P.E. program sends pupils into a climb

Challenge: Students of varied physical abilities can find success on the new gym equipment, teachers say.


November 12, 2003|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When parents walked into Ilchester Elementary School's gymnasium last week, it looked like an indoor playground. The room was nearly filled with a giant obstacle course: colorful ladders and wooden ramps led to hanging bars, monkey bars and balance beams.

Ilchester is one of the first schools to use new gymnastics equipment purchased by the Howard County school system in June. The equipment, called Just Add Kids, is made by the Whittle company. It will rotate among elementary schools that sign up to use it for one month.

"It's pretty much now their favorite thing they do in P.E. [physical education]," said Ilchester physical education teacher Roxanne Lohmeyer.

She said the equipment is more "involved" than what is on the playground. "There are curved bridges, straight ladders and balance beams.

"Every single time, it's a new experience for them," she said. "They do a lot of exploring, figure out a new way to go on the equipment."

Last week, Ilchester, in Ellicott City, held a P.E. Night. Lohmeyer said parents were curious about the equipment but were "not exactly sure [what it is]. As soon as they see it, their faces light up as much as the kids' do," said Lohmeyer. "They say, `Oh, my goodness! Now I know why my child is so excited.'"

Jackie French, instructional facilitator for physical education and dance, said the county has been using Whittle equipment for at least 15 years.

"It's a very different approach than what is the traditional gymnastics, where students have to be able to hold themselves and their body weight upside down to be successful," she said.

"With the Whittle equipment, students are challenged at their own level - they can experience success with varying degrees of strength," French said.

Fifth-grader Jennifer Roberts, 10, pointed out a vault made of three large, soft blocks.

"It's a lot lower," Jennifer said. "The one in [regular] gymnastics, it's high up and you have a springboard to get on."

What she likes about the Whittle vault is "you use your own power" to get on or over it. Jennifer and her classmates try various kinds of vault styles, using posters that come with the equipment for ideas.

The teachers also do demonstrations and ask children to model movements.

"I have seen the confidence level of many of the students really increase as they're getting into their third or fourth lesson on it," Lohmeyer said. "They're testing themselves on higher levels and on bigger pieces of equipment."

Fifth-grader Allison Wolf, 10, said, "It's fun to try to do the things I can't do." She does not like using the net ladder because "it's hard and I feel like I'm going to flip over the top." But, she said, "I like to try to do it, though."

The new equipment, which cost the school system $4,500, will be moved to West Friendship Elementary today and will be there until Dec. 17. Many schools, including Ilchester, own several Whittle pieces.

Lohmeyer said the program will travel to six schools for the 2003-2004 year. "They wanted to limit it to teachers who had experience or who had been trained," she said.

During professional development days, P.E. teachers have begun to receive training on incorporating the Whittle system into gymnastics units.

"It's so developmentally appropriate for the different ability levels as well as for the different ages," Lohmeyer said. "Plus, the kids can make choices" during independent play. Because the equipment is adjustable, teachers can change heights and angles, or revise the entire setup.

Peggy Buckmaster, who teaches P.E. at Ilchester and Bellows Spring elementaries, said, "I like the fact that it really gives the kids an opportunity to think creatively and challenge themselves."

Ten-year-old Claude Dargan, a fifth-grader, said he challenges himself by walking and then dancing across the balance beam.

"It can prove your skills," he said. "After you get the hang of it, you can start enhancing your skills."

What makes the equipment most valuable to a P.E. teacher, Lohmeyer said, is "the fitness component. ... They're supporting their own body weight nonstop for about 30 to 40 minutes. It's one of the best upper body workouts they get."

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