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Jump Roping for Joy 

click to enlarge Casey Clark

Somewhere deep in a dusty corner of my brain is a memory of jumping rope in an Ontario school yard at age 11, double Dutching, "Miss Mary Mack" and all.

But as an adult who's tried just about every sport, for some reason I just never picked it up again. Nor have my kids, ages 3 and 5.

That's a missed opportunity, according to Burlington jump-rope teacher Casey Clark, who's been leading Pee Wee Jump Roping and Junior Jump Ropers for kids ages 5 to 12 at the Miller Community Recreation Center in Burlington's New North End. "It's a great activity for the whole family," says Clark. "Adults can swing the rope and kids can jump. Kids just need a lot of encouragement, and they love the attention of you watching them shine. It's a great way to get their energy out." Plus, as Clark also points out, it's affordable fun.

Before you or your kids take a single hop, though, find the right length of rope. Have your child hold each handle and stand on the rope's midpoint, pulling it up alongside his or her body. "Ideally the rope handles would just reach one's armpits," says Clark. "And when they're jumping with the rope, it should just brush the floor."

Next, let your kids practice on their own, having them start with their arms behind their head, holding the rope, and then simply bringing it down to jump over. "It might be hard to get that first jump," says Clark, "but once they do, their confidence starts to build." Now's a good time to crank up the Katy Perry, she adds: "Energizing music makes jumping much more fun."

For single and double Dutch — in which two people turn one or two ropes, while a third jumps — the swingers need to be as focused as the jumper, at least at first. "Those swinging the rope should really watch the jumper closely and try to get the rope under in just the right moment," says Clark. "Once the jumpers start to gain confidence, you won't need to watch as closely."

Clark says she counts students off "One, two, ready," adding "go" right when the rope is almost above their heads. "By the time they hear me and move their bodies, it will be about the same time the rope goes under."

Mastering the tricky art of double-Dutch jumping takes practice: big jump, then little jump. "Kids should continue that rhythm so that they don't jump too soon," says Clark. "They can practice the big-jump, little-jump rhythm even when they aren't jumping under the rope."

With Clark's advice in mind, I decided to give jump roping a whirl with my kids during the recent spell of summerlike weather. That is, after they stopped fighting over the rope and begging that we do the limbo or turn the rope into a snake. Finally, my 5-year-old daughter and I were positioned as the swingers, with my 3-year-old son as the jumper. "One, two, ready," we proclaimed. At "go," he promptly ran in the other direction.

"Miss Mary Mack"? Not yet. But we shared enough giggles to keep the rope readily available for some instant fun — and fitness.

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