As parents, we all want the best for our kids. From the time that they are born, nay even before they make their debuts into the world, we do our research to make sure they have every opportunity and advantage to thrive. Whether it is radically changing our diets and depriving ourselves of sashimi, red wine and blue cheese; playing classical music and reading Shakespeare to our growing bellies in the name of brain development or signing up for every kinder music, art class and play group for the new-born and toddler set, we do everything possible to ensure the positive development of our child. Layer in the rapid pace of technology development and the economic, environmental and social imbalances that are the present day realities of the world that our children will inherit and it becomes even more important that we provide our children with a solid foundation and the tools to be able to successfully navigate the world.
Gymnastics? The Olympic sport we watch every four years to see amazing feats of strength, flexibility, power and grace – how will that equip my child for the world?
When my daughter was an infant, at each milestone age, I religiously downloaded the NDDS (now LookSee checklist) to see how her development was tracking to benchmarks. The LookSee checklist is designed to help parents monitor a child’s development from age one to six assessing things like fine motor skills, social development and interaction, functional movement and coordination etc.
At about three years of age, my daughter would regularly climb anything that was climbable and jump off with great joy. She liked to run, bounce and swing and quite frankly, it terrified me. So I said to myself, if she’s going to climb and jump and throw herself off of all of the park equipment, I should probably enrol her in gymnastics so she can learn to do these things safely … and she did. But what about her cognitive and intellectual development? I made sure she had puzzles, blocks, workbooks and extra classes. Had I known then, what I know now, I would have proactively sought out a well-run kinder / recreational gymnastics or Ninja program like the one at the Academy of Sport and Fitness in Richmond Hill because the benefits extend far beyond being able to play safely.
In an attempt to blend what my daughter liked with what we knew would be good for her, we settled on a private, Montessori elementary program with an accelerated curriculum; Kumon and gymnastics. As time progressed, school became more demanding with lots of homework, the daily twenty minutes spent on Kumon drills came to feel like hours and the time commitment for gymnastics increased. Then a funny thing happened. My daughter’s ability to manage all of her commitments got better; she began setting ambitious goals and taking on more responsibility and all of the traditional markers of success improved exponentially.
Here is how it all came together….
Gymnastics is fun – Kinesthetic Learning
Academic and artistic extra curricular activities can be directly tied to the same subjects taught in school. It’s work. After spending an entire day working, most children are not going to be excited about spending what should be free time doing more “school like” work. In fact, the opposite of what we as parents are trying to create happens. We want our children to be really good at math or science so we enrol them in these extra curricular activities but instead of creating a genuine passion, they lose interest and begin to despise a school subject that would serve them well in the future.
By contrast, gymnastics is a sporting activity that is educational without being academic. My daughter leaves school, meets up with a different set of friends at the gym, clears her mind of the day and is in a headspace of having fun. It is like sneaking extra vegetables into their meals. With gymnastics, as our kids build new skills on each piece of gymnastics apparatus, here is what is actually happening:
Challenge: An immovable object obstructing an otherwise clear path Approach: Speed, power, and height off the table Lesson: Physics (acceleration & mechanics); Geometry (angles)
The Takeaway: You can make it past the obstacles you encounter in life.
Challenge: Two bars, both above your head and just beyond your reach Approach: Strength, Swing, Release Lesson: Momentum; Geometry; Physics (potential & kinetic energy dynamics)
The Takeaway: Go with the flow and don’t be afraid to let go
Challenge: Master of movement on an elevated, narrow platform Approach: Mental Discipline, Focus, Balance, Dance, and Artistry Lesson: Physics (center of gravity, centripetal force)
The Takeaway: Mind over matter.
Challenge: Be alone in the spotlight Approach: Strength, Power, Speed, Dance and Artistry Lesson: Creativity, Strength, Power, and Flexability
The Takeaway: There is always room for fun. Let your personality shine.
Challenge: Four different events - develop all skills concurrently Approach: Perseverance, Resilience, Diligence, Self-Discipline Lesson: Goal Setting; Work Ethic
The Takeaway: If I put in the work, have a positive mindset, there is nothing I cannot do.
Gymnastics Helps to Build Confidence
There is definitely a sense of satisfaction that comes from being able to work through and solve a super tough math problem or difficult coding assignment. The process to get there is often solitary, frustrating and uncelebrated. In cases where you don’t completely grasp the problem, you can take solace in part marks and be happy to move on to the next unit. Learning new skills in gymnastics results in a similar sense of satisfaction but the experience is much different. The gymnast, coach and other members of the team work together to learn new skills; there is a virtuous cycle where the skill is practiced, the gymnast succeeds or fails and then repeats and continues repeating until the skill is mastered. Mastery is celebrated and then the gymnast moves on with the intrinsic motivation to continue growing, exploring and achieving higher levels of performance. In my experience, this translates into a child who says I may be having trouble with X but I will keep working at it and when I get it, I want to try out Y and make my way to Z.
Gymnastics Ensures You Have a Balanced, Energetic, Ambitious and Well Rounded Child
After my daughter pointed out that the Kumon logo was an unhappy child, a thought that had never occurred to me until she said it, I had to Google it. My search revealed that the face was actually meant to depict a child who was thinking to which I immediately thought, must not be happy thoughts. There is a weighted-down weariness about kids these days. Kids who are over scheduled, overburdened and being pushed hard to overachieve from very early ages. There are also the kids who would happily scroll TikToks, peruse YouTube or Instagram videos and play video games from dawn to dusk. It seems as if we parents have forgotten the critical life lessons that can be learned through play and sport. I totally got swept into the overwhelm of programs that guaranteed me an A+, Waterloo-bound STEM genius – focusing on the test rather than the foundational skills and qualities to ensure test taking success. In gymnastics and specifically the program at the Academy of Sport and Fitness, I found an activity that has resulted in an A+ student who has the skills and self motivation to do whatever she sets her mind to do.