Don’t cancel cartwheels

Cartwheels seem to have become one of the latest casualties in the risk aversion race. Cartwheels have been banned in many school playgrounds which then leaves parents wondering if they should discourage them at home as well. It seems our society is so focussed on removing risk from the lives of our children that very simple, normal childhood activities that support the healthy development of children are being banned.

Griffin Longley, Founder of Nature Play Western Australia, describes risk as something that stops us achieving our objectives. So what is our objective when it comes to raising children? Is it to prevent every bump, scratch and accident or is it to raise healthy, competent people who feel confident as they enter the adult world? Once we have decided on our objective, then the risk vs benefit equation becomes easier to work through.

Let’s think about cartwheels in this context.

If we remove cartwheels from the playground we remove the chance of a cartwheel related injury both to the child doing the cartwheel and to those around them. But, we have also removed the opportunity to:

  • Develop coordination
  • Learn about their body and how it moves in space
  • Improve balance
  • Build postural control
  • Exercise in a meaningful way
  • Regulate energy levels and emotions through movement
  • Think about and try to do something safely
  • Problem solve
  • Negotiate with others
  • Feel a sense of achievement after practicing over and over and over & then nailing it
  • Give something a go even if it’s hard
  • Believe that they can (by removing activities we send a clear message of “You can’t do this” – the exact opposite of a growth mindset)
  • Have fun.

So what is our objective?

If it’s to prevent every bump, scratch and accident, then banning cartwheels is a step towards meeting that objective.

If however we are genuinely committed to raising healthy, competent people who feel confident as they enter the adult world, then banning cartwheels has moved us a long way from our objective. By banning cartwheels we are in fact increasing the long term risks for our children. Children who have all risk and challenge removed from their lives are more likely to:

  • Be overweight
  • Have mental health challenges
  • Lack resilience
  • Demonstrate difficulties with executive functioning
  • Have poorer social skills
  • Have less meaningful relationships
  • Fail to launch (ie get a job, move out of home, start independent adult lives).

I don’t know about you, but to me the risk benefit equation for this one is easy. Let our children play the way our bodies are designed to play, let them cartwheel (and somersault and jump from heights and play with sticks and walk barefoot). They may get a few scraps and bumps along the way, they may even break a bone BUT their long term health and development and the quality of their adult lives will undoubtedly be better for it.

Written by: Written by Madeline Avci. Mum of three young men. Occupational Therapist. Owner of Jump Up for Kids (including Jump Up Outdoors). Madeline is passionate about making the outdoors part of everyone’s day and supporting families to navigate the challenges of our modern world.

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