If you’re thinking about putting your child in a kids gymnastics class but can’t decide if it’s worth it, read on! I’ll go over some gymnastics benefits, gymnastics vs. tumbling, what to expect in a kids gymnastics class, and other advantages of gymnastics.
Of course, there are many pros and cons of gymnastics. Here I’ll go over some of the pros, but watch for my future article which will go over the downsides of kid’s gymnastics.
What is Gymnastics?
With the Cambridge dictionary’s definition, “physical exercises that increase the body’s strength, balance, and ability to move gracefully, often using special equipment…”, gymnastics can be as simple as walking! For children, walking is gymnastics. So is jumping, standing on one leg, and hanging from a tree.
The dictionary continues the definition for gymnastics to include “…or the competitive sport of performing such exercises.” So gymnastics is also a sport – one that often includes competition and a team.
In this article, I refer to both types of gymnastics given by the dictionary – an exercise and a sport. I also would like to add gymnastics as an activity. Exercise is considered a means to improve your body’s health, which is not always the case. Many children, and adults, practice gymnastics for pure enjoyment!
Gymnastics vs. Tumbling
Tumbling is a common term which gets confused with gymnastics. Tumbling and gymnastics both use one’s body to perform movements. Gymnastics sometimes uses apparatus (bars, balance beam, rings, etc.). Tumbling does not…though you can technically tumble on a beam! Tumbling can often use mats or other extras, like trampolines. Tumbling is performing gymnastics floor skills, often linked skills, on the ground or other surfaces.
All tumbling is gymnastics, but all gymnastics is not tumbling. For example, performing skills on the uneven parallel bars is gymnastics, but it is not tumbling.
When learning gymnastics at home, most think solely of tumbling, since it requires no apparatus. It consists of gymnastics tricks using just your body. Tumbling may involve spotting (by people or objects) and equipment to tumble on or off.
Why Gymnastics is Important for Children
I like to think of gymnastics as the foundation of all individual sports. In fact, I think it’s the foundation for all physical activity.
Although I’m not a big proponent of individual sports for children, they can be a great thing for some kids. Children/teenagers/adults that are interested in starting sports will generally have an easier time if they’ve grown up doing some gymnastics.
Gymnastics helps to develop a kinesthetic awareness much better than any other activity. Kinesthetic awareness is the body’s sense of movement. It’s just as important as the other fives senses, but often overlooked. A lack of kinesthetic sense can lead to poor coordination, fear of movement, and lack of agility.
Imagine for a moment how kinesthetic awareness may be important in life – especially sports. It is what allows the foot to know where to kick a soccer ball, hands to know how to catch a ball, and your body to know how to navigate your surroundings.
Even with yoga or dance, children often aren’t going upside down and moving in different directions, if at all. I’m a huge fan of kids yoga, but I’ve noticed that most kids have a hard time doing the poses so they move in ways that are easiest. They mimic the teacher, but they often aren’t able to do the pose in a way that’s really beneficial for their body.
Gymnastics involves rotating vertically and horizontally, going upside down and sideways, twisting, moving through the air, without touching the ground, getting high and low, and more. Wow, right?!
Health Benefits of Gymnastics are plentiful! It’s great exercise and provides a whole body workout. Gymnastics will condition a child’s body naturally. While there are tons of physical gymnastics benefits, here are the top three.
1 – Strength
Kids gymnastics training grows strength for the gymnast. I have seen kids come to the gym not at all being able to support themselves on their hands. Their shoulders and arms had never been that challenged and would bend if they had to bear any weight.
For kids that have been through the natural motor skill progressions, supporting themselves on their arms (briefly or with a spot) shouldn’t be too hard. Their arms and shoulders should have the strength from crawling as a baby. Handstand progressions (supporting the body weight on hands) is a fundamental gymnastics skill. The upper body strength it creates is uncommon in most other sports.
Hanging is another great way to build upper body strength. Hanging, whether on trees or bars, is very prevalent in gymnastics. Kids hanging, swinging, and climbing on bars at a playground, home, are considered gymnastics. A good kid’s gymnastics class wouldn’t be complete without bar time.
All muscles can get a workout with gymnastics. Overall body strength increases with gymnastics activities
2 – Flexibility
Flexibility is an often-overlooked, but important aspect of physical health. Flexible muscles and tendons provide for better myofascial health, a bigger range of movement, and more resistance to injuries. Kids are born flexible, but they can lose it pretty quickly as soon as they cease their natural tendency to move constantly. I notice kids around 3 generally start declining in flexibility, boys much faster.
Gymnastics provides a nice base to keep moving in broader ranges even if there is no passive stretching being done. Kids really don’t need a long stretching period to keep up natural flexibility. They can gain and maintain it with their large movements – movements gymnastics training provides. Once they’re around 6 or 7 they should do a bit more stretching if they are looking to increase their gymnastics skills.
3 – Coordination and Agility
Kids gymnastics naturally increases coordination and agility. Practicing gymnastics generally involves moving several body parts at once. Kids aren’t just walking or jumping or doing something they do repetitively every day. They are walking on all fours or just their toes, or they are jumping while changing body shapes, or they are going upside down and backward. Putting their bodies in challenging positions grows their innate abilities.
Beyond Physical Benefits
Practicing gymnastics can increase concentration and self-esteem. It takes a lot of mental power to gain some gymnastics skills. Gymnastics involves much more than strength or power. Many skills take a long time to acquire and require a determination that some people don’t have.
The Best Age to Start Gymnastics
The best age to start gymnastics is now! Kids can start at any age. Most kids gymnastics classes start with mommy and me gymnastics class for toddlers. Some places start younger, The Little Gym offers classes beginning at four months old. Baby gymnastics is just as fun – and much cheaper – at home though! Any age can learn the three skills I outline here.
Starting young gives your child an advantage in their motor development and physical abilities. But don’t worry if your child is older, gymnastics can begin at any age and be just as beneficial. Gymnastics benefits for older children are just as important for their health. Gymnastics is also a great way to get older kids active. Encourage both younger and older kids’ skills and safety by utilizing equipment or mats.
Becoming your child’s gymnastics role model is a sure-fire way to encourage their love of gymnastics. Roll around with them, move like animals, and swing from trees! Not only will you both have fun, but you will help create a normalcy of creative movements for your child.