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Want to tire your little ones out, give them exercise and develop co-ordination? Then it's time to consider Tumble Tots.
*** A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON *** It all started back in 1979 by Bill Cosgrave who was the coach for the British Olympic Gymnastics team in 1968. About a million children worldwide have benefited from the programme since then and there are currently 450 centres in the UK with around 60,000 children being members. It is run by franchises which have fully trained and qualified staff.
The Tumble Tots program is specifically designed to develop children's agility, balance, co-ordination and climbing through use of brightly coloured equipment and structured sessions. The sessions also aim to develop positive personality traits such as self-esteem and confidence. If you visit their website, you will find lots of quotes from child psychologists and educators stating the benefits of such a program.
*** MY OPINION BEFORE GOING ***
I was a complete sceptic regarding such activities as Tumble Tots. I couldn't see how parents could justify paying out for such activities when they could just go to a local park to play on the apparatus there. It wasn't until our son was diagnosed with a mild form of cerebral palsy that affects one side of his body that we began to consider it as his physiotherapist (with 30 years experience) said it would be one of the finest things he could do to help his balance and co-ordination. I must point out at this point though that Tumble Tots is for ALL children, not just those with disabilities.
*** CLASSES AVAILABLE & OTHER INFORMATION *** There are a variety of classes, depending on the age of your child. Generally there is something from 6 months to 7 years of age. Tumble Tots is the general name for the program although there are three different groups, Gymbabes, Tumble Tots and Gymbobs.
Gymbabes is for babies of 6 months until walking.
Tumble Tots have three different classes: walking to two, two to three and three to school age.
Gymbobs is for school age to 7.
Once you've had your trial session, you are required to become a member of the National Tumble Tots club which costs £19 for the 1st child/year and £17.50 for renewals as well as siblings. I thought this was a bit of a con at first but it's quite good value for money as you get a CD, DVD, t-shirt (of your chosen size), magazine subscripton, gym bag and other little goodies. On top of that you get a booklet oozing with money-off vouchers for everything from nappy wipes to holidays. On top of that, the main reason for joining is that it is your year insurance cover for attending!
Currently, the fee is £4.20 per session and you pay for a half-term in advance. The program coincides with the school terms. If you miss a session, you cannot get a refund but can have an extra catch-up session.
There are qualified staff and leaders there but you are required to be with your child until they are 3 and then they are encourage to be more independent although you are still required to be nearby.
*** OUR FIRST SESSION *** I contacted our local program through a email link on the website. I was offered a free trial for the following week although some classes are quite full so there are sometimes waiting lists.
Well we arrived on time for our walking to 2 class and everyone was really friendly. They were very supportive of our son's disability (he walks high up on his toes on his right side) and encouraged me that it will really help his balance and co-ordination. I had no ideas of the expectations of me or my son so had packed some shorts and a t-shirt for him and wore trainers myself. I soon realised that I could wear anything as long as I didn't have heels on and could sit down on the floor easily. He too was fine as long as he had bare feet.
We walked into the church hall which had a very busy atmosphere with jolly music playing in the background. Three sides of the room had various apparatus varying from ladders, planks to walk on, tunnels, slides, things to climb in etc, with a member of staff on each side and the middle had beanbags and hoops with the leader wandering about and interacting with the children. My son clinged on tightly and wouldn't let go! I thought it was a disaster and the leaders just said that he will soon get used to it. I was encouraged to let him wander and choose what apparatus to go on but every time we attempted something, he'd start to cry and want to be picked up again. After a little while the music stopped and all the children went in to the middle with their parents and sat in a circle so we did too. We did some action songs which I hadn't a clue with but were really nice. Then the music was back on and all the children scattered around the room again. Looking at the other children, I thought my son would never be able to do what they were doing! After a little while, it went quiet again and back to the circle we went. We did a few more songs and then sang happy birthday to someone. Next it was announced "Sticker Time" and the children all ran up independently to the leader. I was the only Mum who had to go up!!! I was totally pooped and realised that it was almost as much as a workout for me as for him (not a bad thing though!).
I could see the benefits as long as my son would stop clinging on to me so decided to give it a go and book although there was no pressure put on me to do so whilst I was there.
*** OUR OPINIONS NOW ***
We have been attending Tumble Tots since September and are amazed at the new skills our son has gained in just a few months. With me just holding on to the back of his t-shirt he can walk along a ladder balancing on the rungs, put one foot in front of each other to walk along a thin plank of wood, he rolls along quickly on his tummy on rollers and naturally tucks his head in to do a forward roll! It's fantastic! He loves his time there and, yes, now goes with the other children for 'Sticker Time'!!! The apparatus change weekly to supply a variety of activities. His walking, balance and co-ordination have improved immensely and he loves socialising with the other children. We are about to move up to the next class (2 to 3 year olds) which is more structured and children go on specific apparatus for certain lengths of time.
We have been quite strict in not missing any sessions as we pay for them but have managed to move a session for the odd week if we can't make it. It is expensive, but for the benefits we have seen, it is well worth it and we will definitely take any other children we have to it. I tend to go in the week but my husband sometimes takes him on a Saturday. It is very much a Mum AND Dad thing and there are often Dad's there.
*** WEB LINK *** www.tumbletots.com
*** UPDATE SINCE ATTENDING 2 to 3 CLASS ***
As we've been attending the new class for some weeks now, I thought I'd fill you in with more info on that as it's a bit different to the walking to 2s.
This class starts with circle time when the children are welcomed and sing a song. They are then given a number and sorted into four groups (not as bad as it sounds, 1-5 are one group, etc, not all the 3's!!!). Each group then have to make a human train with them all holding on to the person in front and they choo-choo to their 1st station which keeps all the children safely together.
There are 3 big apparatus stations, and one with smaller apparatus such as balls or sticks or bean bags. This week we had sticks which we tapped together, on the floor, tapped different body parts, looked at the colours and made a triangle, square and a house with them too. Each station has a qualified instructor who explains the route for children to follow and lets the adults know what skill it is focusing on. Parents are still required to guide the child and encourage but as they get older, they seem not to require their parents so much for support. After a while a minute warning is sounded to ensure children don't start climbing large frames in order for them to be ready to move on. After this, they are asked to form another chain to move on.
After the 4th station, children are moved back into a circle for another song which is then followed by an activity such as tapping heads to count up to 10, we then do birthday time and it finishes with "STICKER TIME".
All in all it requires the children to be more mature and follow instructions. It also doesn't have the loud music going to allow them to concentrate more. I felt like the first week that we had moved up too early. My son struggled with most of the apparatus. A week later, he was confidently climbing up an A frame to about 5 ½ feet and really getting in to the new regime.