In gym, toddlers shed shyness

Sure, they get a workout on the balance beam and through other gymnastic activities. But the real development is in social skills, the leader says.

By MIKE CAMUNAS, Times Correpsondent
Published December 7, 2007


They hide behind their parents' legs, perhaps just a bit shy in front of some of their first-ever peers.

Sometimes it takes the kids ages 18 months to 3 awhile to warm up before joining the Parent and Tot Gymnastics class, which is put on by the YMCA of the Suncoast.

And in this weekly, 45-minute class it's not exactly organized, hard-core gymnastics.

But that's not the point. Group leader Wendy Cassetta says the class is all about helping kids break out of their shells.

"You want them to gain confidence," Cassetta said after last Friday's class. "You want them to exercise. You want them to get flexibility. It's a lot of local motor skills and basic skills that help them reach those other skills."

And for toddlers, they do plenty of physical work and have plenty of fun. It's not uncommon to see the kids lying on their stomachs and barking like a seal - they're stretching their backs.

Or they might sit with their legs bent, feet touching and flap their legs like wings.

"It's to teach them," Cassetta said. "You put little pieces here and there of things you want them to learn, and when we do stretching we'll do songs they recognize."

Then the kids move on to the balance beam, where their parent will help them cross it, such as 2-year-old Wisdom Welsh, a relative newcomer. At first, she did not want to climb up, but once her mom, Shannon, helped her, she did it many more times.

"With each class Wisdom has, she gets a little more brave," Shannon Welsh said. "She was so shy at first, but now she's participating in everything, and she just loves it. I can't believe the difference in such a short time."

Also during the class, a leader helps each child learn to cartwheel with the aid of a mat that has hand and foot prints on it.

All the while, without the kids even realizing it, they are learning to be more interactive.

"I think this is more social time for the kids, especially at this age," Cassetta said.

Take Gabby Pimenta for example, who, after two years with the program, now excels at the tumbling, though it never used to be that way.

"The first day she was so shy," Gabby's mom, Kasha Pimenta, said. "She was crying and whining and didn't want to do anything. They're all just running around and not following the rules. And with time that changes, where they start to follow it, and you can see the change. I mean, she's made big progress."

Cassetta says she just lost a big group of kids, most of whom just got too old and had to go preschool, but she adds that kids are always going to improve themselves.

"You see them leave the class with some confidence and social skills as well," Cassetta said. "Because if they go to school, they have never played with kids before, they may not understand, 'Hey, you have to wait your turn.'

"Really, it's not just the gymnastics they're learning."

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Learn more

For more information on Parent and Tot Gymnastics, contact Wendy Cassetta at (727) 844-0332 or wcassetta@suncoastymca.org.