How to Teach a Child a Cartwheel

By Contributor

Every child interested in tumbling, gymnastics or cheerleading must learn how to do a cartwheel. This simple, yet impressive looking move is often a core part of competitive routines. With patience and teamwork, you can help a child master the cartwheel in a single day.

Find the child's dominant side. Side Dominance is not the same as Handedness. It will not necessarily be the same side he writes with. Standing with feet shoulder-length apart, ask the child to stretch his arms above his head. Lower them slightly, still stretched, until they reach the equivalent of the ten and two position on a clock face.

Instruct the child to sway to the left, lifting his right leg. Reposition, and then repeat by swaying in the opposite direction and lifting his left leg. Ask which move feels more comfortable. After several tries, most children can feel a definite preference for their dominant side. Although they will eventually learn how to cartwheel from both sides, primary teaching should begin in the most comfortable position. The instructions that follow refer to a LEFT SIDED child, which is common for dominance.

Place a padded mat on the floor to protect the child's head and neck from injury. Do not teach gymnastics and tumbling moves on bare floors, hard ground or trampolines. Get the child into position. Instruct her to relax knees and elbows slightly, as injury can occur if knees or elbows are locked.

Tell her to bend at the waist. While keeping her arms the same distance apart, reach down with momentum and place the left hand on the mat; fingers facing slightly behind her. At the same time, she should lift her right leg and swing it sideways, approximately a foot off the ground. Her eyes should follow her hands. Instruct the student to kick sideways with the left foot, swinging the airborne right hand, and then right foot, down onto the mat. She must twist her body as the left foot follows, landing on the mat. When she stands, she will be facing the opposite direction from her starting position. This technique, which resembles a monkey moving along the ground, teaches the order of hand/foot placement without the fear of flipping upside down.

Instruct the child to practice the 'monkey' move several times. As he gains confidence, have him kick his legs out higher and higher. Demonstrate several cartwheels to your student. Point out the amount of momentum required, and the smooth transition from hands to feet, similar to a rolling ball. Have your student attempt to gain full cartwheel height.

Encourage your student's attempts. Expect lack of grace and point out everything the child does correctly. Cartwheels can be unnerving at first; especially if the child falls. Start small, focusing on hand and foot placement rather than form. With encouragement, she will slowly begin to gain the confidence necessary to achieve a proper cartwheel.

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