No cartwheels for you!


I’ve written before about dangerous sports and gender and I’ve been thinking about it again recently in the context of the “play gap.” Women get less activity than men but the gender gap in sports participation and in time for active play begins when children are young.

Insofar as cartwheels are more of a girl thing the latest move to ban them on the schoolyard won’t help girls keep up with the boys in terms of amount of time for play.

This fall Runnymede Junior and Senior Public School in Toronto caused a controversy by banning cartwheels.

In the Globe and Mail Naomi Buck writes: “Following umbrellas, hard balls and patches of ice, yet another hazard has presented itself on the playground of an elementary school in midtown Toronto. The cartwheel, not generally considered a thing of peril, has been banned, together with the entire family of activities it belongs to, commonly known as gymnastics. The powers that be have determined that these risky contortions of young bodies and outright defiance of the laws of gravity have no place on the school playground.” See What’s the point of recess with no fun?

But it wasn’t just cartwheels, the ban also included somersaults, handstands and gymnastics of any sort, including backflips. Or none of those things. According to the Toronto Star piece on the new policies it was only “advanced gymnastics moves” that were forbidden. It’s not clear what this means. I don’t know about you but it’s not clear to me what counts as an advanced gymnastics or cheerleading move.

Lest you think this is just a North American phenomena, a British school also banned cartwheels and handstands this summer.

I’m not going to argue there’s no danger in cartwheels. I hurt my own shoulder a couple of years ago doing a badly executed Aikido roll. I will argue that the kinds of injuries children sustain doing cartwheels mostly heal quickly. Also, I think, there’s value in doing dangerous things.

Better cartwheels than other kinds of risktaking, no?

If you’re interested in the value of dangerous sports for children, read “Children and Dangerous Sport and Recreation” in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport Volume 34, Issue 2, 2007 by J.S. Russell.

It’s behind a journal pay wall so you won’t be able to read it unless you have access to a university library. (Insert rant about the need for open access publishing here.) But here’s a sample of Russell’s exploration of a view he dubs the “uncommon sense view.”

The uncommon sense view “asserts that at a certain point in child development physical risks should be tolerated, and children’s choices (and adults’ choices on their behalf) to engage them should frequently be respected, even if the risks of such activities are greater than necessary to promote the developmental goods sought by the common sense view—and thus represent unnecessary threats to the goods that the common sense view aims at securing. I call this “the uncommon sense view” because although I think it is pretty obviously correct, it would appear to take uncommon philosophical sense to recognize it, for the most prominent official and philosophical positions about obligations to raise and care for children oppose it in principle. The uncommon sense view, however, is reflected widely in our institutions and practices of children’s sport and recreation. Consider popular but risky young persons’ sports and recreations such as American football, rugby, horse jumping, gymnastics, cheerleading, freestyle skiing, skateboarding, wakeboarding, hockey, diving, motocross, and the like.”

Here’s an advanced and a basic cartwheel:





7 thoughts on “No cartwheels for you!

  1. This article spoke to me in many ways. I am myself, getting close to 50 and have made a commitment to fitness. I am by no means a super athlete, but I churn out 5K’s pretty regularly and one half marathon just for the heck of it. But it was more as a mother that I found your article interesting, I am the mom of a strong willed, determined, stubborn and generally delightful 20 year old girl. I can’t take the credit for her strength, part is what we are born with but the fact that her sport, she was a nationally competitive equestrian, gets some of the credit is undeniable. A sport that is incredibly physically demanding, at 11 she was stronger that most of her peers, and requires complete focus mentally helped shape her character. The element of danger was always present, the sight of an ambulance on the show grounds was not rare. Letting our daughters (all young women) compete both physically, with all the bumps and bruises, and mentally, getting to experience the thrill of winning and the ego wounding of defeat is invaluable. Taking away the element of “danger” is unrealistic and does not prepare them to become warriors, fighting for feminism and a life of inclusion and success.

  2. I would be interested in what’s prompting these rules. My older sister was responsible for the “no sliding on the ice” rule at our elementary. She collided with an older boy and got a pretty bad concussion (complete with convulsions) and had to take an ambulance to the emergency room. It was a fiasco for everyone because the only way the school’s insurance company would pay for the costs was if my parents sued the school (which they did, but it was an annoying formality– everyone was on good terms).

    It’s an interesting problem for places like schools. How do (often underfunded) schools protect themselves financially while also allowing children to really play, in the crazy, active way that kids play? What’s the best way to balance those two legitimate concerns?

  3. Cartwheel danger is not the same as tobagganing without a helmet, etc. If no teacher is asking child to perfect the cartwheel, the cartwheel is pretty harmless. Backflips in a class? That is for an advanced level..outside of phys ed class. that is a manoeuvre for a gymnastics club with teacher always on the side. You cannot expect many children to want to or be able to do it at all.

    I would hate to think the somersault is banned in primary/elementary school if the child can do one under 10 years old. It does get more difficult to do a somersault in late teens.. but if a kid is already sedentary, it would be a shock to neck, etc. for younger kids.

    I saw cartwheel and forward somersaults as harmless unstructured play that we did…long ago.

    Put bicycling skills lessons in the same realm for teaching children and concerns with safety.

  4. Gymnastics is sooo soooo sooo sooo fun! I love it! check out my blog for more gymnastics! But it´s in norweagian. But you can see the pics tho 😀

  5. Pretty much the only activity I got during recess as a kid was doing “gymnastics”- mainly simple flips on the bars at school. Which was very typical for girls at my school. When we were younger we did flips on bars, then when we got older we just stood around in our little groups talking. Thinking back on it there definitely was a gender difference in how much activity was involved in recess, which certainly would have been much worse if “gymnastics” had been banned.

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