When I was younger, I played as many sports as I could. Like most American children, it started with AYSO youth soccer and youth gymnastics (handstands, cartwheels, etc.). However, when it was time to go to grade school, this quickly evolved into much more. There were so many choices, and I wanted to try them all. I played basketball, baseball, flag football, volleyball, fencing, Taekwondo, and swimming. By high school, I was still playing volleyball and added track and field, but I finally got to play full-fledged tackle football, and soon realized that my hopes and dreams of being a pro football player were probably not going to happen. However, I kept playing because in the offseason because we were encouraged to run and lift weights. The weightlifting portion was incredibly satisfying to me because it was the first time that I truly felt that I could do something to change my body for the better.
By the time I was in college, my organized competitive team sports days were over, but I became incredibly interested in powerlifting, which is a sport I still compete in today. Because of the dorm I lived in at the University of Illinois, I had many roommates of Middle Eastern and Indian descent, so we would play pickup games of cricket. While the rules of the sport were very new to me, I had enough experience with other sports (like baseball) that I felt comfortable giving it a try. I also became an honorary member of the U of I men’s rugby team because I was their unofficial weightlifting coach. I had to learn and understand the game so I could create programs and exercises to strengthen the appropriate muscle systems and condition them for game specific movements. I had a brief stint practicing Muay Thai kickboxing, which I tried because I had practiced Taekwondo when I was younger, but realized that the constant bruises were crippling my ability to lift the heaviest weights possible in powerlifting.
Since I was exposed to so many sports and activities when I was younger, as an adult I have a myriad of experiences to pull from, which directly impacted my creativity and overall health (and it was a lot of fun). I was rarely ever injured, and any injuries I sustained were not repetitive non-contact overuse injuries. It also became an important catalyst for what I do today as my profession. I teach physical education to young people, and I have the privilege of creating and inventing everyday. Sport is an important part of culture, and I am lucky to have so many experiences to draw from in creating my understanding of the world.
Because I played so many different sports, I was exposed to many different types of game modalities as well. As an adult, it cannot be overstated how important that exposure was in enabling me to use my imagination for creating games integrated with the Montessori curriculum. Imagination is one of the great powers of the second plane of development. Instead of just learning what something is, the children want to learn how and why as well. The child uses their imagination in this quest to learn more deeply. When a lesson from the classroom is integrated into play, physical activity and the child’s imagination are paired together. For some students (kinesthetic learners), this is the most effective way for them to learn. For that student, I believe that their imagination is not fully activated until their body is fully activated. Even for children who learn best in other ways, they may still have unique insights and understandings that only happen by playing a well-designed (PE) game or simulation.
This is also the time when students can become obsessed with their work (the bigger the better). In Upper Elementary, students are doing projects like science and culture fairs, and in lower elementary, they are learning how they fit within the scope of the universe (with lessons like the Cosmic Tower). The Great Lessons usually invite big creative follow up work too. Time and time again, I have seen students do long math problems or do one card after another from a language set because they become so engrossed. A game in Montessori PE, especially one that is physically demanding, can feel like a big work in gym. If the students are working together to get a certain score (which could require hundreds of baskets or goals), this task is too big for one individual, and they must unite their efforts to be successful. Through trial and error, they can test new strategies, which is a process we hope to foster in the classroom as well.
Some Montessori PE lessons are meant to build or scaffold upon each other from week to week. Speaking of science fairs, I have many lessons that teach the scientific method through experiments done in PE. I am currently working on a series of lessons that teach the engineering process to go along with my school’s inventors fair. Both of these works take weeks in the classroom, and the students devote a lot of time and energy to their pursuits. We match this same “big work” process in PE with multi-week games that reinforce concepts like the scientific method and the engineering process. Montessori Physical Education’s integrative approach helps the students see how a big work can transcend one area of their life into another the same way that a classroom concept can be analyzed outside the classroom. We strive to build lifelong learners who know that learning happens outside the classroom as well.