treasure-titleThe No Child Left Behind legislation prompts parents to seek programs that help children meet the mandated academic standards expected of today’s youth. Without your assistance, parents may overlook your gym as a valuable resource. You can help them see the real value of gymnastics programs by linking these programs to academic benefits, which is the focus created by No Child Left Behind and standards-based education.

The following chart can act as your treasure map, illustrating the fundamental relationship between gymnastics and academic goals. The right side of the chart lists activities common to gymnastics. The left side shows the link to academic skills and school success. Becoming familiar with the terms discussed in the next few paragraph will provide clues on how to uncover the treasure chest of riches inherent in all gymnastics programs.

“Your gym is an educational goldmine and an integral part of the learning community in your neighborhood. The pathway to an undiscovered educational treasure chest leads directly to your gym door. Ensure parents have a treasure map and know where to look to find the gold. It’s hidden in the beam, bars, mats, trampoline vaulting, horse, and your coaches’ hearts. When schools and gymnastics centers come together, the entire community shares in the gold.”

Debra Em Wilson, M.A
Reading Specialists

Social & Organization Skills

Participates in class calmly & controls anger. Self-regulates in the classroom.
Takes risks when learning new movement patterns. “I can do it!” attitude when it comes to academic skills.
Moves from station to station without getting “lost.” Easily transitions between academic subjects.
Tunes into coach’s instructions Tunes in to teacher.
Remains focused while watching others perform. Cooperates and gets along with others in class.
Completes Stations on their own Completes activities without constant prodding.
Confidently learns new skills. Confidently meets new goals.
Joyful child who you hope will come back each session! Joyful child teachers love to have in class!

Sensory Processing

Participates in activities requiring deep pressure to joins as in mat work and bar work. Joint sensation adequate for correct pencil grip, forming letters accurately and appropriate pencil tension war.
Participates in vestibular & heavy work activities: rolling, climbing, jumping, swinging trampoline activities, jumping into the pit creeping, crawling, moving at floor level on the stomach, hanging from bars, handstands, headstands, and cartwheels. Vestibular system is working properly so that visual, auditory, and tactile information is integrated leading to reading with ease, sitting upright in the chair, enjoying rich tactile experiences with glue, paint and other textures.
Listens to coach’s instructions and processes multi-step directions including sequencing routines and completing complex movement patterns. Listens to teacher’s instructions and follows multi-step directions: understands complex math patterns.

Bilateral Integration

Performs movement requiring crossing the midline of the body. Writes while using complete page with print following a left to right sequence.
Performs movement requiring using both sides of the body together Full brain integration to decode and comprehend what is read.
Enjoys activities including ribbon, hoops, ball & rope. Enjoys physical education, games & recess.
Understands directional terms including: over, under, next to & between. Distinguishes between letter b/d/p/q and writes with no reversals

Postural Control

Balances on beam Balances in a chair.
Performs tucks and extension patterns with ease. Writes with ease due to good balance & strength.
Participates in warm-ups requiring strong abdominal & back muscles. Has strength & endurance for seat work; legs comfortably on the floor & not wrapped around chair legs for stability.
Accomplishes all movements on various equipment requiring core postural strength Sits without rocking the chair, knee sitting or lying body across desk.
Performs sequential rhythmic activities using full integration of auditory, visual & tactile systems. Learns with easy and can process auditory, visual & tactile information as needed for academics

Body Awareness

Sits & waits for a turn without bothering other children Patiently waits turn in class & honors other students’ personal space.
Aware of the body in space and makes adjustments as needed. Flexible with schedule changes & substitutes.
Enjoys warm-up routines with music & keeps a steady beat rhythm with ease. Understand the rhythmic nature of reading & speech leading to fluency skills.
Accurately integrates vision with motor skills and makes adjustments in timing as needed to complete complex skills Good letter spacing while writing; while reading relates story to self and others due to good self awareness.
Lines up without pushing and tripping others; honor other’s personal space. Lines up without messing around and makes teacher extremely happy.

Checklist for Spotting Learning Difficulties

The following list indicates signs that can point to possible learning challenges. These categories coincide with the treasure map chart above.

Social & Organization Skills

✔ runs from equipment to equipment without self-control
✔ has difficulty following multi-step directions; must have directions
✔ hits, bites or is overly aggressive
✔ often disturbs and annoys other children

Sensory Processing

✔ avoids rotational movement or excessively seeks rotational movement
✔ avoids appropriate touch from coaches & other children
✔ seeks too much touch; clingy, whiny, hard to please
✔ walks on toes or uses fists during mat work instead of balls of feet & open palms
✔ excessively seeks or avoids tactile sensations like chalk on hands or foam pit

Postural Control

✔ has extreme difficulty with balance skills or beam work
✔ has difficulty with activities requiring the contraction of stomach & back muscles
✔ has difficulty with activities requiring tucks & extension patterns
✔ shows weak muscle tone & strength when performing bar work and general skills
✔ has difficulty with upper and lower body integration

Bilateral Integration

✔ has difficulty with two sides of body working as a team or seperately
✔ has difficulty with sequencing, learning choreographed routines and timing
✔ has difficulty with skipping and locomotor patterns
✔ appears clumsy for most tasks

Body Awareness

✔ demonstrates unclear personal boundaries and is often in other children’s space
✔ loses self in transitions and can’t figure out where to go next
✔ is frequently placed at front or back of line for discipline reasons
✔ has difficulty mirroring movements
✔ gets easily frustrated and is quick to become angry

Gymnastics with an Academic Twist

Marcia Carter, owner of the Oroville Gymnastics Sports Academy and LEAPS Preschool, began a program specifically designed to help children be more successful in her gymnastics classes and at school. Meeting the needs of the families in her community, she offers specialized classes to build the foundational skills critical for success inside gyms and inside classrooms.

