Kids get the chance to run, stretch their legs, and take a well-deserved breather from school in gym class. But physical education can be so much more than laps around the gym or a repetitive set of exercises. Adding sports into the curriculum challenges students in ways that promote healthy bodies and minds.
One excellent option to consider is integrating parkour into physical education. This sport teaches students to develop the skills necessary to perform complex acrobatics. It can also build character and courage, and help kids overcome their fear of heights.
These are admirable educational goals but parkour does have a level of risk. However, when done properly, this curriculum can be nearly as safe as any other strenuous sport. Schools considering adding parkour to their physical education classes must ensure that the right amount of safety planning goes along with creating a class that engages students.
How to Introduce Parkour
If you want to introduce parkour into your curriculum, one of the first things your school must do is decide the age level of students who will be exposed to the sport. The basic techniques can be taught in a variety of grades, but older students will be able to do more complex movements. However, even young children benefit from learning the basics of balance, stability, and strength.
Early elementary students can learn the essential actions on appropriate equipment. Tasks include walking on parallel balance beams using hands and feet, climbing over cylinder-shaped mats, and balancing on stability balls. Physical education teacher Cathy Moffitt teaches these and other parkour techniques successfully to her kindergarten through fourth-grade students.
Older students may require more creative routines to keep them interested. Maria Corte, a physical educator at Mesa High in Arizona, recommends using parkour as a way to get students outside of the building. Her parkour lessons incorporate outdoor items that she finds on campus, such as ramps, picnic tables, or benches, into a full-body workout.
To spark the interest of her high schoolers, she sets up five challenges that they have to complete together one by one before the period ends. Corte says, “We do each challenge together as a whole class and I utilize the ‘Never Leave Anyone Behind’ philosophy. My stronger students help and/or encourage those who need some extra time or assistance.”
Corte’s class uses a positive learning approach known as social learning theory. This school of thought states that students learn by observing those who have attracted their attention. This requires them to remember what they’ve seen, re-enact it, and be motivated to engage in the activity.
What are the results of adding parkour to physical education as a form? In 2016, 27 middle schools in Washington, D.C. replaced gymnastics with parkour. The results were so successful that the following year, the program expanded to 40 schools across D.C. and Maryland!
Safety Precautions to Take
Some schools may be resistant to adding this sport to their curriculum due to safety concerns and liability issues. If students are seriously hurt, families may struggle with medical debt that can lead to financial hardship. Your school must take proper precautions to safeguard the students as well as the staff.
To alleviate injuries and other problems, look at developing a curriculum within certain boundaries to minimize risk. For example, outdoor parkour training may not be as wise a choice as a controlled indoor atmosphere where more safeguards can be put in place, especially for younger children. Training with foam products and mats made for parkour can mitigate falls and other possible injuries or you may want to set up a parkour gym for kids.
Schools would do well to meet with parkour experts, physical education staff, and educational legal experts to see how these activities can be integrated into the curriculum. Plot out what parkour skills are age-appropriate and feasible for your students.
It’s also important to ensure that your physical education staff is trained and certified in parkour. Membership in the Association for Physical Education is a good idea along with any official parkour associations. Both teachers and the school must have the appropriate insurance coverage so consult with a professional to make sure these details are appropriately covered.
Getting Parents on Board
It’s equally important to get parents on board before launching a new curriculum. If they’ve only seen hair-raising videos of this sport on YouTube via their kids’ devices, they may be worried! The best approach is to show them how parkour can uniquely benefit their children.
Help them to see parkour as a way for students to develop crucial motor skills rather than as a high-risk activity. Show them how kids benefit by learning problem-solving skills and improving grit. The physical skills required by parkour, such as hand-eye coordination, can even help teachers spot health issues such as vision problems and report back to parents.
Nick Zaleski, co-owner and parkour instructor at Superhuman Academy in Boulder, CO, says, “Parkour stresses body awareness. Poor posture has become a known source for injury and pain. Many of parkour’s basic movements work to correct and bring to light these issues. Parkour then builds on this foundation with improved strength, coordination, and balance.”
Zaleski works with an occupational therapist to run a program for special needs families. They use the techniques as a form of family therapy. Parkour helps these kids to develop the physical and mental skills they need to succeed in life.
Parents should also understand that parkour is not just about taking on physical risk. Instead, it is a culture of fitness. This sport has its own professional organizations, athletic competitions, and gyms exclusively focused on this type of training.
How can you help parents to change their mindset about this sport? Schools should consider hosting an information event with a video showing the movements, along with parkour athletes and training, and potential safety measures. Include success stories showcasing students that excelled after participating in this sport at their school.
Parkour has become popular among kids, especially following the loss of after-school sports programs caused by lockdown measures in 2020. Introducing this sport into your physical education curriculum has many benefits for kids and teachers alike. With proper safety measures in place, this activity can help your school stand out as a place for both character and athletic development.