10 Reasons Why Toddler Gymnastics Is A MUST for Your Child, Part 2
Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Welcome back to the final part of our two-part series on why toddler gymnastics is a must for your child. I hope that you gained some knowledge from the first part, and most of all, took the step of enrolling your toddler in a gymnastics class. I know from the feedback I’ve received at EVOLVEkids that our parents found it to be valuable information.
And if you haven’t read the first 5 reasons why toddler gymnastics is a must for your child…well, what are you waiting for? Go read that first, and then return to this article.
Before we get started with the last 5 reasons, let me reintroduce myself and my gym. I’m Heidi Lawless, the Owner and Lead Instructor at EVOLVEkids, a fun-focused gymnastic, tumbling, and cheer facility located in Morris, IL. I have been teaching children gymnastics, tumbling, and cheer for the past 40 years, and I have been a gym owner since 1995.
My philosophy has always been that active children grow up to be fit and healthy, and I’ve seen that borne out time and again.
When I discuss being fit and healthy, though, I think most people think that I am strictly talking about physical benefits. It makes sense that physical activity benefits our physical health, but the reality is that gymnastics has a profound impact on the mental, social, and emotional well being of a toddler as well.
So let’s jump into the final 5 reasons and see the mental, social, and emotional impact gymnastics can have on YOUR child!
(As a reminder, this list of 10 reasons was from an article by Jill Purdy and our partners at Jackrabbit class software. For the purpose of discussing the physical benefits in Part 1 and the mental, social, and emotional benefits in this article, I took the liberty of reordering their original list)
#6: Social Skills
For many of the toddlers who participate in Parent/Tot or Toddler Open Gym at EVOLVEkids, this is the first time the toddler gets to interact with other children outside of their immediate family.
It would be easy to just state that the opportunity to interact in a group setting (rather than individual interactions with Mom or Dad) teaches the child valuable lessons on how to be a part of a group or community.
It certainly does. Learning how to share, how to wait, how to control impulsiveness, etc., etc…these are all great social skill benefits.
But the benefit goes much deeper.
So let me take us on a brief sidebar, and discuss how a toddler’s brain is being impacted by early experiences and how it will impact all the rest of the benefits in our list.
Children at this age aren’t just learning new skills, they are actually creating the architecture of their brain. Yes, their brain is being hardwired by these early experiences!
The thesis of this 2010 study, How the Timing and Quality of Early Experiences Influence the Development of Brain Architecture, is fascinating:
Early life events can exert a powerful influence on both the pattern of brain architecture and behavioral development. In this study a conceptual framework is provided for considering how the structure of early experience gets ‘‘under the skin.’’
In the study, the authors comment on the early development of cognitive processes:
It has been suggested that learning through experience leads to the capacity to understand specific environments and the responses needed for these environments. Similarly, changes in the environment—particularly when they are dramatic and pervasive—may have the power to alter neural connectivity and cognitive processing between systems.
And then how higher-level functions build on lower level functions:
The nature of our experiences, particularly during a time-limited period in early development, can profoundly affect the mental framework we use to understand the world around us. Sensitive periods in child development are of interest because they represent a time frame in which our capabilities can be modified and perhaps enhanced. The quality of experiences during such periods—be they adverse or enhancing—is also of importance in understanding why it may be difficult to restore normal function once development has been altered.
I apologize if I took us down a bit of a rabbit hole there, but I’m just awed to see that early experiences actually shape the wiring of a toddler’s brain.
Look, I’m no scholar, and most of the study read like Greek to me, but I can certainly recognize that the ability to “alter the neural connectivity” is a HUGE DEAL (and frankly, a humbling responsibility as a teacher).
So bringing us back to social skills, the experiences of being in a toddler gymnastic class or a toddler open gym, are foundational in how a child develops in their social environment. Now when you consider that these experiences can be a child’s initial social experience, you can see it’s a profound leap from not just learning how to be social but the actual CREATION of a child’s social personality.
I don’t want to overstate my role in these experiences, but I believe you can see why trained gymnastic instructors see toddler gymnastics as much, much more than “play time” for kids.
