Date Posted
28th Mar 2022

MoveAbility - An inclusive class for children with physical impairments

MoveAbility  

Sports and sporting organisations across Ōtautahi recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is a thing of the past.

Many have modified their programmes or created new offerings in order to engage a wider variety of the community in the name of inclusivity. 

Olympia Gymnastic Sports have created a programme to ensure more tamariki in Ōtautahi have the opportunity to participate in the sport of Gymnastics in an environment where they feel supported and confident to give things a go.

With the help of Tū Manawa Active Aotearoa Funding, and a partnership with the Halberg Foundation, Olympia have developed MoveAbility – a class specific to children with physical impairments. 

Every Sunday from 2.30-3.30pm, tamariki from Ōtautahi come together in a group setting at Olympia Gymnastic Sports to participate in a specific gymnastics programme catered to their abilities. The hope is that, through the programme, these tamariki will improve their confidence and physical movement abilities. The classes started in Term 2 of 2021 and will continue to run through 2022 and 2023.
 
The initial idea for this specific programme came about through Olympia Manager, Malcolm Humm, who made the introduction with Mitch Rhodes, the Advisor at the Halberg Foundation.

“With his background in Paralympics, he had connections to the organisation and knew a class such as this was a need within the community, and it also aligned with our new strategy outcomes. 

“The Tū Manawa Active Aotearoa Funding through Sport Canterbury, gave us the opportunity to establish the programme and Mitch gave us more insight to the specific needs of children with physical impairments,” says Olympia Gymnastic Sports Recreation Manager, Melissa Wakeham 

The motivation behind offering this class is simple – it’s about ensuring all children, no matter their background and abilities, have no limitations or barriers preventing them from participating in the sport if they so desire. It is also the perfect activity for building fundamental movement skills and a solid foundational base.

“Children with physical impairments often don’t receive the same physical development opportunities. Gymnastics encompasses seven fundamental movement patterns (FMP) that are the foundation for all movement. Through a gymnastics-based class we can teach the FMP’s in a fun and social environment and improve the physical capacities of the participants. Mitch highlighted there wasn’t a Gymnastics Class that grouped children together and gave a social aspect to the activity. We wanted the participants to have a sense of belonging and feel confident in the class,” says Wakeham.

Each week, Olympia Coach, Becky Morrison plans and runs a session incorporating different aspects of Gymnastics. 

“We do a range of things that tend to involve all the senses - sight activities or feeling activities – we do a lot of fun challenges and progress things as we go.

“It’s been really good – having a range of challenges works well for different kids because there a lot of different abilities – they seem to be enjoying it,” says Morrison. 


The Tū Manawa Active Aotearoa Funding has supported the development of this programme in a number of ways.

“Tū Manawa has been a huge part of having the programme come to life. Without Tū Manawa, it would be difficult to have the class be financially viable to run. We require a lower coach to athlete ratio to deliver a quality experience and provide the right support to the participants. This comes at a higher cost, and we didn’t want cost to be barrier for participants accessing the class. With the support of Tū Manawa, we are able to have the correct number of staff on the programme and have a low-cost entry point for participants,” says Wakeham.

The response from the children and their whānau who attend the class has been very positive, with both parents and tamariki reflecting on their past experiences. 

A mother of one of the regular attendee’s, Natasha Grieve says, “We heard about this class through Mitch at Halberg and my daughter’s Physio – she really likes doing gymnastics, but it can be catered to neurotypical-children, and she can feel a little bit behind. She has shied away from most sports because of this.

“When she feels like she can’t do what everybody else can do then she shuts down, so this class is great to be with peers of similar capabilities. Having the higher ratio here has been really good and they can read when it’s getting too full on for her. Sometimes in a big group she just won’t get the same out of it,” she adds. 

While another parent of a participant, Richard Stace adds, “It’s a good way to get active for her – she looks forward to these classes ruby is legally blind, and she used to do regular Gymnastics, but she reached the stage where she couldn’t go any higher and she got a bit despondent – she reached a point where she wasn’t progressing.” 

Olympia are looking to open the programme to the wider community to offer more children the opportunity to participate in a gymnastics class suited to their abilities.