The Benefits of Gymnastics for School Age Children
The last installment ended the post by talking of the cognitive benefits of having children 5 and under enrolled in gymnastics. When we are talking about kids older than 5, we call school age kids, the benefits are very similar. We know for a fact that offering children movement opportunities early in life ensures a better chance to be successful in school in later years. Brain research has shown us that movement increases intellectual capacity. I know of parents who plunk their children in front of a computer and trust that the development that occurs as a result of single minded focus will be good enough. In fact it proves detrimental in the long run for several reasons; the first being; that physicality enhances mental growth. A fit body has a mind that opens up like a sponge and is thirsty to absorb new information. Sitting at a computer may make kids tech savvy but their development will be stunted. For every successful nerd who had no physical outlet as a child there are 10,000 unsuccessful, disgruntled and socially backward nerds who never even tapped anything close to their potential.
I mentioned previously that many cognitive skills develop because of movement experience, like language and reading skills as well as math and problem solving: but among the many benefits of development in sports is the social growth a child sees being an athlete. With the comfort of physicality a child has being a byproduct of successful participation in sports/gym we will see that more movements are unhindered and in fact enhanced. That is to say that going to the playground is not intimidating to the child who feels comfortable in their own performance. It makes it easier to seek out chances for doing more in the gym or finding more potential outlets to exercise. Then the domino effect is put into play. They do more and enjoy more, then look for more to do. This leads to feeling better and learning more too. Obviously there is a limit that a child must have to avoid burning out and/or not having the time to be a “normal” child with friends, family and free time.
Social development, through sports, for school age children is an often overlooked benefit. Children who play in front of and with others rarely develop a fear of appearing in front of a group. From school speeches to presenting at a business meeting as an adult, their comfort level is enhanced and they are more likely to experience personal success. Their social environment in the gym facilitates listening, following directions, waiting for their turn, observation, sharing, and knowing personal space. Can you see the benefit for this skill set in later life?
All types of school age kids find great value in the gym. The more active child can find great energy release and be challenged to grow stronger and even more confident when trying new skills. They would also practice patience and control. Being allowed to “play” when they exhibit good social skills (listening, waiting sharing etc.) is only one control area. Imagine the control needed for walking a beam, holding a rope or doing a sequence of skills. The child who seemingly tends toward disorder finds order necessary and within their grasp.
The timid child is challenged to try new skills and push their own comfort envelope. They learn that sometimes it’s good to push themselves and that anything is attainable when they rise to a challenge.
In this society we tend to reward children for minimal effort just to save their feelings, or we make the acquisition of tangibles, like medals and trophies, of such importance that children are dissuaded from actually trying for fear of loss or not being good enough. Gymnastics and/or developmental sports are a great way for children to develop skills, confidence and mental strengths as long as adults (parents or coaches) do not corrupt the growth and strength that naturally occurs in these activities.