Miss M has recently started a toddler gymnastics class, aimed at two- to four-year-olds. So far, she’s absolutely loving it- she trots in each week, full of smiles for her coaches and new friends, then plonks herself down on a brightly coloured ‘spot,’ ready to begin.
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This is my third experience of toddler gymnastics, also known as pre-school gymnastics, because both Mr F and Mr S started their gymnastics journeys in this type of class. However, we’ve moved to a new gym club since then, which offers a slightly different type of class, so this time it’s been a little different. You can find out more about some of the different styles of pre-school gymnastics class below:
Parent and toddler gymnastics sessions (‘stay-and-plays’)
These classes are usually aimed at younger children, or those who still need a little more support from a parent or carer. Some clubs even offer these sessions from just a few months old. They are usually a free-flow style, with some simple activities set up in advance by coaches. Parents are then free to take their child around the gym at their own pace, although coaches are available for help and advice if needed. There may sometimes be activities that are specifically designed to work on skills like crawling, or developing coordination.
Miss M and I attend a ‘semi-structured’ class, meaning that there is a mixture of coach-led activities, and free play time. Classes begin with a warm-up to fun songs, followed by a short stretch where children are encouraged to tickle their own toes, lay on their tummies and push up like a mermaid, and so on. After this, the class spends some time on a circuit around the room, using blocks/mats/tunnels etc, as well as some of the larger apparatus. Although the children aren’t aware of it, it’s clear that the coaches have a focus for each session, perhaps working specifically on balance activities, or on safe landings.
After this, the children are given some unstructured time to explore the gym at their own pace. Miss M’s particular favourites are always the bars, where she hangs for a few seconds and tries to swing her legs, then lifts her little toes up towards the bar!
As the name suggests, children attend these sessions without their parents. Independent pre-school classes are like a stepping-stone to a club’s main classes, and are the type of class that both Mr F and Mr S attended when they were pre-schoolers. Some clubs use British Gymnastics’ FUNdamentals badge scheme for their pre-school gymnastics classes, with different ‘themes’ such as park, funfair and weather. Other clubs might base their sessions around a familiar story like the Gruffalo, or simply focus on the skills needed for a particular piece of apparatus. Independent sessions are usually aimed at slightly older pre-schoolers, who are able to separate from their caregivers with confidence.
So why toddler gymnastics?
Toddler gymnastics isn’t just about giving your child a ‘head start’ in the sport. Starting at a younger age doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll become an Olympian, for example, as it’s all for fun in pre-school gymnastics classes. For me, the most important thing about toddler gymnastics is the benefits for physical and cognitive development.
Whichever type of session your pre-school gymnast attends, activities will be designed to develop and support the key skills of agility, balance and coordination. Climbing and balancing activities also help to improve a child’s core strength, and the ability to ‘cross the midline’ of their body. These are key skills for all children, because they make learning to control a pencil for mark making and writing much easier once they get to school. As well as this, a regular physical activity helps to make sure children stay healthy in a world of tablets, games consoles and 24-hour kids TV channels.
What do I need for toddler/pre-school gymnastics?
Although you can buy leotards in super cute tiny sizes from some companies (Miss M has two already!), all you really need for pre-school gymnastics classes are clothes that your child will be comfortable and able to move freely in. A t-shirt and leggings are ideal- I love the range of funky designs for leggings at Fred and Noah, and can vouch for how comfy they are, as I wear their ‘mama’ jeggings myself! These jungle patterned leggings from Sew Creative by Freya also look perfect for clambering around in, and she has a great collection of fabrics for both boys and girls.
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