Finding Balance: Grade School Movement Education

by Justin Ganz, GS Movement Teacher

Grade school Games and Gym classes are joyful and challenging: students juggle, ride unicycles, and throw javelins; they learn folk dances and gymnastics; they play all kinds of running and ball games. In addition to these classes, a variety of movement and outdoor activities are woven into the school day. For example, children stomp and clap the times tables to strengthen their capacities in math, or deepen their understanding of botany by studying the fauna and restoring the habitat in the Presidio.

Whether students are in the classroom, on a field trip, or in the park, movement at SFWS is carefully designed to support their overall development and has the potential to enliven a student’s innate physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual capacities.

To facilitate this growth in capacity, the school’s Games and Gym classes focus on several key areas. First and foremost are kinesthetics (learning through movement) and spatial awareness. Activities in these areas are designed to build strength, stamina, suppleness, and sensitivity, i.e. balance and coordination. Dodging and tagging games are good examples of games that require players to develop spatial awareness, demanding quick reaction to stimuli from all directions. Gymnastics, playground games, and field games also encourage sensory integration with cross-lateral movement, balance, core strength, and coordination.

For the older students, Bothmer Gymnastics (www.bothmer-movement.co.uk) and Spacial Dynamics practices (www.spacialdynamics.com) help them understand and increase their awareness of their growing bodies and their relationship to personal and group space.

Another focus of any Games and Gym class is the social development of the students. Across activities, communication, cooperation, respect, and sharing are emphasized. And across the grades, a movement teacher strives to understand the changing social dynamics of the class as a whole, both positive and negative, and to help facilitate trust, compassion, and individual expression. On an emotional level, these classes strive to bring levity and joy to the students, as well as a sense of ease within the body and mind. In terms of spirtual well-being, movement can help students find compassion for others and cultivate honesty and acceptance.

Logical and critical thinking skills are fostered through gaming strategies, cooperative problem solving, formations and patterns of movement, and memory games. While hopscotch or string games may challenge a younger student, orienteering may support the development of these skills in an upper grade student.

Games and Gym classes at SFWS are also integrated with the academic studies of each class, supporting and enriching the lessons. In fifth grade, for instance, when the class studies Ancient Greece, students train for a pentathlon and compete with Waldorf students from around the Bay Area in the ancient disciplines of jumping, wrestling, running and throwing of the discus and javelin. Other intermural sporting events include a sixth grade Global Games (formerly the Medieval Tournament), seventh grade Explorers’ Tournament and an eighth grade track meet. These culminating events are among the highlights of the year, bringing together students for a day of healthy movement, excitement, and camaraderie.

By employing age-appropriate movement through the grades, our students develop the capacities and receive the tools to find healthy movement in their lives, as well as excel in athletics and movement arts. As a parent, I was always gratified to know that movement education was fully integrated in the school’s curriculum. As a movement teacher, I am in the enviable position of watching and guiding them as they explore and realize their innate potential.