Body awareness and movement are intimately connected and interdependent in academic and social learning. This is why athletics are a key piece of the holistic curriculum at Spring Garden Waldorf School. Learning is not all in our heads and the goal in Waldorf Education is to support whole child development using heads, hearts and hands. This includes getting those hearts pumping!
There are many ways in which we support movement and physical education at Spring Garden dependent upon the developmental stage the children are experiencing within any given grade.
For our Early Childhood students, age 3-6, the focus is on unstructured, large-motor play and exploration outdoors, which has been proven to have a myriad of benefits. Children at this age use their wills and imaginations to propel themselves through activities and have no need for imposed structure to guide or direct their strong impulse towards movement. If anything, structure at this age, in regards to movement, serves to distract from the eagerness and joy with which young children naturally take to vigorous play.
Our Primary School students, grades 1-3, also need very little encouragement to engage in physical movement and, for this reason, three recesses are given for unstructured play time outdoors. At this age, however, there is a benefit to a more structured introduction to movement and sports within physical education, as it teaches multi-step instruction following, cooperation and sportsmanship.
Competition, however, is kept out of physical education curriculum for now as Waldorf Educators feel children of this age are not developmentally ready to manage the emotions and discipline required for competitive sport. Therefore, physical education classes for primary school students focus instead of group game play. And Extra Lesson movement classes focus on individual growth and achievement in the task at hand, such as mastering a pogo stick or learning to jump rope.
Once our students reach Elementary School, they are ready to ease into the idea competitive sport. By Fourth grade, physical education classes shift slightly from the focus on cooperative games to ones where some competition, typically in groups, is present. Fourth grade is also the first year SGWS students go camping, to focus on outdoor physical education experiences to challenge and advance their body/ kinesthetic, visual/ spatial, interpersonal and intrapersonal skill sets in ways that are not always as prevalent during class time.
When students reach Grade 5, a new world is presented to them in the form of a traditional Greek Pentathlon, which is a curriculum-focused and relevant introduction to events in Track and Field. The Pentathlon competition is an introduction to organized sports and following this experience they begin to learn the basics of other organized sports. Physical education classes introduce skills for volleyball, kickball, softball, basketball, gymnastics and more.
In sixth grade, our students participate in a curriculum focused, physically challenging event called the Medieval Games. This event challenges their spirits and physical beings with very difficult and down-and-dirty events such as a rope climb, tug-of-war, mud jump, zip line and more. Sixth graders are also offered elective placement on practice teams for both track and field and basketball. While neither of these elective sports teams is required curriculum at Spring Garden, students are encouraged to choose one of these teams in preparation for the formal team play in Middle School.
Our Middle School students are asked to represent their school in local competitions against other private schools in the sports of basketball and track and field. These participation is an elective offering. Both of these sports have girls and boys teams. In addition to the important ongoing development of large motor skills, the focus of these activities is to encourage personal discipline and fortitude, develop interpersonal and cooperation skills, and foster sportsmanship.
Middle school students are also encouraged to work with other, younger students in physical education. One example is when middle school students are assigned first and second grade “buddies” to help on the ice rink during scheduled skating field trips, a tradition in many Waldorf schools.
And in this way, the cycle begins again for our younger students who begin the process of their own physical education experience at SGWS, with a much-admired mentor and much desired fun.