Gymnastics is a fantastic tool to provide fundamental movement essentials for a developing child. There are a few basics you must follow to make it fun, entertaining and educational!!
Try to think of your class as a collaborative effort rather than a dictatorial one. Remember these young people want to be there, they want to learn (most days, everyone has a bad day here and there)….If you remember that as your baseline, working with the children becomes more fun for everyone!
On class structure:
Let me tell you a little about our class structure. Our classes are :45 in length, with four ten-minute rotations. (No, I do not do a “warm-up”*) Our rotations have a circuit of 5-8 activities. I find this structure not too demanding for the younger age groups, while still giving enough time for the older children to accomplish skill development. Because toddlers really can’t be expected to watch and remember, our classes for 18 months – 36 months old children have parent (or another adult) accompaniment. We do our teaching through the parent, and the adult (if they are paying attention) help remember the activities and stations. (many times, children that are on the older end of the program pay better attention than the parents!)
The attention span of preschoolers grows as they do, this, as well as the experience of previous students help the children remember what skills/activities they are suppose to do. Example, I have a small white block with two tape lines on it that I use to teach cartwheels, after the first or second class, the child knows what to do on that block.
You must keep preschoolers moving. The longer you talk, the more of a problem it is for them to listen! I try to keep my station explanation and demonstration short and try to make eye contact with each child, or mention them by name. Variation in your presentation can help keep the children tuned in, ask them questions, speak quietly or challenge them. (Suzie, do you think you can hang on the bar and touch your toes!)
I love to talk to Preschoolers! Sometimes their pronunciation is not great, making it hard for adults to understand, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen. In the acting field, the basic rule of Improve is to always agree, go with the conversation. That is what you have to do with preschoolers. Go with their conversation. What they have to say isn’t always applicable to the present situation (class) and you really don’t want class to stop to get the message, but usually what they are trying to convey is not a very complex thought or story, be patient. If the conversation seems to be getting a little too long, ask the child if you could finish what you where doing/saying and let them talk afterward. I think one of the biggest things an adult can do is to respect the preschooler. What they have to say is important, at least to them. Be considerate of their feelings.
On Variety of skills:
I hear all the time about preschool gymnastics classes that do the same thing every class. That would not be fun for me, and I am sure children would like it for a while, but variety is the spice of life!
An easy way to create variety is the give yourself a theme each week. Through this theme you can think of skills to do that exemplify that theme. Say your emphasis this week is on rolling – You can do forward rolls, (on a wedge, on floor), Front waterfalls**, backward rolls, Sideways (log) rolls, rock and rolls, Candlesticks (1/2 a back roll), Rolls on a bar, Ankle rolls**, cowboys rolls**, even rolls on a beam (we use carpet beams and beam expanders for most preschool classes). Then the next week your theme is upside down – you can still do some rolls, but add handstand walk up the wall, switch a roos (hands down one leg in the air, switch), Back waterfalls**,Touch your toes to a bar, Spiderman board (a pullover trainer, the children just walk up the wall to an inverted position while holding the bar), knee swing on a bar, cartwheel trainer, & headstands (I know this is a controversial skill to do with preschoolers, but I always do it against a wall/block for support).
To help me with themes, I wrote down some basic themes, then thought of skills and wrote them in under each theme they would fit. So Forward rolls would be under Forward skills, inverted skills, and rolling! (I have 40 different theme weeks, I didn’t start with that many, I worked up to it)
I also have many activities that don’t qualify as gymnastics skills, but are fun and developmental. We have things to climb, (ramps, rock walls, Cliffs, stairs, “no legged” beams) ring swings, trapeze, tunnels, etc)
*No warm up
Never have. Preschoolers are flexible, they are continuously moving and have no need to actually warm up. Movement is the best warm up, and that is the basis of a good preschool program, moving. I have never had anyone tell me a reason why you needed to do a warm up – other than “because older kids do”.
Emphasis ideas Themes
Safety and familiarization (Early in school year) Teddy Bear week
Body parts ALL sports (hand eye coordination)
Over and under Halloween Fun
Rolling forward Christmas
Rolling Backward Beach Week
All-ways rolling Rocky Top (All climbing, we do live in TN)
Inverted skills (2 weeks)
Backward movement (2 weeks)
Locomotion (2 weeks)
Body position – straight
Body Position – Tuck
Body position – Straddle, pike and split
All Body positions
Front waterfall – Lie on 24” stack of mats – reach for 8” mat, roll.
Back waterfall – Lie on back on 24”stack of mats – reach back with hands to 8 “ mat, create bridge type position, pull feet over head to land.
Ankle rolls – From solid surface onto super soft (dry pit or 8”er) Stand in a straddle, child grabs ankles, bends over (nose between knees) and rolls onto back
Cowboy roll – From stack of mats onto 8 “mat, child lies on back, hangs head off edge of mat, pulls legs up near ears (one hang on each leg), pull until flip to feet. (I ALWAYS spot this)