The history of GymbaROO: A great story about a great Australian

GymbaROO founder Margaret Sasse believed that she would have been burnt at the stake if she had lived a few centuries earlier, such was the horror with which her ideas on early childhood were greeted over thirty years ago. Fortunately, Margaret paid little heed to the ‘knockers’ and as a result, many thousands of children and their families have benefited from her insight and sheer determination to have her approach of aiding child development by focusing on neurology, accepted and adopted.

The GymbaROO story starts with ‘Marg’ as she was affectionately known, a farmer’s wife, the mother of five and an ex-nurse, who took up remedial English teaching at the local country Technical School (Wonthaggi Tech) in the late 1950’s to support the farm income. Observing that many of her poor readers seemed quite clever except for their ‘reading’, and disillusioned with the poor progress she was having with the standard remedial reading offerings of the time, she sought alternatives.

Marg came in contact with professionals overseas who were using new and innovative neurological programs to assist children with learning difficulties and developmental delays. She applied these techniques which, instead of trying to teach these teenagers to read, involved activities such as flip flops on the floor (now known as ‘crocodiles’ at GymbaROO), swinging from the monkey bars and crawling – and for homework, more of the same!

The implementation of this program resulted in the learning support programs for these teenagers being much more effective! It was a ‘light bulb’ moment for Marg. She tried to share the outcomes with the Education Department of the time, however found no one would listen to her, (what would a farmer’s wife, ex-nurse know!?)

Not willing to give up, she continued her research and developed specialist knowledge in the neuro-physiological development of children as it related to reading skills. The family moved to Melbourne, and in 1972 Marg founded ANSUA (A New Start for Under Achievers). This was a non-profit organisation that provided sensorimotor programs for children with learning difficulties.

The positive outcomes of the work provided by the ANSUA program to school-aged children were clear, however Marg wasn’t satisfied. It was obvious to her that signs of future learning difficulties were evident from a very young age, many years before a child entered school. Her question was,

“Why do we wait for children to fail at school? Let’s prevent this from happening in the first place!”

She announced that she wanted to run programs for babies, toddlers and pre-school children, to help prevent the burgeoning problem of learning difficulties and not just ‘patch children up’ after they went to school and failed.

Much more research led to the creation of an early childhood neuro-physiological development rationale based on the premise that; development was sequential and dependent on a child’s experiences, and that early patterns of movement provided the foundational neuronal pathways in the brain that enable higher-order thinking to occur.

This rationale led to the development of a specific movement based program that; provided fun developmental activities for babies and children from birth to five years, aimed to educate parents, and offered all children the foundations necessary to assist in future learning.

Again Marg tried to share her findings and her program with the Education Department and other educational institutions, however found that still no one would listen. She was even informed by one group of ‘educational experts’ that what she was doing was tantamount to ‘witchcraft’ and was told by another leading health professional that she was ‘a danger to children’. Marg refused to lie down and roll over. She knew what she was doing was having a dramatic effect on the learning ability of children. In true Marg fashion announced…

“I’m right and they’re wrong and if no one else is going to listen, I’ll jolly well do it myself!”

… so in 1982, in a local church hall with equipment made by Marg’s husband Harry, GymbaROO was born.

And thank goodness Marg didn’t give up, because she was right all along. Today, over thirty years down the track, the supporting documentation is vast and undeniable. Mounting empirical evidence now supports the underlying concepts upon which GymbaROO was founded. Neuro-scientific studies confirm that movement experiences in the first five years of life form the bedrock of a child’s ability – be it academic, emotional, social or physical.

The GymbaROO program now comes highly recommended by a rapidly increasing number of professionals; paediatricians, doctors and early childhood specialists. We are still waiting for Governments to catch up.

From humble beginnings, GymbaROO is today indisputably Australia’s most popular and successful parent-child education program, providing quality neuro-developmental programs to hundreds of thousands of babies, children and parents throughout Australia and worldwide.

Outreach programs

During her twenty-six years at the helm of the business, Marg never drew a salary or a Director’s fee.  Every penny she made was funneled straight back into the business, so as many children as possible could have an opportunity to attend a centre or have access to one of the GymbaROO outreach programs.

Marg wrote books for parents; If Only We’d Known, Tomorrow’s Children and Smart Start. In conjunction with her sister, Dr Mary-Lou Sheil, Marg also produced The Ladder of Learning video series (now DVD) which included: The Importance of Being an Infant, One, Two, Three and Four. This series takes parents, educators and professionals through the key physiological developmental stages and relates them to their future learning skills and is still used all over the world in universities and specialist clinics. Marg also ran a consulting service for parents who were concerned about their children’s learning, travelled between GymbaROO centres in Australia and overseas, and ventured all over the world to catch up on the latest research in the field of early learning. Her passion and drive to deliver the latest information to parents on how to help their children develop never waned. Even in her late seventies this dynamic lady remained at the helm of the business she had created.

Marg was announced ‘ANZAC of the Year’ in 2002 and was awarded the RSL ANZAC Medal, for her positive, selfless and compassionate manner of service to the community. She was a finalist for the Telstra business Woman of the Year award and her work has been acknowledged by many experts including one of the most highly recognised world authorities in early childhood development, parenting and early education – Professor Frances Page Glascoe.

Over the years, Marg touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of parents, teachers and children. She was a true pioneer who worked hard, against all odds, to secure a way forward for children and in doing so, has left the world a significant and lasting legacy. Her work lives on through her family and the large number of individuals trained to deliver the GymbaROO programs to parents and their children. Through these programs, future generations of children and their parents will have access to the knowledge and skills that are necessary for successful development and later learning in school, thereby enabling children to achieve to their genetic potential.