Why do we need real gym?

By Sarah Moon, real gym National Lead

I get asked this question a lot: “Why do we need real gym? What’s different about it? We have ‘X’ scheme or cards already…” I’ll tell you what’s different.

Let me start from the beginning…
I had a mixed ‘upbringing’ in PE and Sport. I loved PE at primary school – I think I was encouraged, and I certainly loved gym and dance outside of school.

However, when I got to secondary school, suddenly my PE experience become very different. I didn’t fit!
I wasn’t a team player, so I didn’t make the squads, and wasn’t encouraged to do so. There wasn’t a gym club as such; I remember I did once get identified as being ‘gifted and talented’ in gym (surprise surprise – I went to 15 hours’ gym out of school, so that wasn’t a shock!) however, nothing ever happened. I was identified, and thought, “YES something for me now! Now I will be seen as ‘special’ by the PE teachers and be in the ‘gang’…” but nothing ever happened with it. So I was left out – again!

No one ever identified for me that the same run, jump, land on one foot, catch a ball and pass it on to a partner was the same in rhythmic gymnastics (my sport) as it was in netball… So I didn’t feel I could play netball, and then even when we did gym in school, I was then good and got picked on by the cool kids for being good at it.

Sometimes I wonder why I am working in sport, and then I remember: TO GIVE ALL KIDS A BETTER EXPERIENCE THAN THIS. I am passionate about giving all children the ability to succeed in PE and school sport, whether this be physically to succeed or via the multi-abilities approach.

Woodhill School-37

So with Create Development, real gym was born!

A unique approach that has something for every child to be successful, enabling every child to stretch themselves, whatever this may mean to them.

I know that gymnastics splits a class. You have those whizzy children that can and therefore do, and in the very same class you have the children who are very reluctant even to join in.

My view is that primary teachers are best placed to engage, enable and enrich the experience of gym at school for ALL of these children. They have the ability to find the ‘hook’ for each child. It might be that a child is physically able but doesn’t understand about sharing with a partner – therefore, focus on social skills and encourage and reward this aspect. A teacher who recently attended the real gym Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stage One course was sat for most of the morning, arms and legs crossed, whilst I was thinking about how I’d get through to her. However, we did the first practical lesson, ‘The Jungle Trip’, and she relaxed and was in. Her hook was linking PE (gym) to performing arts; she obviously felt calm and comfortable with drama/expression and as soon as we were playing a role, it suddenly wasn’t frightening gymnastics, but just animals in the jungle. That was it. She was hooked, and took a positive and active role throughout the rest of the course.

Woodhill School-116

This is our job as practitioners: to deliver an engaging, enabling and enriching experience for ALL of the children we work with, through whichever method we can achieve these aims.

So what about the ‘gymnasts’ in your class? Many gymnasts are seen as creative, as they perform routines, but 9/10 times (probably more) the coaches at the gym club have told them EXACTLY what to do. They are able to practice and remember a routine, and that’s it.

So give them a chance to be creative and explore the skills that they can use in other ways.

Maybe a reluctant child has very good understanding, so can work cognitively in the lesson, understanding the concepts of creating a sequence and what needs to be included in the routine, or perhaps by coaching others, giving them the success criteria and learning points. Perhaps the quiet child can be the one who gives the reward stickers to others for persevering with a task, or perhaps use the tablet to record sequences to review later.

Woodhill School-460

Gymnastics doesn’t have to be a boring, repetitive task; once we have learnt the skills, we can use them, play with them in interesting ways to keep the children engaged and having fun in the lesson, whilst also building in the necessary repetitions for them to improve and master a skill.

A good example of these is Dice Frenzy, a real PE game that we have ‘gym-ified’. Played in a team, you have to make a shape (previous skill learning), on a certain number of body parts (as dictated by the dice). For example a star on two body parts, a straight on three body parts, a tuck on one body part etc. The winners are the team who manage to cross off all the dice numbers the quickest.

Through this activity the children repeat their shapes, exploring them in different ways, holding the shapes whilst their team cross off the number. However they also work on many other essential skills: social (in a team), personal (listening and sharing ideas), cognitive (understanding the shape) and creative (exploring and making in different ways).

Woodhill School-36

The whole concept of real gym is just this, using gymnastics to develop the whole child, whilst learning gymnastic skills and having FUN with gymnastics!

Give Dice Frenzy a go, and see how the children react to it. If you like it book on a real gym course! We are passionate about giving more children a fantastic opportunity to develop through gymnastics, and the ability to succeed and to be valued in their lessons.