A typical gym class usually starts with the instructor taking attendance, followed by a description of the game that the students are going to play. The instructor explains the rules to the game, and then (hopefully) the instructor takes time to answer questions from the students. Then, if needed, the students engage in some type of warm-up activity, and then it is time for the students to play the game. After the students play the game, (hopefully) the instructor goes through some type of cool down that may involve controlled breathing or meditative aspects to get the students back to a mindset that is ready for the classroom. The instructor may take the students back to class, or the classroom teacher comes to get the students from the gym. This is a typical gym class, and going through the checklist, this was done well. However, if this is a Montessori PE class, there is a problem. What if I told you the most important step was skipped?
Debriefing After the Game is the Most Important Part of Montessori PE
The hallmark and defining feature of Montessori Physical Education is that it integrates concepts from the Montessori classroom into physical education. For the students to truly understand how a game represents or simulates a lesson from the classroom, there must be a wrap-up discussion that solidifies those concepts. After the lesson is the time when the instructor can connect gameplay and rules to concepts and observations from a lesson. Not every student can make the connections themselves, and will need well thought guiding questions to stimulate critical thinking. Sometimes the game works so well that the students will be able to make these connections for you, and as the instructor you can expound on their ideas. There are times where there is a hidden meaning in a game that, once explained at the end of the lesson, drives home a lesson or creates a connection that students would not have predicted. Either way, this facilitation of idea generation has a “sensitive period” of right after the lesson while the game (and the emotions tied to it) is still fresh in their minds.
A simple game can demonstrate very complicated ideas:
- Nebula Tag (free on the website) would just be blob tag with a playing area that confines itself. Yet, with a good debrief, it helps students understand how particles joined together to make globules, and as globules joined together and became more massive, so did its gravitational pull.
- The Clock of Eras Game would just be a strange conglomeration of games played one right after the other. With a good debrief, students realize how each game symbolized a different era of Earth, and the time length for each game was proportional to the length of time of the material itself.
- Various games from the Second Great Lesson would just be assorted tag and capture the flag games, but the debrief is where the students come to understand concepts such as food chains and (balancing) ecosystems.
- One of the lessons on Sportsmanship (free on the website) would just be a modified basketball shooting game, but with a good debrief, students get foundational lessons on what sportsmanship really means.
- A game that involves one handed catching, which initially presents itself as a lesson on the Big Bang, actually helps the students understand Multiple and Parallel Universes (and Dark Matter).
- A team-based game that initially represents itself as competition between groups actually reveals how biological organisms (Cells, Tissues, Organs, and Organisms) operate most effectively when they work together.
These are just a few of the examples of how lessons in the Montessori Physical Education curriculum rely so heavily on debriefing after the lesson. Sometimes the introduction is enough for students to connect the game to classroom content, but it is often so much more rich when there is discussion afterwards. As the instructor, if you have some questions preplanned that encourage critical thinking, it is during the debrief when the students are best able to synthesize new ideas based off of tough questions. Usually, but not always, the students are most ready to listen to you because they have exhausted their bodies, so now their minds are ready for idea absorption. Most importantly, effective debriefing makes the child even more curious about the topic that they just played and discussed. The student will want to learn more about the subject. I have had many students come to me weeks later sharing a fact they learned about a concept from a game played weeks ago.
“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” Maria Montessori The Advanced Montessori Method