TODDLERS: 1 to 3 years
PENGUINS – Walking to 18 months
Now infants are waddling like penguins as they strive to get their balance and body awareness, (where are my arms and legs and how do I move them?). This is an exciting time, at last our little ones are upright, but eyes and ears also need to adjust for seeing and understanding from the upright position, things look different now! These aspects take precedence over speech, as little ones learn about themselves and their world. This is a bilateral stage, where both sides of the body work as one, and all sessions are geared to strengthening as well as advancing skills at this level.
The special sessions for this age aim at improving balance and muscle tone development through walking and running and for the older penguins, hanging by their hands. Therefore, the equipment is mainly slopes at varying degrees – so they can walk up and either walk or run down. Read more about the importance of balance: a fine balance
Penguins like walking over the stairs, and over the rungs of ladders, climbing ladders, somersaults down the wedge and posting things, i.e. balls down hollow rolls and into the top of the witches hats or posting holes. Hanging from the overhead is now very important.
Dances are age related and involve walking forwards and around slowly, with balance and adjustment to the upright position the main aim at this age. Concentration at this age is short, so mat time is interspersed with short periods of massage and vestibular activities along with nursery rhymes and action songs. Now is also the age at which we start auditory memory patterns through the repetition of specific verses and nursery rhymes.
The use of the flash word of the Treasure Bag object familiarises children with those strange things called words. Our name is a word and so is the koala’s for instance. Alongside reading, the use of the flash word technique used at GymbaROO helps children learn about the link between ‘words’ and their meaning. The word shown is always linked to an object that children can feel, see, hear/has a sound, and can sometimes have an action with which it is associated. i.e. jump, hop, climb, run etc.
Visual tracking is now also a part of every session. In earlier age groups it has been more incidental, but now it is quite deliberate as children are asked to track a specific item while in a sitting position – up, down, to the right and the left.
Children of this age are also developmentally ready to follow some simple directionality commands – arms up, down, out, and in – sit down and stand up.
Whilst keeping to the routine, the content of the session varies considerably as we focus on the aspects of development common to this age. For instance, once an infant is walking, we provide ideas for you and activities for your child that increase balance mechanisms and strengthens their muscle tone in preparation for the exciting stage of 16 months. We are also aware that this is a time of concentration of infants in overcoming gravity as they gain the ability to move in an upright position. Speech at this stage takes a back seat, but the first stage of speech is the ability to understand simple instructions, so this is also part of our aim during these months.
KOALAS – 18 months to 2 years
At this age toddlers are walking with greater balance, running everywhere and climbing everything! Jumping is the exciting new skill at this age with two feet together, and of course hanging with two hands and arms together.
Scooting along on push-alongs is definitely in! All movement actions in a GymbaROO class are now delivered more slowly in order to promote voluntary movements by the little ones on their own! At this age, not only are their developing skills strengthened, but they are becoming able to initiate body movements, not possible before, as they enter the dramatic growth spurt of the two year olds.
For some, speech is developing, for others they are still perfecting their motor skills. Toddlers are beginning to understand descriptive words, such as ‘big’ and ‘little’, and concept words such as ‘over’ and ‘under’. As they climb the equipment we encourage parents to repeatedly use concept words so that not only do they hear the word, they also move accordingly – ‘over the ladder’, ‘under the bar’ and ‘through the tunnel’. This improves speech and word usage, and provides the automatic understanding of what these concepts mean. Linking the word to the movement really embeds the concept in the mind. These concepts are important for later writing skills – to write a letter you need to move the pencil up, down and around to create the required shape.
Toddlers can now follow two commands in a row. In the GymbaROO class everything is now geared to introducing and strengthening the toddler’s ability to follow two commands in all activities possible, i.e. collect a puffa ball and sit on it!
We continue to sing well known nursery rhymes, or songs from the program CD’s. Toddlers are now attempting to join in with enthusiasm! Music stimulates movement and learning in a fun and exciting way. Movement in rhythm both musical and without music – the basis of coordination, is encouraged through both exercises and dance activities and especially through the continuation of the ‘crocodile’.