Whew! Time for a deep breath before we move on to…
#7: Classroom Skills
Classroom skills, or better yet, classroom structure is kind of a rule book for social skills. If interacting with other children is the game, then classroom structure is the “rules of the game” that all children are learning to follow.
This article, “What Does a High-Quality Program for Toddlers Look Like?”, from the National Association for the Education of Young Children is primarily written about the classroom, but many of the same qualities apply to the gym environment as well.
Every toddler room might look a little different, but some things stay the same in all high-quality environments. Look for these things:
Separate play areas. Play spaces are organized by interest areas. For example, there are areas with materials for quiet play and more active play. Toddlers can play alone or in small groups.
Secure open spaces (both indoors and outdoors). Children have many opportunities for active play. The play equipment is safe and challenging for toddlers.
Simple, interesting materials. Toddlers use their senses to explore materials—objects to bang and make noises with, sand to scoop, and playdough to squeeze.
Child-size furniture. Chairs, tables, and shelves are sturdy, safe, and the right size for children so they can be more independent.
At EVOLVEkids, our custom designed toddler gym area incorporates all these points. Our toddler classes are separate from school age classes, our gym is a secure open space, and while we don’t have a sand table or playdough (can you imagine!), our equipment and soft play skill shapes are toddler sized and very stimulating.
By creating a structured environment, and then teaching according to structured curriculum, toddlers learn to be active and to be social within the rules.
I should state that “structured” doesn’t mean to restrain. We understand that a toddler needs space and freedom to explore. Structure is just the appropriate tool to help your toddler get the most out of their exploration.
On Jackrabbit’s and Jill Purdy’s list, she lists confidence before courage, but I think that confidence is the result of courage first.
I have a friend who, like me, grew up in the 70’s when perhaps we were a little more cavalier about childhood development. He has nearly zero memories of being a toddler except for one (and he gave me permission to share this with you).
In that memory, he is standing next to an indoor pool and he is being coaxed into jumping into the water. Coaxed unsuccessfully, as in that memory he turns and runs away from the pool.
That’s a few second memory in his brain that he sees clearly like a video clip, albeit not only with imagery and sounds, but also with an accompanying sense of abject terror as well.
When my friend shared this memory with me, a number of the puzzle pieces regarding the trajectory of his life fell into place. It hinted at why his life has been a series of unrealized expectations.
Now I’m not going to tell you that a person’s life can be set in stone by a 5 second event a half century ago. That would be absurd.
But if we consider the research I mentioned earlier about “altering” the neural structure of the brain, its not a stretch to theorize that negative events can become, at a minimum, a thumb on the scale of development.
So how does gymnastic classes figure into developing courage for toddlers?
Unlike my friend’s experience, a gymnastic class in the appropriate setting provides a safe and nurturing environment for a child to take a risk and try something new. Our gym at EVOLVEkids offers graduated challenges, and we encourage toddlers while providing them the security to act on that encouragement.
And providing the proper environment to allow a toddler to develop courage puts them on the path to building confidence.
I know that’s a strange way to preface a discussion about confidence, but I think that failure is the key to confidence. Let me explain.
Failure can’t exist without success, nor success without failure. They are just two sides of the same coin. That coin, though, is being used differently today than it has in past generations.
A few decades ago, kids were given more independence to explore the world. More opportunity to fail, and more opportunity then to get back up and succeed.
But in today’s 21st Century America, kids have considerably less independence and parents are more involved then ever before. Keeping our child safe is our primary responsibility as a parent, but we often overstep into preventing them from being challenged. We child-proof the world so well that we delay the necessary developmental steps of learning to fail and then learning from that failure in order to succeed.
What’s wonderful about a toddler gymnastic setting is that children are challenged both physically and cognitively within the gym.
As a gymnastics instructor, I use a curriculum that presents the child with challenges that can be overcome. With older children this is the joy of finally learning a new skill after trying and failing numerous times.
