Launching in early March 2020, the Cook Islands Gymnastics Federation (CIGF) KinderGym program was an instant success. It was so popular that numbers doubled and then tripled in the first month. KinderGym participant tupuna va’ine (grandmother) Dr Debi Futter-Puati commented that the coaches were “providing incredible fundamental movement skills to children that will transfer into multiple different sports in the future.” Skills developed in the program include physical abilities like flexibility, strength and aerobic fitness, as well as motor abilities like balance, coordination, agility and spatial orientation.
The CIGF coaches certainly understand the skills required to participate in multiple sports and the benefits of promoting positive movement experiences at a young age, which lead to physically active children who grow into fit and healthy adults. The coaches themselves make great role models as they also participate in a variety of sports including netball and badminton, and coach Emilene Taulu was a member of the Cook Islands Pacific Games bronze medal-winning Va’a Women’s V6 marathon team.
The benefits of KinderGym extend beyond the physical however; research tells us that there are positive links between fundamental movement skills and a child’s social skills, self-esteem and academic performance. The CIGF KinderGym program ensures that children experience a wide range of movement activities that encourage them to think, create, construct and solve problems with their own bodies. Throughout June and July, CIGF was able to extend these benefits by conducting KinderGym programs in three Api’i ECEs on Rarotonga (Api’i being the Cook Islands Maori word for teaching and learning or school). Teachers from Blackrock Api’I Potiki ECE commented, “we had so much fun and are so appreciative of you taking the time to give our students a taste of gymnastics.”
CIGF coaches have undertaken specific training relevant to the developmental needs of this special age group. Training has included an immersion visit to GymCity Papatoetoe Gymnastics Club in Auckland, New Zealand, in February 2020, face-to-face training with experts from Australia and New Zealand in Rarotonga, and online courses.
KinderGym is a movement-based learning experience for young children. The program is specifically designed for children aged five years and under, promoting the child as the key focal point with active participation from parents or caregivers. KinderGym programs promote that children learn best through exploring and discovering their abilities through physical activity. KinderGym programs assist in a child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.
Throughout 2020, the Oceania Gymnastics Union Gymnastics for All Committee KinderPlay Gym Working Group will be developing resources and pathways to support other developing Oceania countries to introduce gymnastics programs for children five years and under. Enquiries are welcome via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.