Come along and get fit as a chimp! At Baden-Württemberg’s “Children’s Gymnastics Worlds”

By Daniela Binder (Baden-Württemberg Children’s Gymnastics Foundation)

Come along and get fit as a chimp! At Baden-Württemberg’s “Children’s Gymnastics Worlds”

The “children’s gymnastics worlds” of Baden-Württemberg’s Children’s Gymnastics Foundation were created to encourage the very young to take real pleasure in movement. And at the Wilhelma in Stuttgart they have succeeded in doing just that for six years now, while the youngest visitors to Karlsruhe Zoo have been enjoying similar activities for one year. The underlying idea - a far-reaching pedagogical concept that bears fruit.

Many children do not get much physical exercise in their everyday lives. During their formative years, a lifestyle with a lack of movement and the increasing appeal of the media have a negative impact on children’s natural urge to be active. Alongside obesity and smoking, insufficient exercise is one of the main risk factors responsible for the burden of disease in Germany. However, many academic research studies show that regular exercise under qualified supervision can have positive effects on children’s physical, mental, spiritual and social development. Children who exercise regularly perform better at school, are less prone to ill health, acquire social skills earlier on and, whatever their heritage, can be integrated more easily.


Making exercise part of everyday life

That is why the Baden-Württemberg Children’s Gymnastics Foundation has set itself the goal of creating more opportunities for high-quality physical movement in children’s everyday lives. Since 2007, it has been working together with its founders - Sparda-Bank Baden-Württemberg eG, Badischer Turnerbund e.V. and Schwäbischer Turnerbund e.V. - to enable all children in Baden-Württemberg to benefit from excellent training in motor skills by means of children’s gymnastics. As children’s exercise begins in adults’ minds, the Foundation attempts to bring about a total change in the attitudes of parents, experts (preschool and primary school teachers, exercise instructors) and decision-makers from day care centres, schools and clubs as well as municipalities, with the aim of making physical exercise an essential part of children’s day-to-day lives.

Through a variety of projects, such as the “Babies in Movement” video advice or the "Children’s Gymnastics during Daycare” support programme, the Foundation endeavours to turn its vision into reality. The mobile children’s world - “Children’s Gymnastics on Tour” - was the very first Foundation project, back in 2008. Animals from all five continents were the role models chosen to encourage children to enjoy physical exercise. For example, children can balance like Kim the cat from Europe and, in doing so, learn much that is worth knowing about the habitats of these creatures and how they move. As the mobile children’s world fills both young and old with enthusiasm, wherever it is stops off, it made sense to take the concept to the place where children and animals meet each other - the zoo.


Movement spaces just right for the zoo as a place of learning

Dangling from branches like the ever-popular ring-tailed lemurs from Madagascar, climbing like goats, flying along like a rhea or hopping like a kangaroo, all this is possible in the permanently installed children’s gymnastics worlds.
The setting for these are the Wilhelma Zoo and Botanical Garden in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe Zoo. Both are familiar and popular leisure destinations in Baden-Württemberg.

The idea of creating movement spaces for children is just right for these two places of learning. “The children’s gymnastics world concept is marvellous and enriches our zoo. The children love romping and exercising between looking at the animals”, says Dr. Matthias Reinschmidt, Director of Karlsruhe Zoo. “We hope many groups and families will continue to use this addition to the zoo”, adds Helmut Kern, who is in charge of Karlsruhe Zoo’s gardens department. And in Stuttgart too, the Children’s Gymnastics World concept is being met with enthusiasm. Dr. Thomas Kölpin, Director of the Wilhelma also expresses his pleasure: “When children have the chance to let off steam in this way, they also become more able to again concentrate on experiencing the many exciting animals and plants from all over the world”.

In 2011, the Baden-Württemberg Children’s Gymnastics Foundation initiated the first children’s gymnastics world in the Wilhelma. In 2016 this was followed by the second one in Karlsruhe Zoo. A variety of movement areas, where children can emulate their animal role models, were established in designated parts of the zoo. The two zoos played a key part in planning, constructing and implementing the projects, and since these have been operating, have taken responsibility for their care and maintenance.


Travel journal and children’s gymnastics diploma

The spiel & sport team GmbH agency was chosen as the ideal partner to further develop and implement the pedagogical ideas stemming from the “Children’s Gymnastics on Tour” concept for the “Children’s Gymnastics World in Karlsruhe Zoo”, building on the experience gained from the “Children’s Gymnastics World in the Wilhelma”. The information boards were designed to appeal to children, who learn more about the particular species, its special physical abilities and how these help them in their habitats. Moreover, as called on to do so by the animals in the Children’s Gymnastics on Tour, the children imitate them and their typical movements wherever the tour stops off.

Proximity to the corresponding animal enclosures is an important feature of the movement areas. Furthermore, on their tour of discovery through the children’s gymnastics world, the kids are accompanied by a travel journal. They discover more about the animals, their habitat and motor skills. The children also have the opportunity to gain a children’s gymnastics diploma. At each stop, the respective task can be performed and rewarded with a stamp. Special stamping apparatus has been developed and is set up at each movement area. The travel journal also includes suggestions for exercises that the children can also perform at home to develop their motor skills.

Part of the journal is addressed to parents and informs them about the significance of the exercise and about what children’s gymnastics to offer. Contact data of the gymnastics associations make it easier to find something suitable near to home. Many groups of children visit the children’s gymnastics world with their preschool or primary school teachers and exercise instructors, and use the Foundation’s free guided tours through the movement areas. These tours conducted by volunteer helpers first have to be signed up for and the details agreed. The Foundation team guide the children through three or four stops.


Link with curricula

A further feature of the concept is its link to the curriculum for primary schools and the orientation plan of Baden-Württemberg’s day care facilities. So it’s not just three to five-year-olds and their parents who are reached, but also another important target group: the educators. In accordance with the Foundation’s guidelines, leaflets for day care centres and preschools bring together knowledge of relevance to such clusters of subjects as “people, nature and culture” and “movement, play and sport”, in a form appropriate to the target group. This ensures that the knowledge is applied in children’s everyday lives. In this way, the Foundation supports the specialists in their dual mission: to teach children how to exercise properly, and to supervise exercise, play and sport. The specialists’ attention is also drawn to what children's’ gymnastics and the various gymnastics and sports associations have to offer.

“We are very pleased that, in partnership with the Wilhelma in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe Zoo, we have been able to create these children’s gymnastics worlds! They are intended to show everyone throughout Baden-Württemberg that exercise can be fun and underline its importance in the healthy development of children”, explains Martin Hettich, Chairman of the Board of the Baden-Württemberg Children’s Gymnastics Foundation and Chairman of the Management Board of Sparda-Bank Baden-Württemberg.

And on any day, visitors can see for themselves the enormous fun had by the young visitors to the movement areas of the children’s gymnastics worlds, for which, each year, no fewer than roughly 200,000 travel journals are issued to the children on their journey of discovery.



Photo + Contact:

Kinderturnstiftung Baden-Württemberg
Fritz-Walter-Weg 19
70372 Stuttgart
Phone: 0711 - 28077200



<< back