Last week we explored the importance of consistency with the instructor, which, if you are interested, you can read here. This week we are going to discuss consistency before the lesson even starts. There are two non-negotiable components that must happen before the beginning of the game: describing the rules and answering questions. However, there is another component that is not as clear-cut.
There may be significant benefits, but it always comes at the expense of time, which for co-curricular classes is precious because the instructor usually only has the students once a week.
To warm-up, or not to warm-up, that is the question
Like any great debate topic, whether to use time to warm-up or not does not have a clear answer. Some instructors prefer to use their time to get right to the game at hand, while other instructors use warm ups for a cornucopia of reasons. There are valid arguments to both sides, which I hope to present in a clear way that helps you decide what you will do in your instruction.
Pros to the Warm-up
If the PE teacher is not the classroom teacher, using a warm-up gives time for the instructor to finish the myriad of little tasks that need to happen before the lesson. If the instructor needs a little more time for setting up, instead of the students sitting and waiting, they can be running or playing. This is also a good time to take attendance and note the number of players available for your game. You may have less students than you planned for, so the warm-up gives you time to make necessary adjustments to the lesson.
Prime students for exercise
Warming up before a lesson can provide the student a chance to raise their body temperature through physical activity. Raising the temperature of the body improves efficiency of enzymes in the muscle, which contributes to better function and increases it’s ability to lengthen and contract properly. Many professionals now agree that if a warm up is to be done, the best method would be through dynamic stretching (not static stretching). The difference between dynamic stretching and static stretching has to do with movement. Dynamic stretching is stretching through coordinated movements that propel the body in a certain direction, while static stretching is usually done standing or sitting. Sitting or standing in circle doing a round of stretches before activity does not reduce the chance of injury or increase performance because it does not sufficiently raise body temperature. Some would argue it does more harm than good. However, with dynamic stretching, which includes movements like high knees, butt kickers, skipping, etc., body temperature rises appropriately, ventilation and heart rate begin to increase, and the student is getting the muscles to stretch optimally. Again, research is now suggesting dynamic stretching is superior before exercise, and static can be used after the activity. Finally, students should do warm-ups that mirror the task they are going to do in the game. Cardiovascular intensive activities need warm-ups that include cardio at lighter intensities. If the children are doing more anaerobic or explosive activities, using plyometric movements will help prime the student for explosive movements.
When students come to gym class, many of them are excited and can barely contain themselves. We don’t want the students to lose this enthusiasm, but a student who is that excited usually has a hard time keeping their body still while listening to instructions. Having the students warm up can expel some of this initial energy and help that student focus. Fidgety students often become less fidgety, which not only helps that student concentrate, but does not distract other students as well.
Warm ups can involve skill practice for the game ahead
I find that the most effective warm up is one where the student gets to practice an integral skill of the game they are about to play ahead of time. For example, if the game is basketball or ball bouncing related, then having a basketball for every student to bounce and dribble the ball while warming up is optimal. This gives every student a chance to use and touch the main manipulative of the game in a non-competitive, non-stressful setting. Combining your warm up movements with the ball is an excellent two-for-one which provides the student an opportunity to handle the material while going through movements that stretch muscles and warm the up the body.
Cons to warming up
Time is always going to be a factor in deciding whether you will do warm-ups in your class. If you have the students for thirty minutes or less, a five-minute warm-up combined with an explanation of the game and questions, and now you have used up half of your time and have not played the main activity at all. That is not enough time for the students to be playing the game, being active, and learning. Forty-five minutes is the minimum amount of time that the instructor needs if they are going to include warm-ups, and even then a significant amount of time is used up. If you have the benefit of having the students for an hour or more, then it is completely appropriate to include a warm-up activity.
Warm-ups do not prevent injury
There is very little research that suggests that warm-ups prevent injury. Warm-ups do help performance, but they have not been shown to statistically change the incidence of injury. Many people swear they must warm-up so they do not injure themselves, but most of these people are adults, and many of them have a preexisting injury that they are trying not to exacerbate. It is rare to see a child pull a muscle while playing. I have witnessed thousands of recesses where children walk very calmly and deliberately, and as soon as they get to the playground, they sprint and do not stop running. Within those thousands of recess observations, students have not pulled or strained muscles (unless they had a previous injury).
While warm-up activities can facilitate increased attention, for other students it actually hurts their concentration. Sometimes the warm-up is so fun they do not want to do the next activity (which isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world). It can be a challenge to get the students to stop their warm-up activity and transition to the main game and lesson. Having systems in place that get their attention quickly, like clapping a rhythm the students should copy (for example), can help gather attention. Even then, the rambunctious energy from the class as they play can be difficult to settle. Obviously, this is a trial and error scenario. If your class responds well to transition, then this is not a concern. However, if your class has trouble redirecting, you may be using an inordinate amount of time going from one activity to the other, and that is time that could be spent playing instead
Personally, I use a warm-up about half of the time. That may not be the answer you want to hear, but I use warm-ups for the classes that benefit from them the most, while other classes are able to get to the main activity more quickly. Classes that are filled with younger, more immature and high-energy students are classes I use warm-ups, but I am very deliberate in using systems that redirect attention. Classes that come to gym ready to listen get the introduction and rules immediately, which translates into more playing time. I have used warm-up games to practice a difficult skill as well, but it usually works better to devote a whole gym period for difficult skill practice, and then use the next week to begin the actual game (this is most true for playing a sport).
The two non-negotiable things that must happen before a lesson are an introduction and explanation of the game, as well as time to answer questions. Because these lessons are integrated with the classroom content, we must introduce the game using the same terminology as the classroom. We may have an anecdote or information about the game or sport they are about to play that conveys significance. Any connections we can make to the classroom, whether through symbolism, materials, or stories, the better the game becomes for learning and sparking the imagination of the child. It goes without saying that we must explain the rules of the game as well. If you haven’t read my previous blog post about the importance of letting the students ask questions, you can read it here.
Next week we will discuss the importance of consistency during the lesson.
I have also recently uploaded a collection of lessons that feature the theme of geology to the website store. Many of these lessons are brand new, and will be featured in Montessori Physical Education: Volume 2 when it is released. I hope to have volume two uploaded within the coming weeks, but if you are desperate for new lessons, or you are focusing on Earth studies in the classroom, this bundle is perfect for you.