This is the stage where we introduce rhythm sticks, as we not only use them for rhythm, but for fine motor work. The development of the fine motor muscles of the hands and fingers comes after the gross motor stage of the bigger muscles of the body that enable us to walk upright. Rhythm sticks can now be used for rhythm time with more body awareness and auditory commands increased to two at a time.
Crossing the overhead ladder is now part of every session. As is the ‘crocodile’ movement during the massage session. These essential skills provide our brain with the neuronal pathways and connections that create the foundational platforms for later learning.
Toddlers are starting to learn their colours. Matching of colours is done on every possible occasion, with the beanbags, ladder rungs and parachute. Do not expect them to know the colours yet – matching comes before colour identification.
WALLABIES – 2 to 2½ years
Wallabies are really into jumping on and off anything they can find… including your bed! Each hemisphere of the brain can now control the movements of each side of the body in coordination, and by 20 months, many can actually move their body parts on their own, this is the reason we begin to do very different activities in the GymbaROO program.
It is at this age that children begin to think that they have control of their bodies. At GymbaROO all our mat time action time activities are therefore slowed so that children have time to move themselves. This is how they learn to perfect their body awareness and movement control. The ‘crocodile’ movement continues during the massage session due to its importance in body coordination and reflex inhibition.
Dances are sequential now, in an endeavour to help children move and think – as they can now move their body parts with ease and hopefully in rhythm.
Specific Sensory Perceptual Movement program activities are introduced at this level and form an essential part of equipment time. We encourage all children to cross under the overhead ladder as strong upper body control is essential for later fine motor control of a pencil. If the large muscles of the body are strong, then the smaller muscles of the hands and fingers are more likely to be strong and more easily controlled to manipulate a pen or pencil for writing.
The ability to do one thing with the limb of one side of the body and another with the limb on the other side allows for the important stage of conscious cross pattern movements, which are the final attributes of nature to help the child’s growing brain to work to the best of its ability.
KANGAROOS – 2½ to 3 years
Wow! Children of this age think the world is theirs. They are unaware that their little brains have yet to fully develop the ability to function so that the left and right sides of the body can manage different tasks and accomplish different skills – such as is required to hop i.e. one foot hops while the other is held up doing something different! This enables the development of many skills, such as riding a tricycle, peeling a banana and washing up. This function may have begun during the early months of the two year old, but now it blossoms.
Sessions at GymbaROO for this age group now focus on one hand and one foot activities, as it helps to consolidate all the previous skills developed in the first two years of life. GymbaROO teachers also encourage an increase in the comprehension of auditory memory skills from one instruction to two, or even three, and likewise in the visual memory through more advanced fun activities.
GymbaROO sessions at this age are geared for the development of sensory integration and the consequent laterality, and for this reason a preferred hand and foot is now encouraged in all one hand/foot activities. For some children, this comes in the next year, but should be firmly established by pre-school. Children who attend school without having developed a dominant hand and foot may have an increased risk of learning difficulties.
The ability to do one thing with the limb of one side and another with the limb on the other, allows for the important stage of conscious cross pattern movements, which are the final attributes of nature to help the child’s growing brain to work to the best of its ability. Cross pattern crawling, walking, throwing etc.
The ‘crocodile’ pattern is now a normal part of the massage time. This is important as it not only improves a child’s overall development, but provides a vehicle for the inhibition of the primitive reflexes which cause so many ‘hiccups’ in academic learning in our schools.
For many, speech and comprehension bounds forth also at this age. Instructions are increased in complexity to allow for the development of improved auditory and visual memory, imperative for survival at school. Repetition is vital for this development at all ages.
GymbaROO incorporates a ‘visualisation program’ in all classes. This enables children to link ‘words’ to pictures and the world around them. Just like reading to your child, this creates an understanding that ‘words mean something’ and are an important part of understanding and describing our world. The words are introduced at treasure bag time, and are related to the treasure bag item as well as to life. The words used are the same as those used during earlier sessions, to ensure that they are easily recognised by the children, in the same way they learn to recognise their names. This part of the program development is guided by the success of the children as success breeds success, so is very important.