Researchers at Victoria University are calling for gymnastics to be taught at all Australian primary schools. The recommendation follows a three year study on the development of fundamental movement skills.
The study assessed 800 children to gain an understanding of how fundamental movement skills can be improved.
Lead researcher James Rudd says that developing confident and competent movers is the most important outcome for physical education and gymnastics helps to facilitate this.
"Previous research has shown that children who master fundamental movements skills (FMS) in primary school possess higher levels of cardiovascular fitness later in life than children who do not," Rudd said.
He continues: "Children who master FMS are more physically active and have reduced obesity risk. There are also positive associations between FMS and a child's social skills, self-esteem and academic performance — so it is important for overall wellbeing and development."
Rudd notes that a gymnastics-based PE curriculum has an accelerated effect on movement competence in comparison with standard school PE curriculums. "This was indexed by larger gains in stability skills and object control skills," he explains.
"We should be developing our primary school physical education programs to specifically address fundamental movement skills."
At present, the health and physical education component of the Australian PE curriculum focuses on the development of FMS and concepts that help children play sport and participate in physical activities as they grow.
It suggests that physical activity should be taught through a range of contexts and highlights six areas including FMS and 'rhythmic and expressive' skills. Both of which have a strong correlation with gymnastics.
Rudd also notes that gymnastics could be taught by the regular classroom teachers, making it a sustainable model. "Our research suggests gymnastics should be included in the primary school PE curriculum and classroom teachers should be given the skills to deliver effective gymnastics programs to their students," he said.
Gymnastics coach Vicki Fitzwater says that while she would definitely support the inclusion of gymnastics in primary school sport she has some concerns about the sport being taught by classroom teachers. "My only reservation about it would be whether teachers have the appropriate qualifications to teach it properly."
"As with any sport there is a risk of injury. With gymnastics you are doing skills that involve going upside down which means injuries can happen and potentially be worse," she cautions.
However, Fitzwater also notes that with the right coaching and equipment set up any risks could be minimised. "It is a wonderful sport that teaches kids so much and is so great for other sports as you gain strength, agility, balance and other basic motor skills," she says.
So what do parents think? Karen, a mother of three, says that she loved gymnastics when she was at school. "I would be in for it in a heartbeat," she says.
Lakshmi, a mother of two also says she would be in favour of adding gymnastics to the PE curriculum, particularly for her son. "I think it would be great for boys to try something traditionally considered 'girly'," she says.
Mark Rendall is the CEO of Gymnastics Australia, the national governing body for gymnastics. He says that gymnastics is key to improving Australian children's fundamental movement skills.
"Gymnastics has a rich history in Australian physical education dating back as far as 1870, but in the past 20 years or so we perceive that it has dropped off the radar in PE programming."
"One of the reasons [for this] is that primary classroom teachers are often responsible for teaching physical education and many do not have the confidence to teach gymnastics," he said.
Rendall notes that the decline in gymnastics teaching in schools has mirrored the decreasing levels of Australian children's movement competence. He hopes that this is a trend that can be reversed.
"Gymnastics is synonymous with movement," he says. "We look forward to working with educators in all states through the LaunchPad program to help put gymnastics back onto the primary school PE curriculum."