Ateacher in Marcia Carter’s community describes the benefits for children involved in classes offering gymnastics with an academic twist.”During these past four years I have been teaching kindergarten. I have noticed that the children from your preschool achieve reading goals sooner and with more ease than ever seen before. The children who come from your preschool are always well prepared for high state standards expected to be learned by kindergartners. I congratulate and thank you for all you do to help kindergarten students achieve these high expectations.”

Dr. Nancy Bates, owner of Gym Magic Sports Center and Preschool in Las Cruces, N.M., offers classes focusing on building a solid foundation for learning. “We emphasize education and learning. The response from our staff, parents, and children has been incredibly positive.” Gym Magic also created a new program Magical Moves (for 6 months to 3 years of age), which has led to partnerships with many early intervention groups. The response has been so positive that the early intervention groups have had to rotate families in and out of Gym Magic’s program because too many families want to participate in the new program.
Gymnastics centers experience a dramatic increase in enrollment when offering classes with an academic twist. If your gym is empty during the day, adding classes focusing on . academic foundational skills may help increase revenue while offering a great service to the community and parents who homeschool their children.

As a parent of a child with special needs, I believe that it takes a team to raise a child with special needs. My child’s team includes her gymnastics coach right alongside her special education teacher. My daughter comes alive when she is at a gymnastics center. While usually burdened with expressive language delays, she becomes talkative and animated because her vestibular system gets a jumpstart from tumbling, swinging on bars, and jumping on the trampoline. When she is with her peers, her gymnastics skills are a communication tool for her-a way to connect. Always lagging behind her peers academically, it is magical to see her shine through gymnastics. Ensure that your treasure chest of educational gold is clearly embossed with a giant “x” that marks the spot where academic excellence begins-in your gymnastics center!

Foundational Physical Skills for Children

If a child at your center has many concerns on this list, talk with the parents and recommend they seek an evaluation from an occupational therapist who specializes in sensory processing challenges. Sensory issues are common underlying factors in ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and developmental delays. When children are involved in movement activities that help organize the sensory system, quite often their symptoms lessen or go away altogether.
While most reading readiness programs state goals, such as writing one’s name independently or sounding out simple words, essential physical foundation skills need to be in place for preschool children to be able to keep up with intense academic demands of today’s kindergarten classrooms.

Rolling into Reading

The more a child tumbles, climbs, creeps, and crawls the more densely wired the brain becomes for academic success. Movement is the architect of a child’s brain. The two hemispheres of the brain are designed to constantly communicate with one another. The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa. Bilateral activities, common to all gymnastic programs, require both sides of the body to work together and separately. Coordinated movement patterns create efficiency in the brain. Efficient pathways create fluent readers who complete reading tasks with ease. For example, during reading the left hemisphere attends to letters and the sequence of words, while the right side of the brain focuses on comprehending what is read. Reading fluency depends on one intimate conversation between the two hemispheres of the brain having a clear signal. Bouncing on the trampoline, tumbling down a mat, swinging from the bars-all these activities help wire the brain and integrate the vestibular system. Located in the inner ear, the vestibular system is intricately connected with the brain. Its job is to make sense of all perceived sensory information from the environment and tell us where our bodies are in space. Like the hub of a wheel, the vestibular system integrates vision, hearing, balance, and skin sensations. If children have poor sensory processing skills, they may have a difficult time learning gymnastics skills or regulating behavior. Weaknesses observed in gymnastics classes may lead to discovering that the child is struggling in school as well.

What happens in Brain-Body Development

Come spend a day with Pam Jones, a preschool teacher with a vision to create an integrative preschool program that prepares all children for the rigorous expectations of kindergarten using movement, not worksheets.
With the assistance of Debra Em Wilson, Pam provides preschool children with activities that build a solid foundation for learning. These activities develop strong core posture, essential for sitting in a chair for any length of time. Midline and vision skills are enhanced with activities the children enjoy and must have in order to read and write with ease. Music activities provide children· with opportunities to develop rhythm. sequencing, and timing which are essential skills linked to a reduction in ADHD in children.
This engaging DVD takes you through Pam’s preschool day including morning song activities, gross motor gymnastics, fine motor instruction, and Focus Moves activity room. In the Focus Moves activity room, children work on foundation skills essential for kindergarten success.
Techniques presented during this program are educational and informational in nature. For advice appropriate to your specific situation, please consult a physician. For package deals and seminar dates, visit: integrated Learner Press ISBN; 0-9706961-5-9

By kindergarten, all children should:

  • be able to move eyes separately from head
  • track and converge eyes
  • have core postural muscles developed
  • cross midline and possess bilateral integration
  • know dominant hand
  • hear individual sounds in words
  • maintain a steady beat rhythm
  • have an internal sense of balance
  • explore their world confidently and imaginatively