Recently, I posted about having received Gever Tulley's book Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) as a gift from Max, and mentioned the plan to spend our summer session giving as many of those things a go as feasible in preschool.
I know what you're thinking, What is this doing on a list of "dangerous" things? At least that's what I thought. Like playing with a vacuum cleaner or throwing a rock, turning somersaults seems like one of those things that children just do in the natural course of being a child. Indeed, one can get hurt, I suppose, by attempting a wild, crazy improper one, but this is about doing a "perfect" somersault, the keys to which are placing your hands on either side of your head to bear your weight (rather than having it on your neck), tucking your chin and curling your back.
We placed a couple gym mats on a slight downhill slope, and provided instructions, but, of course, there is a lot of imperfection that must precede perfection.
Remember, the activity isn't to turn a perfect somersault, but rather to "master" one, which for some of the kids was a process of many steps, but eventually we started nailing them.
Not everyone wanted to use their turn on the mats for somersaults and while we encouraged them to give it a go, it was their time for doing the thing the mats inspired in them, be it just jumping up and down . . .
. . . or rolling . . .
. . . or attempting a more advanced maneuver like a cartwheel.
There were several parent-teachers supervising this particular dangerous thing, so I went about playing elsewhere for a time. When I later returned, our somersaults had apparently been mastered, because they had been given up in favor of a game that involved rolling the adults down the hill.
At the end of the day, I know that at least a few kids managed their first real somersaults, but even if we fell short of mastery and perfection, we experimented with being upside down, sideways and in positions otherwise not perpendicular to the ground, which is, after all, the point.