Movement Education Offers a New Beginning – Part 1
When I was the Movement Educator (Physical Education) at a small Waldorf School there was no money to level, seed or maintain any playing fields and they remained unimproved. The elementary school movement curriculum is developmentally based and steers away from sports, equipment and the well groomed fields found in most schools anyway so it was not such big deal. Games where balance, responsiveness, dexterity and running are key and are usually introduced by the teacher but also invented by the children. As a faculty we decided that they should not play organized games such as soccer or baseball. The children were upset at first but finally made their own game called “footsie”. It was a cross between hockey and soccer. A tennis ball was kicked on the ground and each goalie had a board that was used to block the ball from going into the goal area. They had to react quickly to unexpected bounces due to the bumpy ground while at the same time increasing their balance considerably. When these classes reached 7th and 8th grade they wanted to compete as a track team. They only had a short time to practice the events. Some had never tried the event before. This was the case with one boy who ran the hurdles and ended up taking a first. They competed with much larger schools which had organized track teams for many years. What can you expect with students who had a short time to prepare with very little resources. Surprisingly they won many firsts and seconds, but how did this happen? When children grow up running through the woods and fields their balance increases drastically. In the years I taught I can’t remember anyone getting a sprained ankle. Their ankles seemed to be stronger. When they finally ran on a level field or track all they had to think about was running. The children actually got more out of less.
One day while playing tag in the woods with the 8th graders, a boy named Ben was “it”. For years I tried unsuccessfully to get Ben to wear sneakers to class, to protect his feet, but there was always an excuse. I usually played whatever game was being played and on this particular day Ben wore his usual sandals. I was on a ridge when Ben spotted me from quite a distance and decided to chase me. I started moving across the ridge then I ran through the woods as fast as I could when I realized he was catching up to me, but he caught up with me and I was tagged. I was taken aback by how quickly Ben closed the distance between us, How could it happen that an 8th grader in sandals could move so quickly through the woods? Now, when I reflect on this day I wonder what children are missing by not having an opportunity to run through changing terrain. What at first appears as a disadvantage – the lack of equipment and proper athletic fields – became a valuable resource.
I have since been hired to be the Movement Education (Physical Education) teacher another Waldorf School. The school’s interest in sustainability is what drew me to this school. At this point in time I’ve been Waldorf a Movement Educator for almost 10 years and have observed something very fascinating about children’s movement. Young children, who are given the opportunity to run on rolling fields and through the woods on irregular terrain, gain improved balance and an increased ability to respond to changes in terrain. These children rarely sprain an ankle and I’ve never seen a broken bone. As they mature they can run faster and faster through terrain that many would deem too dangerous. These same children, now in high school are competing with other athletes on level, well prepared athletic fields and their outstanding ability to respond to terrain serves them on their soccer, lacrosse and ultimate Frisbee teams. These adolescents can run. I’ve also had the opportunity to observe the opposite situation. I have observed that children who run mostly on flat surfaces have trouble running on non flat surfaces such as farm fields and woods. Right away they worry about twisting an ankle and many times their fears are validated. In other words children who run on non level fields can excel at running on flat fields, but children who continually run on flat surfaces have trouble running on non level fields and are limited to a certain terrain.
Imagination, like a muscle, atrophies, but when stimulated by use can grow continually. This is important in many other fields such as science where every big breakthrough has been made with imagination. Imagination can be stimulated when children are allowed to run through the fields, making up rules and games as they go and are not confined to the limits of standard rules that sports provide. When the rules can change according to the conditions and games are invented the children gain ability to be more flexible in their thinking.
I like to think Movement Education includes not only physical movement but how humans move on the Earth. Does the way we move on the Earth have any lasting effect on the health of the Earth and can we learn to move lightly on this land?
The school picked a field for the gym program that is perfect in its natural state. In the whole field there is only one level spot where we can jump rope. Beside this one spot, the field rolls and dips just like I imagined it should!
What does this field have to do with sustainability? Creating level athletic field in the hilly countryside is energy and cash intensive. Schools almost always think that an already level but bumpy hay or pasture field must be smooth to make an athletic field. Heavy machinery and much fuel is needed. The natural life of the soil is greatly disturbed and in many cases destroyed. Maintenance of the field also requires fuel, machinery and human energy in addition to fertilizers and perhaps petroleum based pesticides or herbicides. Could it be that if we require less level ground that we would require less machinery and use fewer resources while increasing our children’s ability? This is a critical question because not only do we need oil to run the machinery but also oil to build the factories that produce the machinery, and we need oil to run the factories and ship the machines (throughput). This one choice of having undeveloped fields directly benefits the development of the children, reduces our dependency on oil and a large budget and supports the value of increased sustainability and consciousness. When I looked over the playing field at the school prior to the start of school this fall the grass was high. To my amazement through the play of children, the grass wore away in just a few days. Where did all that grass (carbon) go? Most of the organic material was digested by microbes and the Carbon was released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, however, some will be trapped in the soil as organic material. I could almost hear those happy microbes chomping away. It was soon apparent that another field was needed. We needed to rotate fields so the grass in any one field did not wear out. Watching the children run through these fields is something to see.
