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Cartwheel Challenged? Some strategies…

cartwheelWant to learn to cartwheel at camp this summer? Join us!

One of the parent list serves I receive had a parent recently ask the following question:

I’d love some advice about how my daughter can acquire some basic gymnastic skills so
that she feels more agile and confident. She’s always been tall for her age and her
temperament is cautious, so she’s not one of those kids who tumbles and climbs naturally.
We’ve tried classes this year at [name removed] and a few years ago at [name removed].
At HoH classes were large, with no real instruction (but to be fair the kids were
young). At [name removed] kids who weren’t natural gymnasts seemed to get very little
coaching, even in a small class. She has enjoyed gymnastics, but now feels very
self-conscious about not ”getting” it after six months of classes. I’m willing to try a
few private lessons, but worry that this might make her even more self-conscious.
once-wannabe gymnast

                     This was my response:

++ Cartwheel-challenged
I am so sorry that (blankety blank gymnastic studio…don’t want to dis a great place) didn’t help…they seem to have such a good program.

I teach peace through the arts and have been teaching for over 20 years and have had a lot of cartwheel-challenged students. In fact I just taught a creative sports movement class (kind of like a dance class for sports readiness, or a sports class for dancers) and had several kids who did not do cartwheels at the beginning who were doing cartwheels by the end. This is my 2cents:

1) Do you cartwheel? Having a trusted adult do cartwheels (or tumbling, or any other thing that a child wants to learn) gives a child the opportunity to really see the process. Since most of our neurons are mirroring neurons, we are literally able to mimic what we see. If she feels safe with you, and you are able and willing to leave the ground, she will also be more likely to take that chance.

2) Does she already do a version of a cartwheel? Sometimes taller kids have a harder time leaving the ground, because they literally have farther to go and instinctively sense they can get hurt. If she can do a hand over hand and let one leg leave the ground at a time, let her know that she is already on the path to do cartwheels and will definitely make it.

3) Does she get dizzy or disoriented when she tries? Some people have a hard time going end over end because it disturbs their inner ear’s sense of balance and it just doesn’t feel safe. If this is the case, there are lots of other ways to get that daredevil sense of accomplishment that cartwheels give one. She could try tight rope walking, unicycle riding, or some other similar challenge that will make her feel like she’s conquered a dragon without having to do something that her body just doesn’t like. (Pogo sticks?)

4) Is she strong enough to do a real cartwheel? A lot of folks underestimate how much strength cartwheels take, especially since we adults don’t do much of that kind of movement these days. With the sedentary lifestyles our kids live, and the limited amount of time our kids have to climb trees (or even monkey bars, for that matter, with 15 minute recesses) a lot of children have limited upper body strength, even if they seem perfectly healthy. One easy exercise is to literally climb the wall. Start with hands and knees on floor while sitting with back body close to a wall. Use your feet to climb the wall, so that you are traveling up the wall. At first, you may only get 6 inches or so up the wall. But try it once a week (or as often as wanted) and you will quickly build up upper arm strength, endurance, balance and confidence.

I’m not sure if this will help this parent, or this child, but I hope it will.  One of the things I love about this question is that it is a parent who really takes their child’s play seriously.  Too many of us think that play is just something kids do to get energy out of their systems and be better able to concentrate on their ‘real’ work. To me, and to many researchers, play is a child’s work. In fact, as an anthropologist who studies human behavior and learning, I happen to think that all human work is, or at least should be, play.

By the way…anyone else think the silhouette on this pic makes it look like a giraffe?