Skill of the week for Parent/Child Classes: Monkey Jumps over the folded mat. An introduction to Cartwheels for little kids.
Since this is our first blog post I want to be sure we educate and enlighten vs. confuse and annoy you! The skill reference sections of this blog are meant to support parents in our Programs with getting comfortable around gymnastics skills and how they correlate with their child’s development. Aurora Kids takes great pride in teaching from an age-appropriate place. The goal is to challenge, motivate and encourage the kids, and you, as much as possible. It gets wild in many of our classes, that’s the nature of the beast. “Herding cats” comes to mind on many occasions with our Toddler and PreK classes. We understand that it may be hard to hear the instructors when they explain the skills we focus on each week. So that’s where this blog will begin. We want to give you a place to come back to for reference and details you ( or even your instructor) may have missed. It’s also fun to learn why we do things the way we do them. We are forever finding new and improved ways to teach skills. We love to push the developmental envelope. Many things we are able to get kids to do in our environment are not supposed to be developmentally possible. Dip steps on the balance beam for Toddlers is a prime example. If you’ve been enrolled for a session, you may have a 2 year old that loves this skill! But it’s not supposed to be within their coordination grasp so young. It’s all in the presentation folks!
The skill of focus each week is typically done when the Teacher stops the music and calls everyone’s attention to a certain area of the gym to present a specific skill. This doesn’t ever mean that all the kids are supposed to do this. We know many of the kids won’t even seem to notice. It’s up to you parents. No pressure, just another skill to add to your list of play items when you and your child are exploring. Often kids who don’t seem to be paying attention at all will come over after the crowd has cleared or even a week or two later. Be attentive to your kiddo and introduce the skill when they are interested. Some kids will try when asked by the teacher or their grown up, others will only explore if they don’t think anyone is watching…it’s gotta be their idea. You know what personality lives with you. And by the way, reverse psychology works! One of our best inspirational phrases for 18 month through 3 yr old classes is, “Don’t help me, I can do it myself”, as said by the adults when demonstrating skills for kids. Most kids don’t want to be left out. And almost all of them want to be big and independent. We didn’t teach them that phrase, they taught us.
This week’s skill of focus: Monkey Jumps (baby cartwheels) over folded mats.
The folded mat is usually somewhere around the gym every week. They are a rectangular mat made of panels that we either stretch out under equipment or fold up to stack or use for this skill. (folded mat pic here) You’ll often see “x’s” with duct tape, hand prints, or pictures that represent the week’s theme, stuck to the top of the mat. These are for hand placement. Using the folded mat gives a visual cue not just for their hands, but for the skill itself and the direction they need to jump. You’ll hear “hands down, jump around” as the cue for this skill. Repeat this every time you want your child to do a Monkey Jump. It really helps. Kids may often start from standing on top of the folded mat. It’s a big mat for them. They will see the marks and try to figure them out. If they don’t automatically get it from watching others, then you, as their adult and primary role model, should put your hands down on the marks to demonstrate. Reinforce what you want them to do by saying “hands down”. The next part is jumping both feet at the same time to the floor next to the mat while keeping those hands in place on top of the mat. Elbows should stay straight to support all the weight on the hands without crashing down. If the child started on one side of the mat and put their hands down on the marks, they should try to jump all the way over to the other side of the mat. That’s the “jump around” part. The primary goal is to get the kids to jump all the way across the top of the mat, keeping hands in place on top, without touching the mat with their feet or legs. That’s a big jump.
This is the natural progression for this skill from where our littlest ones start to the beginning of a cartwheel that really looks like a cartwheel.
1. Kids usually start standing on top of the mat, (or on the floor during warm up), bend over at the waist and put hands down on the mat or floor. Use the marks here for hand placement on the top of the mat. Adults now spot by holding the child at the hips. Lift until their feet leave the floor and guide them sideways to land on their feet on the floor, next to the mat. Say “hands down, jump around” as you do this.
2. Kids will do this on their own next, either stepping or jumping on their own.
3. Start on the floor with the folded mat in front of your child. They should put their hands down on top. Tape marks or handprints make it easier but aren’t required. You can always guide them with “hands down, jump around” and spot them through jumping all the way over to the other side while keeping their hands on top.
4. Toddlers that have mastered the jump completely over the folded mat are ready to add on in preparation for Cartwheels. Have them start in a straight body position or a “TaDa” with their arms up high to the sky. They can also try starting in a lunge with one foot forward, one foot back, on the floor in front of the folded mat. This encourages them to kick over the mat one foot at a time. The Monkey Jump becomes a Cartwheel.
The spotting is the same for this skill no matter where the child is along the progression. Always spot at the hips and don’t let the child crash on their head. Using the cue “hands down, jump around” not only guides the child through all the necessary movements but helps differentiate between a Monkey Jump/Cartwheel skill and a Donkey Kick/Handstand skill. The hand placement on the floor for a small child may initially look the same, but the jumping or kicking direction is completely different. The Donkey Kick/Handstand skill kicks straight up to the ceiling. Verbal cuing discourages skill confusion.
At this point in the session you have probably played with this skill in class quite a bit. It’s regularly in the warm ups and obstacle courses. Hopefully your child has developed some upper body strength and you can have some fun challenging them with the progression of this skill.