Skipping ahead to jump rope success

by Kathy Kuhl

I wouldn’t think a child with gross motor difficulties would be a good candidate for a jump rope team, would you? I’d be wrong.

At the Great Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati, I met Hannah and her mother Marcia, and learned how this girl with gross motor planning issues was thriving on a jump rope team. We chatted later on Skype, where Hannah demonstrated her skills. With her mother’s help and her own hard work and perseverance, Hannah is making great leaps, and is one of the top kids on her team. She’s advanced three levels in the sport, each level requiring mastery of eight tricks.

[What kind of jump rope tricks am I talking about? Not what I did on the playground! Watch the video linked below. Of course, Hannah’s not at this level, but she still impressed me.]

In January, Hannah’s team did not exist.  Another mom, Melissa Heltman, last of her family to come down with a virus, had been pondering what to do now that her family was settling into their new home:

I tried very hard to think back to when I felt great, emotionally and physically, because that’s where I wanted to be again. That time was when I was 11 years old on a jump rope team. The team was fun, challenging, and gave a rather insecure girl a sense of identity and pride. As soon as I started thinking back to those days, the idea of starting my own team now for homeschoolers was like a brick striking my head….

I prayed about it, asking God that if this is something He really wanted me to do to somehow let me know. I posted on the OINK homeschool page [Ohio, Indiana, and Northern Kentucky], “Here’s my idea, would anyone be interested?” Within minutes, the post exploded with comments! … From there I’ve taken things one day at a time, one decision at a time, trying my best to trust and obey His direction.

Marcia learned about the team, and signed Hannah up. At first, Hannah found the weekly 90-minute practices very tiring. But she practices half an hour a day, building her stamina and skill. Her mother has helped her master some complex turns and crossovers.

Hannah JR photo 2
Hannah’s earned 3 stars by learning 8 tricks for each.

Now, Hannah tells her mother, “The day you signed me up for jump rope was the best day ever!”

Unlikely start

Back when Hannah was a baby, her mother Marcia didn’t think much about how she wasn’t crawling yet. After all, the doctor didn’t say anything.

But she told an acquaintance that when she put one-year-old Hannah on blanket with toys, Hannah would pull the blanket to bring the toy to herself instead of crawling. That woman directed her to First Steps, Kentucky’s early intervention program for infants and toddlers with developmental delays.

[Early intervention centers provide free evaluations and therapy. To find one, search the web for “early intervention” plus your state.]

At First Steps, Hannah was diagnosed with motor planning issues. Martha learned that meant trouble getting her body to know what’s needed. Hannah received free occupational therapy through the program, and learned to crawl and walk.

Gross motor planning remains a challenge. Learning to ride a bike took longer than for the average child. It took time for Hannah to learn to climb stairs without double stepping (putting both feet on the same step), and without holding on. But now she can. Handwriting remains a challenge.

So Marcia incorporates therapy and accommodations into her homeschool. Hannah stands on a balance board while dictating written assignments and when her mother reads aloud. She practices crawling to develop coordination. At a local park, Hannah used to use her hands to climb a hill covered in rocks and gravel, while her peers managed more easily. Last month, Hannah managed the climb with no hands.

Marcia says Hannah, now 11, has learned to push herself.

You can learn more about Hannah’s team, Heart and Sole Skippers, on their Facebook page. In April, they gave their first public performance.

Want to start your own jump rope team? Hannah’s coach, Melissa Heitman recommends, by Renè Bilbaud, five-time world champion and former Cirque du Soleil artist and coach, whose promo video is here. She sells curriculum to help you start a jump rope class or team, including a teacher’s manual, skill cards, and a video breaking down 92 different rope skills.

Tell us below about what you’ve done for a child with motor delays, please.

Have an exceptional child with an unusual accomplishment? Email me from the contact page if you’d like to be featured in this series on exceptional children.

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  1. I grew up with gross motor deficits. This post brings back memories of my sister spending a whole summer teaching me to skip rope so I could play with the other kids at school. Thanks for adding this to’s Tuesday special needs link up.

    1. Jolene, thanks for your comment. That’s a kind sister!
      I struggled with poor coordination as a kid. But As an adult, I discovered sports I enjoy. In fact, we’re planning hike next week.

  2. Since our interview, Hannah’s earned two more stars!