a beneficial aspect of gymnastics classes. This is “motor planning” when the child figures out how to move his body through the various equipment and mats. Multiple areas of the brain are utilized. Motor planning is a critical building block of academic learning, as is mastering movement skills.

Social, emotional and cognitive skill development can all occur within a gymnastics class. The class involves interacting with other children and the instructor. Taking turns calls on emotional control and social skills. Trust also comes into play in gymnastics class; for safety and to learn new skills, instructors need to spot children as they learn a skill. This trust builds when a child is encouraged to try a small part of the skill, but is not forced to do the whole skill immediately. Gymnastics is a sport of progressions, and coaches understand how to break a skill into small steps that children can master one at a time. The joy a child expresses when they have accomplished a new skill is infectious.

These are valuable experiences for children. Gymnastics classes are learning labs for young children and it is fun to see their expressions as their brains process new information. The colorful environment looks fun and entices children to participate. The child quickly learns that by participating, she or he can have fun doing a new activity that might have looked scary. Take a moment to enjoy watching the wheels turn as they contemplate their next move.