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Preparing for the 2020 Olympics
The YMCA’s Tumbling Tots helps little ones develop physical and social skills.
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Stephania Torres of Indian Rocks Beach gets a helping hand from instructor John Stephenson at the YMCA’s Tumbling Tots program at Calvary Episcopal Church.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – One day they may be ready for the Olympics. For now, these tiny tots find balancing on two feet to be tough enough.

That’s exactly what the North Beaches Branch YMCA is hoping to teach with their Tumbling Tots program, which offers children between the ages of 2 and 4 a variety of gymnastic activities. Held at Calvary Episcopal Church, the program integrates mini-sized balance beams, parallel bars and tumbling mats with games aimed at the development of normal childhood skills.

“This program basically gives confidence to explore,” said John Stephenson, who has been teaching gymnastics for 35 years, ranging from recreational to elite national programs all over the U.S. “It builds up coordination, strength and awareness, and builds social skills because the kids are interacting with each other in a fun setting.”

That fun setting is the Kiddie Club room at the church, a room that falls nothing short of every child’s dream playground. Large foam blocks and mats are stacked up against a wall, waiting to be arranged in creative patterns. Balance beams lay flat on the floor and parallel bars invite children to a world where reality is turned upside down, literally.

“I try to do things slowly, so they get comfortable with a routine,” said Stephenson.

As parents and their tots start meandering in, he pulls out a large multi-colored parachute and lays it on the ground. The children begin to recognize the game immediately. Along with their parents, they circle around the parachute, each grabbing a piece. On a count of three, everyone lifts up and the children run inside, only to get smothered as the parachute comes down.

Giggles and shrieks fill the small room and they continue throughout the session. Stephenson sets up a little obstacle course with the foam blocks, teaching the children balance and confidence as they step from one to the other. The bar allows them to hang by themselves without being too high off the ground and if they are brave enough, even flip upside down with Stephenson’s help.

“Last week was the first week we came,” said Nancy McLain, grandmother of Kylee, 3, from Largo. “She absolutely loves it, can’t you tell?”

Kylee, swinging back and forth on the bars, burst into laughter as Stephenson helps her gain momentum.

Stephenson, after retiring from teaching gymnastics a couple of years ago, asked himself, “Where would I like to live?” The answer was Florida. Living in Clearwater, he is involved in many different YMCA programs around the area.

Tumbling Tots sessions are offered every Thursday at 9:45 and 10:15 a.m. Call 595-5610.
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