More than a few years ago I made a life choice that means I spend a major part of my day teaching kids how to roll, tumble, climb things and more often than not do cartwheels and handstands.
Strangely enough, for most six year olds, cartwheels don’t come naturally.
It takes a while to figure out which foot to step forward first, though this is more about how to co-ordinate the correct foot with the hands turning in the corresponding direction. I like to teach cartwheels with a block or raised surface to put your hands on. It makes the cartwheel physically easier and gives you a goal to aim for. This also helps to get the child to understand the hand hand, foot foot pattern.
Aside from the co-ordination involved, there’s also a matter of strength, it’s really important for anyone learning acrobatics to be able to hold their body weight with their hands, often upside down, while keeping their body and limbs in a straight line – the handstand! The best way for beginners to practice this is to climb up a wall with your feet so your tummy faces the wall, and try to walk your hands closer to the wall as you gain confidence and strength (just 10 seconds at a time may be plenty at the start!).
A circus or gymnastic class is a fantastic way for kids to learn and practice these skills in a safe and controlled environment (with qualified and experienced teachers of course!).
However, most kids at a beginners level come to class once a week, and like learning a musical instrument, practicing once a week only gets you so far. Without exception the students who make leaps and bounds (pun intended) in their circus skills are kids who are given a chance to play and explore their physicality on their own, in their own time. This may be doing handstands in their hallway, spending afternoons at the park on climbing frames and in trees, showing off their version of cartwheels with friends, playing other sports or just playing.
Of course the benefits of a circus class go way beyond just learning acrobatic tricks – throughout the sessions kids get a chance to get comfortable in their bodies, they have to work with others, express themselves physically and learn to follow instruction in a way that they often don’t get a chance to in school.
But the circus class is only one piece of the puzzle to inspire confidence and physicality in kids. When combined with an equal measure of independently driven activity, the two are highly complementary.
The question that this leaves us with, is how can we enable our kids to be more active, more often?
*It should go without saying, that being active doesn’t mean taking unnecessary risks
Daniel is the Chief Executive Clown (i.e. founder and director) of The Circus Spot, with a vision that every child in Australia should be able to show off at least one circus trick! He’s slowly getting there too, having taught over 5,000 kids and adults circus skills over the last 10 years. He is a typical circus geek, always dreaming up new ways to teach a cartwheel, or plotting the next performance for our performing troupes. Prior to starting The Circus Spot, Daniel has worked in and around circus as a performer, teacher and rigger (the guy that hangs all the trapezes). His signature circus trick was balancing on one leg on a slackrope (like a tightrope, but very loose), and then proceeding to use his spare foot to kick cups and cutlery high in the air to land in a bowl balanced on his head! This cool trick may have taken 4 years to perfect, but gave Daniel a chance to perform with a variety of companies such as Circus Quirkus, ThowDown, Circus Oz, the traditional family circus Circus Royale, Dislocate Physical Theatre and even supporting the rock band The Dresden Dolls.