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The Kids are Climbing the Walls

Paul Janaway is a Physical Education Teacher at the Henry Barnard School in Providence. Today he shares his story about how a rock climbing wall is more than just a place for the kids to exercise but an opportunity for children to challenge themselves, and become leaders, teachers, and team players.

Rock Climbing Wall

One of my commitments as a teacher has been to introduce something new to the curriculum each year. If it’s not a brand new development, I will revisit old methods and see how I can update them or deliver them in a different way to meet the needs of the learners. Since we installed a climbing wall at the school, it has made me examine the way children learn in a new light. My team sports background has always influenced the delivery of my lessons (group work from an early age; team work to achieve a goal). It can’t be helped. That is the way I was educated and my success is a result of my past experiences!

I now see children who used to struggle in the team sports area succeeding on the climbing wall. I see children who would not verbally contribute to a lesson come forward and advise fellow students about where to put a foot or hand. I see confidence in their own abilities cross over into other sports.

Personal responsibility is highlighted when introducing the wall to children. It is a tool that can bring instant success for those who can climb naturally, and it is also a challenging obstacle to others. The class discusses their feelings about using the wall and I direct the discussion towards it being an individual challenge and liken it to other challenges they find in the classroom. Everyone gets to achieve in their own way and their achievement is related to their personal approach, and their personal responsibility for their own learning.

The need for clear, precise language when they communicate strikes home when the child they are instructing on the wall does not respond to their instruction:

Sam: “Move your hand to the brick above you”
Elizabeth” Which hand, what brick?”
Sam: “The right hand to the yellow brick….that’s not your right hand”
Elizabeth: “There’s no yellow brick!”
Sam: “I meant the green one”

I always discuss this type of communication at the end of the lesson. I talk about the tone they use with each other and the need to listen to their partner. I relate this to the instructions they hear in the classroom everyday. I see some realization of the need to listen accurately and consistently to improve performance.

The wall is described to the children as a jigsaw puzzle. Putting the moves together and using the blocks in the right order enables them to navigate the puzzle. Then they realize that they are physically a part of this jigsaw and they need to think several moves ahead to climb the wall.

It used to be just another Wednesday for the kindergarten children of Henry Barnard School, but now they refer to it as climbing day. Since the installation of a climbing wall in the gym over a year ago, the physical education lessons have stressed personal responsibility, communication, and problem solving in a new light.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paul Janaway

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