Jon O'Connor tries out a range of equipment that could transform physical education in the United Kingdom
SCOGYM KITS. From Pounds 95. Flat hoops. from Pounds 2.80 each
We have a problem with physical education in the United Kingdom. The regular political kneejerk - demanding compulsory team games at school - fails to address our need for a culture that embraces physical fitness as part of a healthy lifestyle. And you won't get much help on progression and continuity from the national curriculum.
The brief paragraphs sketching out requirements offer little more than a recommended range of activities and experience, as distinct from guidance on how children's early concepts, physical fitness and motor co-ordination skills should be developed.
Given the techniques and technology used in adult professional and amateur sports, the casual development of physical education for children is poor. UK school practice contrasts sharply with the prominence of fitness in education in the United States. And even our allegedly leisurely French neighbours have an ambitious programme of basic gymnastics for the early years.
WESCO is the UK arm of a French production company that specialises in products for early years sensory and motor skill development. If you're into early years and special educational needs, get into the company's catalogue, which is full of neat, chic ideas.
WESCO's Scogym provides a good stepping stone for young gymnasts. It's a pack-in-a-bag kit system that creates a versatile track or circuit of activity for children aged two to eight.
The pack allows children to experience low-level work developing balance, co-ordination and above all, confidence. The materials come with a three-year guarantee, which the rugged design should make a safe bet for WESCO.
Components made in vivid polypropylene colours include straight and quarter-circle track sections between 56cm and 84 cm long. The segments lock on to each other and link with supporting bricks, cubes and half-cubes, using chunky and secure 11cm diameter pins. These ensure that children will have no problems stacking and packing the components themselves.
In addition, small semi-circular ridge pieces, called bumpers, form mini-obstacles along the track or clip into poles for balancing, or make simple hurdles. They will also hold WESCO's unusual flat profile rings and hoops, for children to weave in and out of.
For extra stability, WESCO suggests filling the building-block cubes with sand, but in trials with lively five-year-olds and one 44-year-old, the unfilled blocks caused no serious wobbles, as long as the Scogym guidelines on layout were followed. You can build steps and different levels into a continuous track or keep more precarious sections just a few centimetres off the ground.
Separated out, the pieces can define activity areas, rather like adult circuit training. In this way, children can experience simple step-over hurdles, practise crawling under, through and over sections, or carry out movement work within clearly identified or constrained spaces.
All the pieces can be bought separately and the hoops come in three sizes, allowing for use with a variety of ages or stages of development. Many of the other kits and systems within the WESCO range are closely linked to Scogym, from clever cones with a hole that take poles at various heights for limbo-dancing, to Motor Education Bags - but that's another story.
Scogym kits offer a good starting point and the bag provides sensible storage where space is at a premium. For a decent circuit, you would need the equivalent of about two mixed kits, representing fair value for small group-work. The package would do credit to small playgroups and would also help to promote the next generation of gymnasts in mainstream education.
WESCO, Witham, Essex CM8 2HH. Tel: 01376 503590