Most schools in our country have taken P.E. out of their curriculum. I am investigating the opportunity to assist in the physical development of children of preschool (ages four to five years). At one school, the parents would like to have some regular (monthly) feedback in terms of their child's progress. As I understand it, at this level, focus is (and should be) more on the importance of being active and establishing key fundamental techniques (i.e., running, skipping, hopping, etc.) and very rarely on the child's "performance" as such. Is this line of thinking correct? If so, what areas could (and should) a progress report for this group cover? The teacher has quite a comprehensive curriculum, including several hours of structured and un-structured play per week, in which she covers a lot of the material that I have managed to research (i.e., follow-the-leader, obstacle courses, balancing bean bags on their heads, etc). Is there anything new or different I can actually offer them? Are there any pre-determined standards for this age group or methods of measuring progress? Also, perhaps some of the children do need more attention, since ego and innocence can be fragile at this age. Are there methods available specific to improving/mastering individual ability, or is group work better? Any help or info would be much appreciated!
Excellent series of questions! Let me start from the top.
“As I understand it, at this level, focus is (and should be) more on the importance of being active and establishing key fundamental techniques (i.e., running, skipping, hopping, etc.) and very rarely on the child's 'performance' as such.”
You are entirely correct. The key to any sort of developmental physical training in the pre-adolescent years must be founded on multilateral and global stimulus. This is in large part due to the uniqueness of the youthful nervous system. The CNS is very plastic during the pre-adolescent years, which infers that it is adaptable and extremely sensitive to acquiring new skills (this applies to physical stimulus as well as linguistic, verbal and other forms of cognitive development as well). The essence of childhood training should be in the form of globalized exposure to movement skills without the element of specialization, specifically running/skipping, crawling, climbing, jumping and throwing. Exercises or games offered to young children within the context of these skills will serve to enhance natural developmental factors and set the tone for a more specific and rigid training potential in the future.
Underlying each of these macro skills are more precise elements that anyone working with kids should know (i.e., balance, rhythm, kinesthetic differentiation, contralateral strength/movement capacity and spatial awareness).
“If so, what areas could (and should) a progress report for this group cover?”
You can assess the progress of children by either following simple locomotor assessment tools or creating your own templates, which account for the rate of technical aptitude within the context of a series of exercises. When charting the progress of children, it is imperative to avoid measuring only their biomotor abilities (i.e., strength, speed, etc). Basic strength and speed increases are very natural when a young person participates in a directed and regimented training program. In that, you will find it virtually impossible to accurately assess the degree to which improvements have been made – and therefore, you will have no established record to guide you on your “next steps” with regards to programming.
However, you can establish subjective scales and rating systems to categorize and judge the proficiency and execution of given exercises. For example, you can create assessment tools, which categorize a child’s ability to execute a rhythm-based exercise or transition between sequential motor skills.
“Also, perhaps some of the children do need more attention, since ego and innocence can be fragile at this age. Are there methods available specific to improving/mastering individual ability, or is group work better?”
I personally favor group work, but it is up to the quality of the teacher or coach to instruct personally to each youngster, even within the context of a group.
Use the Pygmalion Effect to set the tone of expectation for each child (the Pygmalion Effect infers that the level and ability of the student will be directly proportional to the expectation level of the teacher).
You must be sensitive to the individual personalities and temperaments that exist in group settings as well.
Sub categorize each member of your group into one of four classifications:
- High Motivation/High Skill
- High Motivation/Low Skill
- Low Motivation/High Skill
- Low Motivation/Low Skill
Children tend to fall into one of these classifications, and each requires a different coaching style in attempting to bring out their individual bests:
- Delegate – This child is hungry for more and will enjoy becoming part of the process. Offer a skipping drill to the group at large, and then suggest to this child that he/she create a way to make it more challenging for himself/herself.
- Guide – This child enjoys the process very much but needs increased technical attention. Within the group setting, spend a touch more time with this child and break down the skills of a given exercise, thereby guiding him/her through its execution.
- Inspire – This child exhibits good skill but lacks desire to be part of the process. Get to know him/her well and find the specific things to encourage this child to have more fun. No further skill set breakdown is needed. Your sole job is to find a way to make him/her enjoy the process more.
- Direct – This child is shy and introverted and requires a level of quiet, individual instruction within the group setting.
The art of coaching individuals within a group setting should be considered the number one job of the coach. Good luck.