Marcus Leslie writes about an initiative encouraging a love of movement and physical activity in children.
LaunchPad is Gymnastics Australia's new initiative designed to improve children's fundamental movement skills through foundation-level gymnastics. The series of programs promotes the physical, social and emotional development of children with the aim of improving their confidence and competence in movement.
Following the Federal Government's 2009 Crawford Review Into Australian Sport, the Australian Sports Commission invited national sporting organisations to apply for extra funding to support participation initiatives. Gymnastics Australia was funded to develop LaunchPad, and State Youth Participation Coordinators are driving its implementation.
LaunchPad consists of three programs, each addressing a different developmental stage. KinderGym is a long-running Gymnastics Australia program that allows children under five years to experience a wide range of movement activities. There is a focus on explorative play and guided discovery, as children learn about their bodies and what they can do.
Children then progress to GymFun, where they develop skills in movement patterns through individual challenges as well as partnered, small-group and large-group activities. This helps improve their physical abilities, while promoting social interaction, cooperation and problem-solving. The final program, GymSkills, extends on the foundations of the other two programs. Coaches introduce sport-specific skills, but the focus remains on having fun through games and activities.
Gymnastics Australia CEO Mark Rendell says gymnastics can let children explore their environment and what their bodies can do, in a safe and enjoyable way. "Learning to control your body and move well is imperative, not only for future sporting success but to maintain a fit and active lifestyle well into adulthood," he says. "Once you have the basic 'building blocks' in your armoury, picking up any sport or physical activity and realising your potential in it becomes an exciting pathway."
Olympic aerial skiing gold medallist and former national artistic-gymnastics champion Lydia Lassila is a Hero for LaunchPad. "I don't think there's any child who wouldn't enjoy what gymnastics can offer," she says. "There are so many obstacles and apparatuses they can play on in a safe and controlled environment."
Youth Participation Coordinators and presenters deliver LaunchPad training to coaches. LaunchPad training offers additional information for coaches on how gymnastics activities can benefit the brain. American neurokinesiologist Jean Blaydes is an advocate of movement activities that work with rhythm or music, as these can have a positive impact on speaking, reading and writing skills. Coaches who have been trained to deliver LaunchPad sessions understand how the activities can impact on areas of the school curriculum, and training-workshop modules include activities created by Blaydes to support theories of movement and brain development.
All LaunchPad-certified coaches have completed accredited coaching courses in gymnastics. Knowing the framework used to break down even the most complex of skills into small, achievable steps allows these coaches to tailor sessions to suit individuals' abilities. LaunchPad is being rolled out through affiliated gymnastics clubs with accredited and certified coaches.
Gymnastics Australia has also devised workshops and resources for school teachers as a component of LaunchPad and delivery of these will begin later this year. State associations are working with their respective government departments on the delivery of professional development to teachers. Gymnastics Australia has also been involved in the development of the new Australian curriculum in health and physical education, and will be providing feedback on the curriculum's second draft.
Marcus Leslie is Youth and Schools Program Manager for Gymnastics Australia.
Photo: Hero for LaunchPad Lydia Lassila with her son Kai.