Tumblebugs: Filling the Physical Literacy Gap in Early Childhood Education

As a gymnastics program in Nova Scotia, Tumblebugs is showing young children that exercise can be the foundation for play, fun, and most importantly, physical literacy. 

It’s also helping parents and teachers integrate physical literacy into early childhood education programs—something that research has increasingly shown to be important for both mental and physical development, and for preventing obesity later in life.

The Power of Gymnastics

Launched by long-time gymnastics coaches Mary Kikuchi and Jan Chipman, Tumblebugs introduces children (ages three-and-a-half to five) to basic, modified gymnastics movements that are “safe, inclusive, and developmentally appropriate.” By learning how to maneuver their bodies in a supportive environment, children not only build confidence and social skills, but get a head start with life-long participation in healthy, active living.

“We believe in the power and potential of gymnastics as a foundational activity for physical literacy, and are striving to make it available to all young children,” Kikuchi said.

Tumblebugs provides a workshop specifically designed to teach educators and leaders in pre-school settings how to lead children through simple movement activities. There is also an affordable kit that contains an activity book and equipment like gymnastic ribbons and balls, which make the program continually fun and interesting for children.

“Children really enjoy Tumblebugs,” Kikuchi said. “It’s fun, which was one of our major goals. The leaders have also reported that it’s been a big help to them, because many don’t have knowledge or experience in activity programs, and it’s very easy to use.”

Kikuchi and Chipman launched Tumblebugs in 2003 when they discovered that most of the small communities in Nova Scotia had no access to gymnastics clubs. “We wanted to develop a very basic, modified gymnastics program that helped remove the obstacles to participation, such as the cost of hiring trained coaches, equipment, and facilities,” Kikuchi said. “All leaders of preschool age children are welcome to take part in our clinics.  Our program can be modified to suit any open space, indoor or outside.”

Creating Impact in Nova Scotia and Beyond

Tumblebugs has since spread across Nova Scotia and is being used in many settings, including schools, daycares, community recreation centers, and family resource centers for at-risk groups. The program is part of the Department of Health’s diabetes prevention initiative, and Nova Scotia Community Colleges are now including Tumblebugs as part of their curriculum for Early Childhood Education students. The program is now branching out into other provinces, with materials available in both English and French.

“We did workshops with aboriginal leaders from all four Atlantic provinces. YMCA leaders from several provinces have taken the training, and other provinces are using ours as a template for their new programs,” Kikuchi said.

Kikuchi and Chipman have plans to expand the reach of Tumblebugs even further. “We are now receiving requests for a second level of Tumblebugs to reach older age groups of children, and to include more ideas to expand the current program,” Kikuchi said.  “The number of requests for Tumblebug kits has exceeded our wildest expectations.”

Getting Nova Scotians to embrace a physically active lifestyle at any age will have a big impact on health generally. Cardiovascular disease is a major health issue across the province, accounting for the death of more Nova Scotians than any other disease. The risk of heart disease has been exacerbated by high rates of obesity and physical inactivity that affect more than 50 percent of Nova Scotians.

 “We have already received requests from seniors’ homes to create a modified program. We would also like to be able to offer some onsite mentoring for centres using the program, to help them adapt it to their particular needs and situation,” said Kikuchi.

How You Can Get Involved

Tumblebugs is one of many new and creative ideas for empowering Canadians to make healthy choices and address major health concerns.  Join The Play Exchange, and enter your idea to make Canadians healthier and more active.

You could be one of six finalists who will be featured on CBC, and who will each receive mentoring and support from LIFT Philanthropy Partners, valued at $30,000, to develop a strategic business plan for your idea. One top entrant will be eligible for up to $1 million from the Government of Canada to put their winning idea into action.

Editor’s Note: Follow the #PlayExchange and #activeCanada hashtags on Twitter to get the latest trends and updates about the competition.

Featured images courtesy of Tumble Bugs.