This is an excerpt from Teaching Children Gymnastics-3rd Edition by Peter Werner,Lori Williams & Tina Hall.
As a result of participating in this learning experience, children will improve their ability to
- balance while using different dimensions of the body—small, big, wide, narrow (standard 1);
- develop and perform a gymnastics sequence using a variety of dimensional body shapes (standard 1);
- describe their gymnastics sequence using two or more variables of dimension simultaneously (standard 2); and
- communicate with other students in a manner that describes what they saw and liked about their sequences (standard 6).
Suggested Grade Range
Intermediate (3 to 4)
A large, open space is needed. Children should spread out with one or two at each mat. This lesson is also manageable on a gym floor or outdoor grassy area using carpet squares or a large parachute. Arrange mats in scatter formation with good spacing between them. If you want to teach this learning experience about dimensional shapes using equipment, provide one box or bench per mat.
This learning experience requires one mat for every two children. Otherwise, carpet squares or a large parachute can be used for the dimensional balances and development of the sequence work.
“Hello, everyone. Today we will begin our warm-up by doing some stretching and strengthening exercises. They will all be related to making our bodies big and small, wide and narrow. Those are dimensions of our bodies in space. Let’s start by sitting in a V-sit position. Keep your legs straight and straddle them out wide. Lean back on your hands as you spread your arms out wide as well. Hold your tummy tight while you hold this position for 15 seconds. This exercise is strengthening your abdominals. Next, roll over onto your belly and assume a push-up position. Your hands should be below your shoulders with arms straight and your legs close together. Keep your body stiff like a tabletop. This is an example of the body being in a narrow dimension. Hold this position for 15 seconds (or do 10 push-ups). This exercise strengthens your triceps muscles. Now, go into a child’s pose (yoga) position. You are on your knees and shins all tucked up nice and small with your chin near your knees. Your arms are resting on the floor, extended back toward your feet. Feel the nice stretch in your lower back. Next, move to a standing straddle with your arms and legs spread out wide. This is a very big body dimension. From this position, touch your right hand to your left foot by bending over at the waist. Feel the stretch in your hamstring muscles (back of leg) and up through the side of your torso. Come back up into the straddle position. Then, touch your left hand to your right foot by bending over at the waist. Do this exercise 10 times. [Add several more exercises of your choice that emphasize big and small, wide and narrow body dimensions. During each exercise, point out what muscle groups are being strengthened or stretched]. Stop. Everyone come in and sit down in front of me.
“As you may guess from our warm-up exercises, the emphasis on today’s lesson is performing balances using different dimensions with our bodies. (I) We will focus on making our bodies big, small, wide, and narrow. Who can tell me what the word big means? Yes, Ishan, big means to make your body take up as much space as possible. What about small? Good, Ila, small means to make your body take up as little space as possible. How about wide? You’ve got it, Karaivi. Wide means to spread out in a sideways direction. And who can tell me about narrow? Good, Max. Being narrow means to pull in to the center and be as skinny as possible. When I say go, we will get up and find a personal space on a mat. [If need be, you can share a mat with a partner and take turns if necessary.] First, we’ll try some different big shapes. (E) So when you get to your space, make a big shape of your choice. Try to hold your shapes steady for at least three seconds. I want to see good balance positions, not wobbly ones (R). Go. Good, Johnny, I see you are in a big star position balancing on your hands and feet with your belly facing up toward the ceiling. Celia is balancing on her two hands and one foot with her belly facing the floor. Her other foot is placed up in the air with her leg straight. Way to go! Now try some more big balance shapes. Try them at different levels (E). Can you make a big shape at a low level? A medium level? A high level? Can you make a big shape that is symmetrical (E)? Asymmetrical? Now, we’ll try some small balances (E). Try your first one. Good, Nashant, I like how you are balanced on your back all tucked up with your arms around your shins. That’s it, Sachin, you are on your shins with your knees bent and your torso is bent backward. Now try some more small balance shapes. Try them at different levels (E). Make a small shape that is symmetrical. Now asymmetrical (E). Next, let’s try some wide body shapes (E). Excellent, Naomi. I like how you are balanced on your foot and hand, all spread out in a star shape. Way to go, Esther! I like how you’re balanced on two feet and one hand with your belly facing up and your free hand spread wide as well. Stop. I want to make sure that we keep correct principles of balancing in mind at all times. Shoulders over hands, hands or feet planted firmly, tight bodies, eyes focused on a spot (R). Hold your balances for at least three seconds. I do not want to see wobbly and unsure positions. Try several more wide balances at different levels (or symmetrical or asymmetrical) (E). Now let’s do narrow shapes (E). Try your first one. I like how Molly is in a pencil shape balanced completely on her side. Good job, Ricky. You are surely narrow in that back support position. Try several more narrow balances: low, medium, high, symmetrical, asymmetrical (E). Stop. Everyone come in and sit down in front of me.
