Using Gymnastics to Enhance the Social Emotional Development Skills of Pre-K Children in Underserved Communities

What if Pre-K teachers were trained to use gymnastics to improve the social-emotional outcomes of children in underserved communities?

Photo of Pam Anderson
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

In 1980, KiDsGyM USA’s founders Tracy and Stephanie Campbell were recruited by University of Illinois officials to establish a preschool gymnastics program in the state of Washington state. Children of very wealthy families could afford to participate in this pioneer effort. Hearing the testimonies of parents on how this Program was impacting their kids the Campbell's were determined to provide this opportunity to those who could not afford such an experience. When they invited a preschool group, from their inner city church, to attend weekly classes it was clear that this program could affect a positive change in children from anywhere. This was the first KiDsGyM USA sponsored group. In 1986, the program relocated to Atlanta and incorporated as KiDsGyM USA®. In 1987 KiDsGyM USA® was the first non-profit independent after school program offered in public housing communities. Its programs were used as a solution for at-risk behaviors. KiDsGyM USA® and its founders have been honored for their commitment to positive youth development. Awards and commendations include: •Appointed by President George Bush as the 506th Daily Point of Light for the Nation, •Received the President’s Volunteer Action Award by President Bill Clinton, •Awarded The J.C. Penny Golden Rule Award, •Received the Certificate of Appreciation in Drug Prevention and Education from the U.S. Department of Justice, DEA, •Awarded various proclamations from the City of Atlanta and Fulton County Government

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Georgia

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Atlanta, GA

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Georgia

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Atlanta, GA College Park, GA

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

At a time when schools have removed or reduced physical education requirements for students due to budget constraints, KiDsGyM USA® provides a cost-effective solution that can be used as a nationwide intervention with young children in high need areas. The program is known for building confidence and increases the desire to become physically activity. Through strengthening gross motor skills at a very early age along with the added benefit of developing cognitive control and social-emotional abilities, we create a population of growing achievers. Movement activities stimulate problem-solving abilities and critical thinking skills, and reinforce a variety of academic concepts. Children with new self-confidence, self-efficacy, and the ability to relate to others are more prepared for school.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, ensuring that children are ready for successful school experiences is one of the most pressing issues in early childhood policy and practice.  KiDsGyM USA® (founded in 1986) is an innovative solution to address this issue.  It was originally intended to use gymnastics instruction to strengthen physical development; today, KiDsGyM USA® offers a level of inter-connectedness that is unique in nature. The program is designed to encourage gross motor, cognitive and social emotional development in children using physical exercise in the form of gymnastics. It is the premise of KiDsGyM USA® that sensory motor activities through the delivery of gymnastics directly influence neurological pathways in students leading to not only better gross motor development but to better cognitive and social-emotional outcomes.  Studies indicate that children who have participated in movement education activities have longer attention spans, increased communication skills, general problem solving skills and improved self-esteem.

Unfortunately, we also live in a time when supplemental programs such as music and physical education are being cut by educational institutions due to budgetary constraints. Kids in under-served communities face additional barriers to participation in physical activity; such as:  'school districts where allocation of funds for the teaching of lifetime physical activity is not a priority; (2) an emphasis on encouraging skill acquisition for competitive sports that appear to have the potential to improve economic well-being; (3) No parks. A major environmental deterrent to participation, and it goes beyond having a park, but a park that is safe and well-maintained; (4) No programs; “if you build them they will come” is not necessarily applicable. ; (5) No role models; (6) No family engagement.'
Additionally, on average, children are living a more sedentary lifestyle due to the popularity of video games and television programming.  

