By: Mark Banasiak @MoreThanGym
If you give a student a balloon, they will most likely smile and begin tapping it upwards. Balloons are a great resource since they are relatively inexpensive and can be used in a variety of ways.
Are you familiar with the scene in the movie Forrest Gump when the piano plays and the feather floats through the air? Each year, I attempt to create a similar scene in our gym using balloons. Imagine 50 five year olds slowly walking around and gently striking a balloon upward. When everything works out, it is one of the most peaceful and magical things that happen within the four walls of our gym.
Since balloons are so lightweight, they almost float. This provides added reaction time for the student who is working on continuously striking an object.
With most skill progressions, I group K-2nd grades together. These progressions are simple lists of tasks, challenges, and activities. At my school, we have developed a Skill Progression Sheet (SPS) for each unit we teach. The kindergartners progress through the SPS slowly. In contrast, the 2nd graders move quicker, complete more tasks, and may even skip a couple of the steps. Prior to class, I inflate and place the balloons in multiple tubs around the gym.
I demonstrate and explain how to take care of and hold the balloon gently (i.e., don’t squeeze the balloon). I then start the music “Forrest Gump Suite.” It is 8 minutes long; however, you may need to put it on repeat mode.
I then ask the students to respectfully retrieve a balloon, return to their spot, and gently hold it. Sometimes, I have one student model how to accomplish this sequence. (Note: In our gym, each student has an assigned spot we regularly use for fitness, skills practice, and line-up).
Task #1 – Gently Striking a Balloon While Kneeling
The first task is explained and demonstrated. If they lose control, they are instructed to simply retrieve their balloon, return to their spot, and start again. I then phrase the task in the form of a question and then they can begin. Can you gently strike a balloon back and forth using your hands while kneeling?
After 60 or so seconds, I ask them to hold the balloon while I explain the assessment. (Note: I have found that the assessment becomes the motivator in this situation.) If I see them doing 3 or more gentle strikes under control (demonstrate if needed), I will give each one a thumbs up and let them attempt the next task (i.e., standing while striking).
Task #2 – Gently Striking a Balloon While Standing
After receiving a thumbs up, each student will continuously strike a balloon back and forth using their hands while standing in a stationary position. They should attempt to strike it as many times as possible while keeping one foot “glued” to their spot. If they have to move both feet, they should simply retrieve their balloon, return to their spot, and start again.
Once all of the students have been individually progressed, I stop and explain the next assessment. If I see them doing 3 or more gentle strikes under control (demonstrate if needed), I will give each one a thumbs up and let them attempt the next task (i.e., striking while moving in general space). If necessary, I remind the students about the common mistakes and provide them with an example of how their striking should look if they want to be progressed to the next level. (Common Mistakes: do not hit it upwards or too hard.)
Task #3 – Gently Striking a Balloon While Moving in General Space
After receiving a thumbs up, each student will continuously strike a balloon while moving in general space. Each student is reminded that the expectation is to walk and gently strike their balloon upward. If they are striking too hard or moving too fast, they are not in control and may have to go back to their spot.
After a few moments of striking the balloon while moving in general space, I share the next challenge. I usually phrase these as questions. I do not stop the activity; I just pose the challenge and watch! After 2 or so minutes, I share the next one and so on.
- Can you continuously strike a balloon with one hand (i.e., the other hand is placed behind their back)?
- Can you continuously strike a balloon with one finger?
- Can you continuously strike a balloon using at least three different body parts (i.e., create a pattern)?
- Can you toss the balloon upward, strike it with your head, and then catch it?
At this point, the magic has run its course. During the rest of the class and in the coming days, we move on to practice striking with a partner, multiples partners (i.e., groups of 4), and using implements (i.e., a ping-pong paddle or half of a pool noodle).
**Note: Check to make sure none of your students have latex allergies**
Pro-Tip #1 – Purchase helium quality balloons as they stay inflated longer.
Pro-Tip #2 – Pair this striking unit with your volleyball unit since they both use balloons.
Pro-Tip #3 – Use a pair of scissors to gently cut the balloons while they are in the tubs. Once you are done, you can scoop out the balloon pieces from the bottom and throw them away.
#PhysEdHack – (Inflating Balloons) – When inflating balloons, I use an air pump (one used to inflate pool toys and air mattresses). You may have to stretch some of the balloons to get them to inflate (pic).
#PhysEdHack – (Storing Balloons) – I like to put them in large tubs so they can be easily retrieved by the students. However, the wind from the kids moving about the gym tends to blow some of the balloons around. You can simply lay something on top of the tubs to keep the balloons contained (e.g., an empty bag).
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