“What I want us to do next is begin to put our dimensional balances together into sequence work. We’ll start simply with one balance and transition smoothly into a second balance. Let me give you an example. [Demonstrate.] I could start on a knee and a foot. My leg with the support foot is spread out wide. My torso is erect (straight up, vertical). My arms are spread out wide. So we can think of this balance as wide at a medium level. From here I could choose to perform a forward rolling action into a shoulder stand. As I perform the roll under control, I can stop the rolling action and balance on my shoulders with my elbows on the floor and my hands on my hips. Now my torso and legs are straight (vertical) with my toes pointed. My new balance position is narrow at a high level. Can anyone think of a way I could smoothly move out of my first balance to the same or different ending balance? Yes, Frank, I could have rolled sideways or backward. Or, I could have dropped using my hands to a front support position and moved into a push-up balance (long and narrow at a low level). When I say go, I want you to go back to your work spaces and create your own mini-sequence (E). Choose a first balance. It might be big, small, wide, or narrow. Then, figure out a smooth transition move into a second balance. Your transition move could be a step, rock, roll, or sliding action. Think. What is logical? How can I get from here to there without any extra, unnecessary movements? Your second balance can be of the same type as the first (big to big, wide to wide) or it can be different (small to big, wide to narrow). You choose. Who can tell me what we are going to do back in our work spaces? Inga? That’s right, Inga. We are going to create one balance (dimensional), make a transition move, and perform a second balance. Everyone clear? Go. [While the children are working, move from one person to another and give them feedback on their work.] Stop. Stay where you are. Listen. Once you have one sequence down and have done it several times to get out all the kinks and unnecessary movement and feel like your balances are as good as you can make them, try a second, completely different sequence (E). Think small to big, big to small, wide to narrow, narrow to wide, wide to wide but change levels, narrow to narrow but change levels. Go. [Go around and help students, provide feedback, make sure children are staying on task.] Stop. Come in and gather in front of me. You are making good progress in putting together a simple sequence (shape, transition, shape). I see some excellent dimensional shapes (big, small, wide, and narrow). I see some smooth transitions from one shape to another.
“What I want you to do now is put together a more complex sequence (A). It will involve choosing four shapes and linking them with three transition moves. You get to choose the shapes in your sequence, but they must show contrast (see figure 6.6).
For example, you might choose small at a low level, big at a low level, wide at a medium level, and narrow at a high level. [Demonstrate.] What else might you choose? Yes, Sarah, wide, wide, narrow, narrow. Yes, Jason, big, big, small, small. Yes, Susan, big, small, wide, narrow. The tricky thing will be to choose smooth transition moves from one balance to another. You may choose from steplike actions, sliding, rocking, and rolling. You need to think logically. How can I get from this position to my next position smoothly without any extra steps, gestures, awkward moves, or unnecessary movement? See what you can do. Go back to your spaces and begin work. Go. [Go around to as many students as possible and watch their work. Make comments and suggestions. Provide feedback on what they are doing well and what they could improve on. After a period of practice, give the students a signal that they have one to three more minutes to polish and finalize their sequences.] Stop. What I want you to do now is select a partner who has not seen your work. Sit down next to them at a mat. Take turns showing them your sequence and observing theirs. Talk to each other and tell them what you liked about their work and maybe give them an idea that you have on how their sequence might have been improved. [During this time as the teacher you should move about the class and observe both the active gymnasts and those observing. Give them feedback on their performances, but feedback is probably more important to the observers who are learning to provide support and advice to their peers.] Good work today. You are learning how to be good gymnasts! Good-bye for now.
Ideas for Assessment
- Have the children draw a picture of each of their balances. They can use stick figures or draw two-dimensional figures. If a mannequin is available, have them manipulate the mannequin to show their balance positions showing three dimensions.
- Have an observing partner verbally describe each of the dimensional balances in the active partner’s sequence. Or, have the observing partner write a description of one or two of the active partner’s dimensional balances.
- Have the observing partner tell the active partner what they liked about the transitions from one-dimensional balance to another or describe how they think the transitions from one-dimensional balance to another could be improved.
How Can I Change This?
- Add complexity to the sequence: two wide and two narrow balances with smooth transitions, three small and three big balances with smooth transitions.
- Within a sequence, change two dimensional factors at one time. For example, use a smooth transition to move from a low-level, wide balance to a medium-level, narrow balance.
- Add a piece of equipment such as a box or bench. Wide and narrow balances can be completely or partially on the equipment.
- Perform a wide-to-narrow balance sequence with a partner. Balances may mirror or match the partner.
Ideas for Teaching Fitness
- As part of the warm-up or cool-down phase of the lesson, perform muscle strengthening balances. Hold positions for 10 to 15 seconds (front support, back support, V-sit). Talk about what muscles are stabilizing the body and what muscles are being strengthened. Emphasize good form while holding positions.
- Increase muscle endurance by repeating several balances three to five times each.
- Perform stretches to increase flexibility during warm-up or cool-down. Move the arms, legs, and torso from positions of contraction to extension. Hold poses for 10 to 15 seconds each.
Ideas for Integrated Curriculum
- In an effort to develop language arts skills, have the children verbally describe each of their balance shapes in their sequence using dimensional terms. Or, have the students describe their balance shapes in writing using dimensional
- Compare body shape dimensions with mathematical size and shape dimensions. Combine two or more factors simultaneously. For example, a big, wide, high-level balance; a small, narrow, low-level balance; a large triangle with open space; a small rectangle with filled-in space.
Ideas for Inclusion
This learning experience is about creating different dimensions with the body. All children with special needs can profit from passive and active experiences in stretching the body wide and pulling in to make it narrow. They can also make big and small dimensions. Whether on the floor, in a chair, or on crutches, children can develop strength and flexibility by making balance shapes that show the dimensions of big, small, wide, and narrow. They can also make transition moves from one dimension to another by themselves or with assistance.
Read more about Teaching Children Gymnastics, Third Edition by Peter Werner.