This was an interesting class for me because I have been struggling with the sacred space that gymnastics seems to hold in the PE curriculum. Since the beginning of our course I have been wondering about whether gymnastics should feature so prominently in PE education. My concern is that gymnastics is not really an activity that many people continue to engage in, after leaving school. I think that in terms of preparing children to be physically active adults , it is important that we expose them to sports and activities that they can continue to enjoy when they are adults.
I can see that gymnastics is a good way to teach fundamental movement skills but I wonder if the same skills could be taught just as easily with activities like dance and yoga, which don’t have the same age and equipment limitations that gymnastics does. I considered this with my own daughter and I have steered her into dance classes instead of gymnastics, because I that a passion and some competence with dance will serve her better in the long term.
All that being said, I had forgotten how fun gymnastics is until our class last week. There is something about gymnastics that seems perfectly suited to the temperament of elementary school aged children. And while few people go on to be professional gymnasts, class last week reminded me that gymnastics skills, such as cartwheels, round offs and handstands, do stay with you your whole life and can provide a lot of fun, even if only while mucking around at the beach or in the park.
This was felt like an important week as we got to consider what kind of focus we might want to use in teaching P.E. I thought the idea of teaching social and emotional literacy through P.E. was interesting. It reminds me a little of all the team building activities we used to do with children at the summer camp where I worked. I was always surprised at how well those activities worked. Even an activity as simple as having the group balance on a bench, and work together to trade places with each other without falling off, always seem to bring out a group’s best cooperative spirit.
While I was on my practicum last week, my SA told me that so far this year, she has only done cooperative, team building exercises with her group. Since it’s an IB school, its especially important that the students can work together, because they spend so much of their day in group working. I think that so often we think of PE in terms of sports, individual athletes and competion. It’s easy to forget that it can be a great space for teaching a group how to cooperate and succeed together.
I think the most important element of physical literacy is that being physically literate means you can participate in, and hopefully enjoy, a wide range of physical activities. Although there are definitely specific literacies for different sports and activities, having a set of basic skills is the first step. I think our focus with PE in schools should be preparing students for a life of physical activity. For this reason it is so important that students get to gain skills in a wide variety of relevant activities. I know, as far as my PE education is concerned, that nothing in class prepared me for the physical activities I now enjoy. For my daughter I hope that her PE classes are much more relevant to her life. Currently she’s doing gymnastics in her kindergarden PE class, and while she loves it, I don’t really understand the sacred position gymnastics holds in the PE curriculum. As far as I know, very, very few people go on to enjoy gymnastics as their sport of choice after leaving school. I recognize that there are many transferable skills in gymnastics but why not learn the same skills with dance or yoga, which are much more popular with adults?
I had mainly negative experiences in P.E. We concentrated mostly on traditional ball sports, which I had no prior practice with, so wasn’t very good at. Also “team captains” were allowed to pick their teams, in a kind of twisted popularity contest, so it was always socially ackward. I always maintained that I hated P.E. and I skipped class a lot.
Despite my experience with P.E., I discovered, towards the end of high school, that I love being active, and I started dragon boating and hiking. These activities turned my life around in a lot of ways. It could have easily gone the other way for me though, and I could have spent my whole life being really intimidated by physical activity, all based on being miserable in gym class!
I don’t really have any fears about teaching P.E., partly because I’ve been teaching yoga for a long time. Also I think sharing things you love with children is generally pretty fun. Some of my best conversations with my daughter are when we are hiking, and it was a proud day when she got her first pair of rock climbing shoes. I’m really hopeful that she will have a much better P.E. experience than I had.