Tiny tumblers: Parents, toddlers bond, exercise in weekly gymnastics classes
A herd of toddlers runs across the springy gymnastics mat, each to a small square of carpet. Their parents follow close behind.
Once seated, coach Marci Schuster takes them through some warm-up stretches.
"Show me your nose. Can you put your nose on your knee and count to three?" Schuster prompts the kids.
She leads them in a dance where they move and then freeze. Some boogie next to Schuster in the middle of all the carpet squares. Others stay close to mom or dad. A few run to the center and then back to their moms, just to make sure they're still there.
It's a parent-toddler gymnastics class - a chance for about two dozen little ones to run and jump, learn to tumble, and build some basic preschool skills.
Parent-toddler gymnastics classes are a staple at gymnastics and fitness facilities across the area. This particular class was held earlier this month at American Gold Gymnastics in Fargo, where Schuster is recreational director.
Schuster says parent-toddler gymnastics is designed so parents can serve as an emotional safety net for the children as they try new things. And, she says, it's a chance for parents to spend an hour just playing with their kids.
"Once they get in there and see how much the kids enjoy it, they keep signing them up," Schuster says. "Even if they're not planning to become an Olympic gymnast, they can use the skills they learn for any other sport."
At this Wednesday class, Schuster encourages each of the tots, dressed in sweatpants or little leotards, to do a somersault:
Tuck your head
Over you go
"Ta-da!" each toddler shouts as he or she stands, arms raised triumphantly.
"Everything we do at home is 'ta-da' afterwards," Kelly Haugen of Barnesville, Minn., says of her 21-month-old daughter, Makenna.
Haugen peeks through one end of a blue fabric tunnel, trying to lure Makenna to crawl through.
"She's very active and very physical," Haugen says of her toddler.
Gymnastics has helped her make strides in her physical development. When they started taking the class, Makenna couldn't jump with both feet at the same time, Haugen says. Now she can.
And it gives Makenna exercise. "She has great naps afterwards. Momma loves that," Haugen says.
Julie Friederichs of Fargo playfully buries her daughter Noelle, 3, in a pit of green foam blocks.
"I think it helps them listen to direction, interact with other kids," Friederichs says, noting her daughter asks every week, "Is it Wednesday yet?"
And as a stay-at-home mom, Friederichs appreciates the interaction with other adults. She's also done parent-toddler sessions with her three older children, now 10, 8 and 5.
"It's great, especially in wintertime - a great way to expend energy," she says.
For Kathrina and Emmalyn Lindquist of Fargo, gymnastics is a year-round activity. Three-year-old Emmalyn has been in gymnastics since she was 18 months old.
"Good jumping," Lindquist calls to Emmalyn as she bounces on a trampoline.
Lindquist says she feels gymnastics has helped Emmalyn develop coordination and social skills, such as taking turns. And they've both made friends.
"I think it helps make a well-rounded child," Lindquist says. "It made her more outgoing. She used to be shy, the 'I don't want to do anything' to the 'I'm first in line for everything.' "
Laverne Shaw-Bailey has seen a similar transformation in her daughter, Simone, now 2, who has taken gymnastics for a year. Shaw-Bailey, of Horace, N.D., says it's a nice foundation for all athletics and gives the pair someplace to go in the morning.
Simone used to cling to Mom, Shaw-Bailey says. "Now she gets in line and gets her stamps by herself," she says, referencing the stamps children receive as rewards for trying new gymnastic activities. "I get home and she's all full of stamps."
Shaw-Bailey stretches out beneath a horizontal bar while Simone dangles from her arms and then kicks her legs to meet her hands. Soon Simone runs off to another activity, to get another stamp.
At American Gold, once kids turn 3, they can move to the Tumble Tots program. The class is similar, but parents sit to the side or in a balcony instead of being on the floor with the children.
Schuster says some parents delay making the transition. She was one of them when her now-teenage daughters were tots.
"Other coaches would say, 'You could move them up,' but I wanted to keep playing with them," she says.
Just like the parents at Schuster's recent Wednesday class.
Online: * www.americangoldgymnastics.com