KiDsGyM USA® uses strategies to increase participation in physical activity among children in high risk communities. It gets kids, of all ages, excited about participation with less emphasis placed on skill acquisition and more on self-efficacy and confidence building. KiDsGyM USA® trains its' instructors to be engaging, enthusiastic, and efficient in the delivery of instruction that makes learning fun and helps students maintain focus. KiDsGyM USA® has the potential to be a nationwide, cost-effective, multi-dimensional intervention with young children in high need areas. Train the Trainer instruction is a combination of onsite and online training to equip teachers with the knowledge to implement the KiDsGyM methodology and curriculum for specific age groups. With its' innovative approach to address these particular domains our children are better prepared for the transition to kindergarten; thus school readiness is enhanced. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Health and Physical Fitness

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

The KiDsGyM USA® curriculum consists of 40 sequential and goal oriented lessons. Each lesson requires 60 minutes to implement. Lessons may be implemented up to 3 times per week. Each child is exposed to a multitude of sensory motor activities required for gross and fine motor skill development during early childhood such as: mini-tramp jumping (body awareness), bar work (strength training), tumbling and vaulting (coordination and agility). Children are given many opportunities to master specific hard and soft skills. The equipment used for program implementation is cost-effective, easy to set-up, break down, and store, and most classroom teachers can be trained to use the techniques and equipment effectively with his or her students.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Survey data collected from KiDsGyM USA® parents reported that in addition to KiDsGyM USA® assisting their child with improving in the areas of coordination, strength and physical abilities, most parent's observed that their child's ability to learn new information also improved. Learning to perform in front of people, self-confidence, and discipline were also areas where parents observed KiDsGyM USA® was beneficial for their child. As one parent from the group stated: "KiDsGyM USA is fun and innovative (and) allowed my child to believe that she can do it all!" In 2015, KiDsGyM served 2500 students between the ages of 12 months and 12 years. It anticipates scaling the Project to reach ten times the number of students within the next five years. Most classroom teachers can be trained to use the techniques and equipment effectively with his or her students.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

KiDsGyM USA® utilizes a PERSONAL BENEFIT MODEL whereby it receives fees for services that it provides to specific individuals, but rely on people who have benefited in the past from these services for additional donations. Additional support is received from government agencies, but is augmented by support from foundations, corporations and proceeds from an annual fundraising event. We are in the process of developing a "membership" campaign.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

In contrast with most gymnastics programs, that focus on skill acquisition in preparation for competition, KiDsGyM USA® emphasizes FUN and frustrationless body management of children. The primary goal of the program is to improve gross motor skills while strengthening cognitive and social-emotional connections. The research of Dr. Carl Gabbard, at Texas A&M University, shows that 'motor activity for young children is an educational stimulant and helps form brain connections that will progressively allow students to learn new academic skills.' Complex motor movement thru gymnastics does that.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

One of the most promising shifts observed in recent years is an increase in the practice of community organizations partnering to address the needs of the whole child (academic, social-emotional, as well as physical/heath) in educational settings and in other youth serving organizations. Also promising is recognition that interventions for children are even more effective when the needs of caregivers are also met (mental health, financial, etc). Thus more organizations are partnering to provide comprehensive services for both children and families to address multiple areas of need.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation
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Attachments (3)

KiDsGyM state campaign _2013.2.ppt

Each year we participate in the State campaign as a way for us to garner support for scholarships to children from under-served communities. This PowerPoint shares the benefits succinctly.


The Facts and Benefits speak for themselves.

Early Learning Centers template.doc

Often times parents and center directors need a clear explanation of why KiDsGyM USA will benefit their children. This Flyer tells it all!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tony

I love the idea that this program is not intended to develop competitive skills. This seems like a great way to address the needs of the whole child (academic, social-emotional, as well as physical/heath) but here's what I’m worried about - child hunger. When you look at the long-term results, is it possible that success is greater with children who are food secure? You can have low-income kids who are food secure because someone (often Grandma) can invite you to supper and slip Mom a $20 bill late in the month. But food insecurity is a reality for many kids. Childhood Food Solutions ( also presented an idea and we would be delighted to share how we provide food security to entire neighborhoods. Our ROI is in improved birth outcomes (because mothers-to-be are supported nutritionally) but we also see a 64% improvement in students achieving reading proficiency. We want to partner with organizations like KiDsGyM USA to be sure students are supported nutritionally as they take advantage of the KiDsGyM USA program.

Photo of Pam Anderson

We totally agree with you; that food insecurity is a reality for many kids. We also know the importance of what they eat and the role that plays on their future.  We would be interested in learning more about ways to partner with your organization. Collaboration brings strength to both organizations and has a greater impact than any single entity.  Please consider going to our website and emailing or calling to discuss the potential we have on impacting this next generation.