This is the first in a series of posts about the use of tools in teaching figure skating. Tools can aid understanding, body position, spatial orientation. They can aid or distract attention (and one is not necessarily more desirable than the other). Tools can be specific figure skating tools (a figures scribe, for instance), a general sports aid (like a stretchy workout band), or a toy (we use beany babies more than might be actually healthy). You can use them to reinforce good habits, to teach new habits, to overcome bad habits.
I'm currently working with two cognitively challenged children. One is a kid who in my own (long ago) childhood would simply have been that crazy boy; we would not have recognized his behavior as having a clinical definition, much less a condition that could be both named, understood and compensated for. I haven't asked his mother (feel free to chime in, since I know you're reading this) what exactly his diagnosis is, but I would say he's got attention issues. Let's call him NoisyBoy. (He takes lessons with his friend, and they're in my book as "skating with noisy boys".)
The other, Miss E, I've written about before; she is dyspraxic, a sensory and motor processing disability.
Both of these children do occupational therapy, and I owe their OTs a great big box of chocolate, because they, indirectly through the moms, introduced me to the wonderful world of using proprioceptive tools to reach these kids (I had never even heard the word before. It is now my new favorite word). As the new class sessions get underway in a couple of weeks, I will be watching for other children, and adults, who might respond to these techniques.
Proprioception is the ability to orient your body in space; to sense the position, location, and movement of the body and its parts. Noisyboy's mom first introduced me to the concept when she mentioned that he liked "heavy load" exercises- these are activities that involve weights, and/or sharp sudden movements like jumping, falling, crashing, pulling. You get the idea. Noisyboy does in fact love these, I had noticed this. Either because I am a genius, or because he was faster than me (you never know), I generally, within limits, let him. Clever me, because this turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.
Oddly, the same week, Miss E's mom mentioned that her occupational therapist recommended the use of stretchy workout bands for physical activities. One of the deals with Miss E is that she does everything at a very high level as long as you hold onto her, sometimes quite closely. As soon as you let go, she goes back to either tot marching or racing around the ice (singing). We found that when you use the bands you can gradually let go and she still feels the right kind of pressure to continue the activity properly (of course, you have to catch her first).
So meanwhile Noisyboy's mom sent me a list of proprioceptive activities from NorthShore University Health. Their handout includes a long list of proprioceptive activities, saying "these activities can be calming, organizing, or alerting to the nervous system. It can calm people when they are aroused, and arouse them when they are calm"
I started trying this out with these kids and what a difference. Stretchy bands. Two pound weights. Jump exercises. Pushing and pulling exercises. Stomping the ice. All of these things anchor these kids back to their bodies, place them in space, and focus them on their surroundings.
I'm still learning how to use these tools with the kids, and their mothers are exhibiting blessed patience as I sort it out. I'm pretty sure Miss E is onto me, because she often just decides not to play anymore, lets go of the tool and off she goes! Noisyboy is still intrigued by the novelty, so I'll need to try to stay one step ahead of him, also to keep him from getting the bright idea of bashing Noisyboy 2 over the head with the weights (good times!). I'm looking forward to an aisle-foraging trip to Sportmart to see what inspires me.
Just as we've come to understand different learning styles (tactile, visual, aural, etc.) kids also have different proprioceptive abilities. Miss E and Noisyboy are outliers; mainstreamed kids with diagnosed difficulties. But there are plenty of kids farther inside the bell curve who can probably benefit from this awareness. Sometimes it's the challenging kids that make you grow.