Flexing weak muscles muscles

24th November 1995 at 00:00
Sarah Farley talks to a primary PEspecialist who feels more should be done to promote understanding and enjoyment of exercise sport accessible and promote understanding of exercise.

Remember It's a Knock-out? Janine Roe does, being one of the brave souls who cast dignity to the wind and took part for Britain in the crazy but often physically demanding team games. Being an asthmatic, Janine has to tackle such exertions with care. But a love of physical pursuits combined with a determination to learn how to conquer the problems of sport for an asthmatic have led her to develop an approach to physical education that she is now taking into Tickhill School, near Doncaster.

"I am very concerned about the level of asthma in young children, something like one in eight showing symptoms of it," says Janine. "And I am worried by the approach to PE in schools which often does not accommodate children with asthma or other disabilities."

Such was her concern that Janine decided to give up her career in sales and marketing and re-train, taking the RSA Exercise to Music, and Coaching Children, the basis to the NVQ in Physical Education so that she could take classes herself: "Other Mums go into school to help with reading or cooking. I thought I could offer PE sessions instead."

Janine's approach to PE combines features required by the national curriculum with activities she feels make sport more accessible to all children, whatever their natural aptitude. "Asthmatic children need to have a slow warm up with a very, very gentle curve of exertion, so that is how I start a session for everyone. It is a structured warm up, starting with small, basic moves and gradually building up to large movements as the joints begin to ease. Then we move on to a stretch session."

In line with the national curriculum, Janine believes children as young as four should be taught "body awareness", not just using their bodies to run about and jump, but being aware of which muscles they are exercising and how to take care of their bodies by not straining to such an extent that they damage themselves.

The emphasis on competitive sport in schools does not find favour with Janine: "I prefer sport in which all children can take part and feel they are having fun, so I like to have activities which bring in balance, co-ordination, agility, flexibility, cardio-vascular fitness, as well as the mental fitness we all need to cope with the stresses and strains of life. I do a lesson about the buzz, the feeling of well-being and pleasure that exercise can bring, because I feel it is important for young people to realise that physical fitness can make them feel good about themselves."

Spurning traditional PE teaching methods of tapes and written lesson plans, Janine likes to "take it from the heart, and really go with how the children feel". For Reception classes, she begins with using nursery rhymes. As Goldilocks and the three bears, the children run up and down stairs, or climb down the bean stalk and run away from the Giant. "Then they think about their movements and bring in work on balance and co-ordination. With older groups, we discuss exercise as being something they do out of school, talking about what they do - riding bikes, games in the playground, swimming - whatever they can do to help themselves look after their bodies, and see it as part of their daily lives."

Janine also uses topical issues in her sessions, recently incorporating ideas about disability into class work. "I have been doing some work with the England squad for people with learning disabilities who were in an athletics competition. The experience showed me clearly the difficulties some people have in sport so I built ideas into my sessions that would show the children how hard it is for disabled people and how they overcome the difficulties."

These sessions involved the children in thinking about different ways of exercising, such as sitting on pretend wheelchairs to do a warm-up, then, realising that many disabled people can move their legs even if they cannot walk, they did marching and galloping movements. Next they played ball games, including football, passing from chair to chair. In order to try to experience exercise for blind people, they used a parachute, rolling a ball containing a bell around as they lifted and lowered the parachute.

Concern that the sedentary habits of many children will result in back problems later on in life has led Janine to devote some of her lessons to explaining the dangers of bad posture. "I teach the children how to sit so that their back is positioned correctly and we also do exercises about lifting heavy objects and bending."

Sometimes she has children who are recovering from broken limbs or with learning difficulties in her classes. She ensures they can be included all the time, providing music with a slow rhythm so that they can keep up. She splits the class into small groups, each led by a child, so that she can work individually with each child for part of the time. For children who have had, for instance, a broken foot, she will include exercises for all the class that are specifically designed to help restore the foot muscles.

Now taking a Certificate in Education, Janine is particularly concerned about the lack of expertise many primary teachers have in PE:"Over 90 per cent of children are taught PE by non-specialists and I believe it is too important an area in our children's lives for it to be not taught well. By the time children reach 11, most have decided for or against sport. Many more of those who reject sport at secondary school could find far more enjoyment if only they were encouraged to understand more about exercise and discover what fun it can be for them."

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