Teaching Cartwheels (Part 1)
Keeping things simple
I'm going to try and avoid using language that is too technical in this article, as it is about teaching a cartwheel. We don't need to know fancy words, given the age of the students, it is highly unlikely that they would understand technical stuff.
Disclaimer: This is what has worked in my experience. Your experiences may differ.
What is a cartwheel?
Maybe this is a stupid question, hopefully if you are reading this article then you have already seen a cartwheel in one form or another, but lets get a bit technical (first and only time). In it's basic form, a cartwheel involves translating your body in the horizontal plane over the largest distance possible, whilst rotating around our anterior / posterior axis. As we rotate, we shift our body weight from foot to hand, to hand, to foot, to foot, finishing in a star shape (assuming that we are aiming to join multiple cartwheels together).
More information on Wikipedia
Use a box
All we need is a small box or raised surface, about 30 cm high. We are raising the floor surface so that we don't have to reach down as far. One thing at a time, lets worry about the sideways rotation first, as this is a foreign concept for beginners. Keep in mind that from a child's perspective this box is quite high. For us, it would be a similar height to the seat on a chair. Acromat sells some nice quality equipment - the boxes we use are A13-90, but you could use anything that is about the child's knee height, and won't wobble or fall over.
Drill / Activity 1
Designed for a beginner who has never done a cartwheel before. This drill is basically about taking weight on your arms. We are not concerned with which way our body faces yet. Start by standing with the box in front of you. The box is in the sideways orientation.
Step 1 - Place your hands sideways on the box. Jump both of your feet up onto the box, then down onto the other side.
Step 2 - As before, but now instead of jumping onto the box, we are just going to jump straight over the box.
Drill / Activity 2
Now we can get over the box, it's time to start thinking about which way we face.
Which way do our hands point?
There is no correct answer, except sideways. I've found that about 70% of people cartwheel with their hands pointing left, but you really shouldn't have to think about it. It's worth mentioning that the way you cartwheel has nothing to do with which hand you hold a pen. If a child is having trouble, get them to try the other side. Normally one side will feel awkward, the other won't. If you come across someone that just can't work it out, one way that might give you a hint... Ask the student to walk away from you then turn around and come back. The side they turn towards is normally the same side that they cartwheel on (works about 60-70% of the time).
With the box in the same orientation as activity 1, start by facing the box. Hands go sideways on the box, step over the box with one foot, step over with the other foot, and finish in a sideways star shape. Patterns help here - 'hands go sideways on the box, step, step, star'. Now, I've also seen this taught with the student starting in a star shape. I prefer the students to start by facing the box, as later on when they begin to learn a full cartwheel, they need to start facing forwards and lunge into the cartwheel. Starting in a star shape just adds unnecessary complexity, and can result in these horrible twisty looking things.
Is the student having trouble working out which way to face in the star at the end? Which way are your hands pointing on the box? Your cartwheel finishes with your bottom pointing the same way as your fingers did on the box (i.e. if our fingers point to the 'object in the room' then we finish with our bottom pointing to the 'object in the room').
As we get better at this drill, we can start to jump our feet over the box, and push down harder. Students will naturally get higher as their bodies become more familiar with the drill. (and yes, their cartwheels will at this stage most likely be lopsided - their legs will go at an angle anywhere from only just clearing the box, to close to vertical for the more experienced.