With our toddler students, though, it isn’t about acquiring specific gymnastic skills, but about challenging their general gross motor development and also their social & classroom skills. As a matter of fact, its often more challenging for the little ones to have their “listening ears on” than it is to walk on a balance beam or do a donkey kick!
But in the controlled and structured space of the gym, toddlers get to experience failure and success in a safe and nurturing environment. And they get to repeat those experiences over and over again. This repetition of turning the coin from failure to success is what then develops true confidence.
From Learning, Remembering, Believing: Enhancing Human Performance, the authors state this about building one’s self-confidence beliefs:
Performance accomplishments are supposed to provide the most dependable confidence information because they are based on one's own mastery experiences. One's mastery experiences affect self-confidence beliefs through cognitive processing of such information. If one has repeatedly viewed these experiences as successes, self-confidence will increase.
One of my greatest joys in the gym is watching children build their confidence, and I can provide scores of personal anecdotes that gymnastics is a very dependable method of doing so.
And on to our final reason why toddler gymnastics is a must for your child
You can go back through the previous 9 reasons and see that gymnastics at a young age provides a solid foundation for:
Growing up fit and active.
Developing healthy social skills.
Learning how to excel in a classroom setting.
Fostering courage and building self-confidence
Gymnastics is also a solid foundation for children who want to participate in other sports. This article from Pinnacle Gymnastics really hits on why gymnastics prepares children to excel at other sports:
Many gymnasts turn into top athletes in other sports. Popular transition sports include track and field, volleyball, swimming, and diving. Here are some top reasons gymnastics develop athletes in all sports.
Gymnasts are coachable. Gymnasts are used to having to listen to coaches to learn how to do skills. They take coaching as a privilege and appreciate feedback. G
Gymnasts are persistent. Gymnastics skills are rarely learned on the first try. Instead it takes attempt after attempt to master even what seems like a basic skill.
Gymnasts love to fly. Maybe we are adrenaline junkies, but heights, speed, and propelling the body up into the air are every day experiences for gymnasts.
Gymnasts are mentally tough. Gymnastics is a sport where you compete as an individual. Your number one competitor? Yourself. Pushing for more, learning how to cope with defeat, and deciding to continue toward your goals makes gymnasts marketable athletes in any sport.
I can attest to gymnastics as a foundational sport not only from my professional experience of watching my former students excel at other sports, but also from my personal experiences with my son and daughter.
Both of my children participated in gymnastics and tumbling, and both also had somewhat free rein in using my gym. Neither of them chose to pursue the sport past age 5 or 6, but both went on to have successful athletic careers. My son Mason as a recruited football player and my daughter Calleen as a scholarship collegiate volleyball player at Limestone College in South Carolina.
Gymnastics is a foundation for physical fitness as well as mental, social, and emotional well-being. Frankly, it’s the foundation for a healthy life.
Thank you for taking the time to discover the 10 reasons why toddler gymnastics is a must for your child.
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, I strongly encourage you to get your child involved in gymnastics. Clearly, if you are in the Morris, IL area or greater Joliet, greater southwest Chicagoland area, we would love to have you join us at EVOLVEkids. But around the United States, there are literally thousands of USA Gymnastic Member Gyms where you should be able to find a gymnastics program tailored specifically for toddlers or preschoolers.
So get to it, and after you’ve joined the legion of parents who are embracing toddler gymnastics as the vehicle to promote active kids, I encourage you to share your experience on our EVOLVEkids Facebook page.
I hope to see you soon again, be it on our Facebook page, in person at EVOLVEkids, or in a future article. Till then…BE ACTIVE!
EVOLVEkids is a USA Gymnastics Member Gym, USTA Club Member, and USASF Member Club located in Morris, IL. Heidi Lawless is the Owner & Lead Instructor at EVOLVEkids, and has been teaching children gymnastics, tumbling, and cheer for 40 years.
Photo credit: Goldfish jumping to his friend from rclassen at CanStock Photo and Goldfish jumping over a bowl from Orla at Canstock Photo. All other photos are the property of EVOLVEkids Inc.