When thinking about sustainability the soil itself needs close inspection. In a handful of soil there are billions of microbes responsible for maintaining soil structure. The microbes decompose the organic matter resulting in the production of humis. During this process a small amount of organic material is trapped in large soil particles called aggregates. The microbes produce aggregates by exuding polysaccharides that act as a glue holding small soil particles such as sand and clay together. In between these soil particles organic matter is trapped and cannot be decomposed by the microbes. These small clumps of particles and trapped organic material are called aggregates. Plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, in the process of photosynthesis, and incorporate it into plant tissue which is broken down mby microbes when the plant dies. In other words grass is mostly made of carbon. Some of this carbon is trapped in the humus while some is trapped, more permanently, in the soil aggregate itself. Carbon dioxide, the leading green house gas, is taken out of the atmosphere and trapped in the soil reducing the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change. The soil microbes are crucial to this process. Microbes stimulate root growth and root growth stimulates microbial growth. Increased grass and plant diversity in a field results in increased microbe diversity in the soil thereby improving soil structure and decreasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. When making the field flat, machines scrape off this valuable resource, destroying the soil structure and disrupting this whole cycle. When the soil structure is disrupted the The outcome to leaving the field as is and building up the soil is reducing climate change and hold water which in itself will reduce the need of oil needed to rebuild flooded cities, irrigate dried crop land and all the other ill effects due to oil use.
Another aspect to consider is the UN report that poverty is the leading cause of terrorism. If this is true raising their standard of living would seem to be a solution to an increasing problem. One of the biggest questions is where are the resources in the world that is already stressed coming from to raise their standard of living. Could there be another solution? In the case of athletic fields, do they really need the standard athletic field that we deem necessary to play sports? One of the problems is that Western civilization plans solutions for third world countries that are considered below our standards. What would happen if we as an affluent society adopted some of the solutions? Can, as an affluent society, we present a new beginning for the world? One in which people all over the world can realize how much they have. One in which we can share resources needed to make what resources they have work.
One change can have countless positive effects on the individual, system and the world level. Simplification and doing with less can yield unforeseen positive consequences.
The Waldorf School is now 3 years old and like most schools that just start out have limited resources. The school needed an inside space for the Movement Education classes, however since it is a starting school we did not have the money to build a gymnasium. We decided to take trees and lash them together to form a hoop structure similar to a hoop greenhouse and cover it with a tarp material. One of the parents from the fifth grade had the trees we needed and a tractor to pull them out of the woods. The logs were pulled out of the woods and placed in a pile by the road. Another parent, this time from the second grade is a logger and offered to pick the logs up and deliver them over to the school which was about 3 miles from the school. The next step in the building process was peeling the logs. The faculty, with all various tools in their hands during an in-service helped peel the logs. What a day! As everyone peeled they talked about things that teachers have to talk about except instead of sitting in a room we were actually constructing a building that was needed in the community. Every Friday our school has what we call Earth Craft and the children get to work around the school. During this class the older children also peeled logs and helped lash the logs together in pairs with the thin part of the log overlapped and the wide part away from the middle. This made a straight piece that was about 80 feet long. The two ends were pulled together creating a semi circle with a diameter of about 55 feet (resembling a bow). The bending seemed to take forever. Week after week went by until finally the semicircular arches (bent) were ready to stand up. Again the faculty was called into action. The goal was to stand up six arches and temporarily brace them. At one point a school board member happened to be walking by in dress clothes and was asked if he could just help hold one end of a bent, it would only take a minute. If you’ve ever built anything you know how long a minute can get. After bracing off the last bent he was released from bondage. This structure ended up to be about 40 feet by about 60 feet. Using materials available in the surrounding area we erected a gym. The floor is dirt and rolls and dips like the fields. Since the children are used to running on rolling ground the only people that said anything about the flatness of the floor were adults. In this space we have the opportunity to play games from all over the world.
Granted this is no ordinary gym. This is a gym that was built by people in our community that live in the area using materials (as much as possible) from the area with little money. As far as a global perspective according to Milanovic Branco from the World Bank 50% of the world’s population earns less than $850 per year and according to the UN the leading cause of terrorism is poverty! If we as an affluent society can set an example of using these building practices then other countries less fortunate will not have to fight for the resources needed to build elaborate buildings while at the same time lowering the oil needed to mine, ship, process and utilize the resources necessary to build such structures. Now that the “Hoop House” has been checked for safety and is being used (although many finishing touches are needed) we can contemplate the assets of such a building. One colleague remarked that the children’s feet are in contact with the Earth. This re-connection to the Earth is needed more now than ever.