The value of Gymnastics for children under 5 years old.
Strap in and get ready for a 4 part series of posts that explains in detail the benefits of gymnastics for children. I have been in the field of teaching children since 1980 when I started coaching to help offset the cost of my own training. I didn’t know I would fall in love with teaching, or more specifically in love with teaching everything that comes inside the package wrapped in gymnastics class. I started by teaching the littlest kids in our program, when I was just 14. What I saw happening, even then, was children developing skills and attributes beyond just the skills they learned from rolling and cartwheeling. Today, I look and see that these lessons are the true benefit of being in any organized sport at a young age, but specifically in gymnastics. These things are even more desirous for our children today than back in 1980 when I started my career rolling (pun absolutely intended).
To begin with let’s state the obvious: gymnastics will provide an excellent source of Physical Education. That is to say, children get stronger, faster, more flexible, better balance, general coordination and more powerful. The physical benefits of sports training a young child are a given fact and there is no need to pile on more to the point. I would bet that if you started reading this article you probably already agree with the latter. Only slightly less obvious, is the fact that children develop self discipline, direction and a realistic sense of self esteem. To be successful (and I do not define success as “winning” in competition) a child learns that hard work is productive, that excuses only satisfy the people who make them and that no matter how good you are, there may always be someone better and they deserve respect. These lessons are invaluable to all children, in fact maybe our kids could teach some of the adults out there how to carry this healthy perspective on life, wouldn’t that make a better world?
Again, only slightly less obvious for children 5 years and under: gymnastics will help children understand sequencing and especially skill sequencing and progression. Understanding this helps young children better analyze situations and solve problems. By seeing things as steps or parts, they can grasp and control their manipulation of problems and solutions. As I stated before (to some controversy) sports like baseball, for example teach throwing, running, hitting and catching. They teach it at an early stage and refine it at later stages but it remains the same skills. Gymnastics teaches simple skills like weight transfer on hands and will develop those early building blocks into cartwheels and tumbling to high level skills. That progress allows greater integration of cognitive applications to skill development. Practicing movement, any movement, is beneficial to a child’s brain development. We also know that being physical allows the mind to open up like a sponge. When the body is active the brain becomes thirsty for learning. Providing a physical activity that also challenges the brain in turn enhances cognitive opportunities with children. Sports like gymnastics (dance, martial arts, diving, etc.) require the use of both hemispheres of the brain working together and also separately. There is nothing better for development than something that develops the brain as a whole in conjunction with the body as a whole.
This aforementioned attribute of developmental sports leads to the child having a greater sense of concentration, they need it to comprehend any new skills, and this will carry over to non-physical activity like reading, math and problem solving.
Lastly, and among the most important benefits, is the fact that developing a healthy lifestyle early in a child will make the lifestyle more likely to be life-long. Today, getting kids away from the computer or television is good. Getting physical to do it is better, and doing something physical that helps develop a healthy and secure child is BEST.