There’s a lot of emphasis on getting preschoolers into sports nowadays.
We’re seeing toddler soccer, mini ball and t-ball clubs sprouting up all over the place. But what about gymnastics?
The benefits of this activity for children’s balance, coordination, strength and agility are well established.
But how young is too young?
In this article, we’ll provide the definitive answer as to whether or not gymnastics is good for toddlers.
Is Gymnastics Safe for Toddlers?
Yes, gymnastics is safe for toddlers, but there are provisos.
The recommended age for children to start gymnastics is five years old.
Some areas of gymnastics will accept children as young as two years. At this age, children are provided with pre-gymnastic training.
Once they have spent plenty of time on exercises for general physical development, children can go on to tumbling exercises before advancing to beam and bar work.
Gymnastics should not be forced upon your toddler.
Allow them the freedom to explore their bodily movements. You could introduce gymnastics by allowing them to watch gymnastics videos with you, encouraging them to move along with the gymnasts on screen.
You can then provide your child with some simple tumbling and rolling practice at home.
If your child is keen, then you could consider enrolling them in a pre-gymnastics class.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under the age of six should not be enrolled in organized sports such as soccer or basketball.
Between the ages of two and five, it is suggested that children spend time running, jumping, tumbling and leaping. These are the very activities that are involved in pre-gymnastics.
These movements help to develop the child’s key motor skills.
USA Gymnastics suggest that children under the age of three should be given basic motor skills related movement guidance at home by their parents.
From age three, toddlers can be enrolled in courses that are run by Kinder accredited teachers and that are age appropriate.
As with most activities, there are positives and negatives associated with gymnastics for young children.
In the next section, we’ll provide you with the facts that will allow you to decide whether or not to take your child down the gymnastics route.
Gymnastics for Kids Pros
- Movement – introducing your child to gymnastics is a great way to encourage the habit of movement. All of the running, jumping, tumbling and balancing is a fantastic way to burn calories.
- Gets them outside – Kids who are practicing their gym skills need space. Wouldn’t you rather see your kid doing cartwheels in the backyard than sitting in their room playing on their Smartphone?
- Lays an athletic foundation – the skills that children develop through gymnastics training lay the foundation for all other sports. The flexibility, coordination and proprioception will provide the agility and balance needed for basketball, soccer and football. So, even if your child doesn’t stick with gymnastics, they will have a great foundation established for whatever sport they do gravitate towards.
- Develops mental toughness – Gymnastics helps your child to develop the essential life skills of resilience and perseverance. Learning how to tumble or do a cartwheel will take plenty of both. When your child does achieve success at these moves, they will also experience the intrinsic reward of having achieved through their own concerted effort. This will feed their self-confidence.
- Making friends – your child will be able to develop social skills as she learns to work as part of a team. She will also learn to interact with adults who are in positions of authority. Children in gymnastic clubs also develop the skill of encouraging other team members.
- Learn about fair play – being part of a gym club will teach your child all about fair play, with research showing that children who do gymnastics come out on top in terms of displaying sound judgement and sense of character.
- Improved focus and concentration – gymnastics forces children to think independently, visualize the moves they are working on. These things strengthen the mind-body connection and have a flow over effect into the classroom, with studies showing that fit, healthy children have better academic results.
- More flexibility and body awareness – the more aware of their body a child is, the less likely they are to suffer injury. They are able to adjust their body to avoid a calamity. Gymnasts are also less likely to suffer from poor posture or other bodily alignment issues.
Gymnastics for Kids Cons
- Injury potential – It’s a fact that gymnastics has the highest injury rate among children of any sporting activity. A 2008 survey that was published in Pediatrics magazine showed that one in five children suffer a gymnastics related injury every year.
- Negative Emotional Consequences – Gymnastics involves a lot of trial and error and encompasses a high degree of failure. While this can be a good thing in terms of developing resilience, it may cause intense feelings of failure in others. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child will experience intense feelings of failure if the demands placed upon him are beyond his level of physical or cognitive development.
Toddler Gymnastics FAQ
What are the best beginner exercises for your toddler at home?
The following three exercise sequence will be a great introduction to gymnastics for your toddler:
Have your child get into a squat position with their hands on the floor.
They then lean forward and kick the legs back as if doing donkey kicks. Over time, encourage your child to try and lift their legs and put their knees on their elbows, holding it for a few seconds.
Your toddler will see others doing handstands and may start trying to do them on their own.
If not, don’t force them to do it. If they are keen, however, start by helping her to do handstands against the wall.
Work up to them holding this position for up to 30 seconds with your support.
Next, slowly withdraw your support. Then move away from the wall with you holding their feet.
Have the child lie on the floor, with the head tucked in, knees bent and arms by their sides.
Have them curl up like a ball. Then encourage them to push with the legs and roll forward onto their head and through for a complete revolution.
Are there any games to engage children in gymnastics?
It is best to introduce gymnastics movement in a fun environment that will really engage your toddler. Here are a couple of engaging games to get you started:
Have your toddler imitate the movements of their favorite animal.
Encourage your child to crawl like a bear, jump like a monkey, walk like a crab and hop like a bunny rabbit.
They will love to do donkey kicks and starfish jumps. Be imaginative and create a circuit for your child.
You’ll need a few youngsters for this one.
Set out a range of items such as mats, bean bags and pillows around the room.
These are the ‘islands.’ The children have to move around the room by jumping from one island to another without falling into the ‘water.’
Gymnastics offers many benefits for young people.
You can introduce your toddler to gymnastics in a fun engaging way with games, leading on to basic movement drills.
Just don’t push them beyond their interest level or physical and cognitive ability. If they are still keen, you can then advance them to a pre-gym class with a qualified Kinder instructor.