Written by Dr Tessa Grigg and Bindy Cummings
As you watch young children working out how to jump, it is clear that there is a complex learning process involved. Once children become practised at bending both their knees together (bobbing), they start to try to ‘lift-off’ and jump. This comes first without success, proceeded by a ‘hobbilty-hoy’ style movement (where one leg lifts off without the other), before they finally manage to jump with two feet off the ground simultaneously. You may have noticed that there is some form of jumping in most GymbaROO-KindyROO classes. So, what is the fuss about jumping, and why do we, at GymbaROO-KindyROO, consider it to be an ‘essential skill’, one that children need to develop and become highly proficient at?
Jumping, where both feet lift off the ground together and land together, plays an important role in both brain and body functioning.
Both motor skill development and brain development are sequential. Higher level functioning of the brain and body depends on the lower developmental levels being reached and consolidated (practised until proficient).
In the brain, the Early Cortex and Cerebellum are responsible for the development of bilateral movements, including bobbing and jumping. The next higher level of brain functioning – the Cortex, is responsible for the development of lateral movements, including standing on one leg, hopping, galloping, marching, skipping, cross-pattern throwing, catching, kicking and refining gross and fine motor coordination. The development of these Cortex skills, (and subsequent Neocortex functioning), depends on how proficient the child became at the skills in the lower levels of brain functioning. That is, if the child doesn’t become fluent and practised at jumping, then skills that rely on this building block of brain/body functioning will be very challenging.
Jumping also enhances the development of balance, rhythm, timing, sequencing and sensory integration, all needed to achieve efficient, coordinated and controlled performance in day-to-day activities.
According to Herrman et al. (1), physical activity, particularly weight-bearing exercise, contributes to bone health in children and helps prevent bone loss and osteoporosis issues as people age. Children need to learn foundation skills to engage in physical activity successfully, and jumping is one of these skills. Australian research (2) shows that jumping skills in children aged 11 and 12 declined between 1985 and 2015. We know that our lifestyles are becoming increasingly more sedentary, and that recently, the pandemic has reduced children’s activity levels even further, so we do not expect the last decade to show an improvement in jumping skills. A study from Beijing(3) placed a high value on jumping as an essential skill for many sports. They concluded that hip-based exercises/activities improve jumping ability and that this approach can be used with children not confidently jumping.
Jumping has been shown to be a strong indicator of successful movement competence(4). Children who are developing typically, are able to interact with their environment efficiently, and this involves controlled movement of the body. Importantly, there is a flow on to all other aspects of development. Self-regulation, concentration and thinking are aspects of cognition that are important as part of successful development. Jumping helps children develop these cognitive skills as they work to master a successful vertical jump. When children can automatically control the movements of their body, they can sit still in a classroom and focus on learning. Communication skills such as gesturing, speaking, reading and writing are all motor (movement) based, once again outlining how learning to jump impacts later learning.
Children who can engage in various sporting activities, have social opportunities that help them develop a wide range of skills useful in their adult life, both leisure and employment. They do not need to be heading for an Olympic medal, but enjoying participating in sport supports communication skills, leadership skills and improved general health (5).
And it all started with a jump!
Dr Tessa Grigg (PhD, Dip Tch Primary and ECE) is an experienced teacher and the Research and Education Manager at GymbaROO-KindyROO.
Bindy Cummings (B.Ed hons) is a teacher, a GymbaROO early childhood neuro-developmental consultant and the co-creator of GymbaROO’s Active Babies Smart Kids series. She has been writing articles for GymbaROO’s First Steps magazine, digital platforms and media for over ten years
- Herrmann D, Buck C, Sioen I, Kouride Y, Marild S, Molnár D, et al. Impact of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and muscle strength on bone stiffness in 2-10-year-old children-cross-sectional results from the IDEFICS study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity. 2015;12:1-12.
- Fraser BJ, Blizzard L, Tomkinson GR, Lycett K, Wake M, Burgner D, et al. The great leap backward: changes in the jumping performance of Australian children aged 11−12-years between 1985 and 2015. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2019;37(7):748-54.
- Zhao P, Ji Z, Wen R, Li J, Liang X, Jiang G. Biomechanical Characteristics of Vertical Jumping of Preschool Children in China Based on Motion Capture and Simulation Modeling. Sensors (14248220). 2021;21(24):8376-.
- Williams M, Saunders J, Maschette W, Wilson C. Outcome and Process in Motor Performance: A Comparison of Jumping by Typically Developing Children and Those with Low Motor Proficiency. Measurement in Physical Education & Exercise Science. 2013;17(2):135-49.
- Bailey R, Armour K, Kirk D, Jess M, Pickup I, Sandford R. The educational benefits claimed for physical education and school sport: An academic review. Research Papers in Education. 2009;24(1):1-27.