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Gymbaroo review: Putting natural back into learning:

Many parents often question how to best nurture their child’s healthy development.
By Hayley Woodbine
Date: November 16 2012
Editor Rating:

As a parent, I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to learn with my child and to play an active role in his development and opportunities for future success through GymbaROO.

GymbaROO focuses on developing parenting knowledge and answers many of those questions while providing activities and ideas that stimulate the healthy development of babies through to school age children.

GymbaROO was founded in 1982 on the premise that the neurological development of the young child is integrally linked to later learning and development, meaning babies and children need lots of appropriate stimulation and opportunities to move.  

At its conception the GymbaROO program was considered radical with many of the ideas of founder, Margaret Sasse’ criticised.

Regardless, Margaret forged ahead and Gymbaroo is now embraced by parents all over the world as they are encouraged to actively participate in their child’s development and readiness for school.

There are now 95 centres in Australia, with more than 30,000 children and their parents attending each week.

In an article about the role of GymbaROO (1992), Margaret identifies some of the main issues of which parents need to be aware:

“If function determines structure, as many experts expound, then many infants suffer deprivation of opportunities, inborn reflexes are not able to be utilised and development is slowed. The old saying ‘what we don’t use we lose’ in old age also applies to infants – what they don’t use they don’t gain. 

“For underweight babies at birth and those who are ‘at risk’ for possible developmental delays, early motor-sensory stimulation is essential for development”.

Margaret went on to say that poor muscle tone has been found to be one of the major indicators of later immaturities in development as it hinders movement, integration of the inbuilt reflexes of infancy and a smooth passage up through developmental milestones of early childhood.

“The motor system forms the foundation for the growth and expansion of all human organs. Without adequate messages to the brain from the muscles, ligaments and other sensory nerve endings, body awareness is slow in being attained, thus affecting the development of later skills which are reliant upon it, such as space awareness, balance, time, direction and communication.

“It is important to remember that all communication skills – reading, writing, speech and gesturing are motor based abilities.”

Margaret’s view on the importance of motor skills is supported by Sally Goddard Blythe, Director of the Institute of Neuro-Physiological Psychology (INPP) in Chester, UK.

She states that "babies with poor motor skills at nine months are also likely to be behind in their cognitive development at this age and less well behaved at age five. Learning success begins with physical development and it is in the first nine months of life that a baby develops the postural abilities that will support gross and fine motor coordination for life”.

The GymbaROO philosophy argues that modern society is highly restrictive of infants and children’s ability to move.

Modern technology – new baby computers, TV and DVDS – are keeping more children indoors and sedentary. Prams, bouncers, walkers, jolly jumpers and car seats all play a part in restricting a child’s movement experiences and interactions with the world in which he/she lives.

Physical activity is essential to a child’s overall development and health and is a major focus of the GymbaROO program.

Dr Jane Williams is a Director and the Research and Education General Manager of GymbaROO, Editor of ‘First Steps’ magazine and Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Nutrition at James Cook University.

In an interview I had with Jane she explained why the GymbaROO program is so important in today’s society:

“Organic, natural development in today’s modern society is a thing of the past. In truth, natural development no longer occurs because of all the interferences our modern society creates, often under the guise of 'making life easier for parents'.

“Key opportunities that used to encourage natural development are no longer available to our children as a result of safety/litigation concerns; convenience and ultra-busy lives; reduced opportunities to move and play; smaller blocks of land for living; parks with equipment that do not spin, sway or rock – we are only left with swings as moving equipment; lack of tummy time for infants; lots of 'containers' into which our children are held captive and that prevent movement; too much 'screen' time (computers, TV, gameboys etc); changes in diet (lots of processed, adulterated foods), parents just lack the time and often the knowledge about how all this impacts on the developing child’s brain.”

The GymbaROO education program aims to put the 'natural' back into the developmental opportunities and help parents understand how they can do this at home.

The opportunities that GymbaROO provides for parent and child to bond is also important to maximising a child’s development and provides a loving and rewarding experience for both parties.

A Longitudinal Study of Australian Children discussion paper conducted by The Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2002 found that supportive, nurturing family environments provide the foundation for the development of competence, self-esteem and well regulated behaviour.

Importantly, shared activities not only help children to develop particular skills, such as learning to read, but they are also important for their socio-emotional development.

I have found Toddler Kindy GymbaROO to be a vibrant, fun-filled program that enables parents to learn about, laugh and bond with their children. Every class I attended with my son Billy was a fun and rewarding experience. 

I learnt previously unknown developmental information about my baby and how to play with him at home. It made me feel empowered and confident in my growing parenting skills, especially when I saw Billy’s little face light up as he proudly showed off his new skills.

Hayley Woodbine is studying a Bachelor of Communication Studies Major in Journalism at Callaghan Campus Newcastle University NSW.  She is the mother of one son and has attended Maitland Gymbaroo.

For further information on Gymbaroo visit:

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