May 8, 2020

Encouraging risk taking: learning how to fall safely builds confidence and resilience for life

At Role Models, we are passionate about developing mental well-being. However, mental well-being can only be developed on a foundation of regular exercise, the correct nutrition and good sleep.

That is why we’re delighted to partner with the The Little Gym, an internationally recognised physical programme that helps children between the ages of 4 months and 12 years build the developmental skills and confidence needed at each stage of childhood. Today, The Little Gym has more than 400 locations  in 32 countries. The Little Gym at Home is their Youtube channel that is free and available to everyone.

This blog post was written by Tracie Kinsey, owner of The Little Gym Chiswick.

Speak to a reception year teacher in recent years and they’ll tell you how increasingly children are starting school without the key skills they need to thrive. They can write their names, but they are uncomfortable holding a pencil. An iPad perched on their lap might hold their attention, but they just can’t sit still in class. Ironically, it turns out movement facilitates stillness. Move your body in a certain way, and holding a pencil becomes child’s play. Or tap your feet (often an annoying habit that teachers report) and the brain is free to concentrate on the given task. Tapping the feet is not a sign of a lack of attention but is facilitating concentration. How reassuring is that?!

The childhood activities that older generations recall; a sort of Enid Blyton style of adventure and exploration, climbing trees, getting stuck in badger holes (or was that just me?), taking risks, out of the sight of cautious grown-ups, built the skills that helped develop confidence and resilience.  Nothing on an iPad can replicate the learning that occurs when you move your body. And there’s no other movement activity that will teach your child more than gymnastics.

At The Little Gym, we talk a lot about ‘crossing the midline’, with the midline being the belt in your middle and the line through the centre from head to toe separating your left and right sides. Using your left arm to pass a rugby ball across your midline to a player on your right side whilst running forwards, or the tricky skill that is a cartwheel both involve crossing the midline. Gymnastics is the only sport that encourages the child to rotate their body in every direction and around every axis; a forward roll, a backward roll, and eventually, a cartwheel, making gymnastics a fundamental sport for all. And crossing this midline not only streamlines movement but crucially, it develops the superhighways of pathways in the brain; essential to prepare young minds for learning. And the more movement (and specifically crossing the midline) that a child does daily, the more pathways are developed.

Another reason to practise gymnastics is because it builds confidence; the movement challenges encourage risk-taking and problem-solving. In the gym, we substitute oak trees and badger holes for bars and beam, springboards and vault. But the aim is the same; overcome an obstacle and feel a joyful sense of achievement. Resilience is developed too. Because sometimes a child will fall. Our aim is to teach children how to land safely, not to avoid falling. Creating ‘safe’ risk-taking challenges, we are able to encourage a child to take a leap and know they are safe, even if they fall. And every new achievement, however small is celebrated. We call this ‘serious fun!’

The current lockdown may be challenging for many reasons but is also providing families with opportunities to rediscover some of the old fashioned joy of childhood. There’s time to nurture these life skills which we understand build confidence and resilience from a young age. Children are in their gardens or the living rooms experiencing activities that The Little Gym creates in weekly classes, with mum or dad as their cheerleading role model! Parents are learning too, that their child can jump, swing and land and that falling is not to be feared.