Gymnastics for Children: How to get Started
Gymnastics is a great sport for introducing to children. This is because many young children have an intrinsic desire to perform many of the movements that are common to gymnastics. Think of infants who roll across the floor to propel themselves from one part of the room to another; toddlers who skillfully negotiate their way out of their cots; toddlers who flip over by accident while playing on the bed or the couch; or children who climb all manner of objects available to them - door frames, fences, and trees in a park among other things.
Introducing a child to gymnastics is merely an extension of a child's instinctive drive but in a safer and more controlled environment.
When Should You Get Started?
Glenn Doman, in his revolutionary book, "How to Teach Your Baby to be Physically Superb", states that you can and should begin a child's physical journey to excellence from birth. The basis for this philosophy lies in the theory that children between the ages of birth to six have heightened brain development that allows them to learn and develop more quickly and easily when given the right stimulus. Consider the learning feats accomplished by a toddler - learning to walk and talk are two very remarkable achievements that are mastered in a period of time that few adults, if any, could emulate.
The theory is that babies at birth have the greatest potential for learning new material and this potential steadily decreases as the child grows older. Additionally, children at this age love to learn and are eager to be presented with new material that will help them further develop themselves.
For parents who are concerned that beginning too early might be unnecessarily stressful upon a child, it is important to be aware of three facts:
1. Young children would rather learn than eat - think of the toddler who is too engrossed in an activity to come to the dinner table.
2. Young children would rather learn than sleep - most toddlers refuse bedtime and nap time no matter how tired they may be.
3. Young children think all learning is play - young children love to learn new things. They absorb all new materials like a dry sponge absorbs water. For them, learning is fun.
By the time a child reaches the age of six, his or her learning ability begins to follow a pattern more similar to those of adults. Every year you delay introducing your child to gymnastics is a year of potential lost. Therefore if you wish to tap into your child's gymnastic potential and maximise his or her learning, the best time to begin is at birth.
How Do You Get Started?
First and foremost, introducing your child to gymnastics should be focused on having fun. Any child or individual that does something for the fun of it (or the love of it) will always excel at it.
Where should you begin - at home or in a gym? If you intend to develop your child's physical attributes from birth, then chances are you will have to begin at home with your own regimen of physical activities that you will perform with your baby. The activities that you should introduce to you baby to start him or her on the road to physical excellence are too detailed for the scope of this article. There is a comprehensive explanation broken down by developmental age in the book "How to Teach Your Baby to be Physically Superb".
The exercises recommended by Doman set the foundation for your child's development in strength, agility, confidence and love for physical activities. They not only prepare your child for gymnastics instruction but the ability to excel in any other sport. However, these exercises are especially suitable for children beginning gymnastics as many of them overlap with the regular gymnastic exercises. Many of the skills learned are particularly useful for children who wish to take up gymnastics, such as brachiation (the act of swinging from bar to bar using only the arms), tumbling, headstands, swinging and balance. These exercises are a terrific precursor for the natural progression to gymnastics.
A child with this early foundation can begin "formal" gymnastics classes from as early as 6-24 months, depending on the club or gym and the type of classes they offer. The early classes are usually for mothers and their babies where mothers are expected to help their babies participate in the activities. Children are initially grouped by age and later by ability level as their skills develop.
It is important to find the right club for your child. Visit a few gyms in the area and check features such as the facilities, the instructors, safety, and anything else that you deem important. You may also want to observe a class in progress to see how the other children respond to the program. Remember the key for successfully introducing your child to the sport of gymnastics is fun. If your child does not enjoy himself or herself, you may find this a short lived exercise.
If formal classes are not an option, you can still replicate many of the activities at home. Make sure you have an appropriate training area that is clear of any hazardous obstructions, such as furniture and other hard surfaces with which your child can collide into. It should have gym mats, carpeting, and lots of old cushions that can offer a soft landing for your budding gymnast.
Some exercises you can practice with your child are:
1. Tumbling - mark two lines on the floor that are twelve inches wide and ten feet long. Let your child practice tumbling between the two lines. As you child improves, decrease the width of the space and slowly progress to teaching your child how to perform a cartwheel.
2. Upper Body - place two chairs that are shoulder width apart and get your child to raise himself or herself up using the chairs. This will help to build arm strength.
3. Handstand - help you child get into the position of a handstand. This is a good beginner's gymnastic skill to pick up.
These are merely a few suggestions for exercises you can work on with your child. There are many more gymnastic activities that you can introduce to your child in the relative comfort and safety of your own home. If your child's interest in gymnastics continues to grow, it is important to seek professional classes as there will be a limit to how much you can teach your child particularly if you have no experience in the sport yourself.
Gymnastics is an excellent sport to introduce to children as it capitalises on a child's natural interest in activities exhibited through regular play. It helps children to excel in physical activities and encourages them to develop healthy bodies and a strong sense of self-esteem.
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