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The History of Gymnastics for Kids

author image Michelle Powell-Smith
With a master's degree in art history from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michelle Powell-Smith has been writing professionally for more than a decade. An avid knitter and mother of four, she has written extensively on a wide variety of subjects, including education, test preparation, parenting, crafts and fashion.
The History of Gymnastics for Kids
A young girl is learning gymnastics from her coach. Photo Credit DAJ/amana images/Getty Images

Gymnastics classes are a popular activity for children in preschool and elementary school. The skills taught can improve balance, coordination and strength, and classes provide an opportunity for exercise and teaching self-discipline. While gymnastics can be traced to ancient Greece, modern gymnastics for children began for boys in the late 18th century and for girls in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Ancient History

Gymnastics originated in ancient Greece, just like the Olympics. Men went to the gymnasium, an open courtyard, to exercise. They practiced running, jumping and wrestling. While girls and women would not go to the gymnasium, men and older boys visited it frequently. Gymnastics exercises, including some that involved mounting and dismounting from a horse, became part of military training. The men of ancient Greece and Rome practiced some of these exercises until the Olympic Games were abolished in 393 B.C.

The Rebirth of Gymnastics

Modern gymnastics began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Two physical education instructors developed an apparatus we are familiar with today, the parallel bars, for boys and young men. By the 1830s, gymnastics had reached the United States, but it was still all about the boys. In 1896, the Olympic Games included several gymnastics events that remain a part of men's artistic gymnastics, including the horizontal bar, rings, pommel horse, vault and parallel bars.

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Women and Girls Hit the Gym

Women first competed in Olympic gymnastics in 1928, in a team combined exercise. While men's gymnastics and the apparatuses are relatively unchanged, women's gymnastics exercises, routines and competitions have changed dramatically. Until 1950, women and girls competed on the rings, just as men do today. The uneven bars were introduced as a voluntary exercise in 1936, but became compulsory for women and girls in 1954.


Gymnasts typically begin their competitive ventures as young children. Today, a careful organizational structure provides the support and regulation required for safe gymnastics meets for kids around the world. In the United States, the USA Gymnastics organization fills this role, and has since 1970, while the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique fills that role in international competition.

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