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Defining Developmentally Appropriate Gymnastics

This is an excerpt from Teaching Children Gymnastics, Third Edition by Peter Werner.


Defining Developmentally Appropriate Gymnastics

Gymnastics may be globally defined as any physical exercise on the floor or apparatus that promotes endurance, strength, flexibility, agility, coordination, and body control. At its best, it is body management through the use of functional movement. As such, it is different from games (which promote the mastery of objects and the accomplishment of a purpose such as overcoming an opponent) and from dance (which promotes the expression or communication of feelings, attitudes, ideas, and concepts).

Gymnastics is like many other childhood activities, however, in that it includes learning to develop locomotor and balance skills as well as body and spatial awareness. Beyond enhancing body awareness, gymnastics is an activity involving movement in a controlled manner. It is also an enjoyable aesthetic activity that uses a variety of stimuli (apparatus, group work, and music) to promote development of the body and mind in addressing specific tasks.

A developmentally appropriate physical education program includes tasks that accommodate both the ability and confidence level of the students. A variety of experiences both off and on equipment that include traveling, taking flight, balancing, rolling, and transferring weight will accommodate the individual differences of the learners.

A physical education program featuring gymnastics benefits children in many areas. It improves body management and control and aids in the development of locomotor, nonlocomotor, and manipulative skills. Gymnastics promotes coordination, flexibility, agility, muscular strength and endurance, and bone strength. These abilities in turn relate to health and fitness and promote more physically active lifestyles. In fact, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008) has determined that children and youth need a minimum of 60 minutes or more of physical activity, including at least three days a week involved in activities that promote muscle and bone strengthening (see figure 1.2). In addition, gymnastics can improve cognitive and affective outcomes in the areas of problem solving, body mechanics, and aesthetics. Each of these components will be developed later in more depth, but first, some observations on the history of gymnastics demonstrate how it can benefit a physical education curriculum.


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