A Model for an All-Grades Tumbling & Gymnastics Circus
At Aurora Waldorf School, we've had an annual all-school circus since 1995. Each May as we present this event, I'm filled with thanks: first and foremost, to Jaimen McMillan and Maureen Curran, who taught the Spacial Dynamics cycle that continues to inspire my teaching career; and secondly to a book titled “Stunts and Tumbling for Girls” written by Virginia Lee Horne in 1943. The circus model I've built up over the years is entirely the result of those two sources; there is almost nothing in it that is original from me.
Our movement program for grades 1 to 6 includes the typical quantity of two games/gym classes a week… but also a weekly tumbling/gymnastics class. Our rhythm for these lessons is two Tuesdays doing mat skills and agilities, and then a Tuesday with apparatus. These classes – staffed by myself and two assistants – combine two grades together, i.e 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and (depending on class sizes) 5 and 6.
Our movement program for Grades 7 and 8 includes some tumbling and gymnastics as part of their regular daily classes, but adds a block for advanced apparatus at a local gymnastics center. The pedagogical reasons for this are that by 7th grade the students are ready for new and different activities and teachers, and that physically their size and shape can be past what I and my assistants are comfortable spotting. The 7th grade does not participate in the circus; the 8th grade plays a central role: acting as bases, and transitioning mats and equipment.
The annual circus is the finale for the year's learning, and many of the performed activities are anticipated grade-specific stunts or skills. For instance, students know that when they reach 3rd grade they get to climb all the way up the rope, and in 8th grade they get to be the ones being the bases for the 1st grade shoulder stands.
A model that balances play value & skill mastery
“Play Value” might be defined as the quality of physical activity in which imagination and joyful participation are not outweighed by structure, scores, or self-awareness. At most, only a few words are required to explain or teach the activity because the activity is age-appropriate and the student will almost instantly “get it” by seeing it. Therefore, the circus itself has, for the most part, a dollar-store or flea-market appearance; there is only a little focus on the individual “stars” who have attained mastery. However, the fact that an annual performance is impending helps all students put in extra effort, repetition and focus.
Summary of developmental goals and values
As is noted elsewhere on this site, “A childhood rich in varied play and movement strengthens the developmental foundations needed for success in the grades and beyond.” A gym program that includes a dedicated weekly class combining acrobatics, tumbling agilities and games, crawling relays, gymnastics skills, apparatus work, little wrestling matches, plus juggling and other circus skills can be a cornerstone for healthy classroom work; I can't imagine any other way of addressing so many developmental keys, especially for 7 to 12 year olds.
Benefits of this model
An all-school circus program with a steady diet of these ingredients will promote the following and more.
The Circus in four parts
I've organized the AWS Circus into four parts.
The Circus Parade. Students assemble in the hallway outside the Gym, and then enter with an age-appropriate parade-like agility movement. For grades 1 and 2, these will be animal-themed walks or crawls from the “zoo exercises”. Grades 3 and 4 blend animal-themed stunts such as caterpillar walks with gymnastic skills like cartwheels and roundoffs. Grades 5 and 6 enter with displays of daring and agility, including leap-frog, running up a wall, etc.
Class performances. After the Parade, each grade, beginning with 6th grade and progressing downward, comes out for its performance of about ten agility, gymnastic and acrobatic feats. The finale for this is the 1st grade - 8th grade shoulder stands partner acrobatic stunt.
Circus skills. While the above is going on, there is room on the gym floor behind the row of mats, for students to demonstrate chosen individual abilities with juggling, pogo sticking, unicycling, plate spinning, hula hooping, diabolo and the like.
Apparatus. When the above is complete, there is a brief intermission while the apparatus is brought out. Our apparatus includes a regulation-size balance beam, parallel/uneven bars, vaulting buck, pommel horse and three climbing ropes. Each class has about five minutes to rotate through these.
The three videos below depict one year's presentation.
(agilities, walks and stunts)
Gr. 1: Ducks, Bunnies and Penguins
Gr. 2: Frog Hops, Leaping Gazelles, Partner Elephants
Gr. 3 & 4: Ring-tailed Lemurs, Monkeys, Centipedes, Couple Camel, Rocker/Inchworm, Eskimo Rolls, Cartwheels & Roundoffs
Gr. 5: Leapfrog, Geese, Dive Rolls
Gr. 6: Running up the Wall
Class Performances (gymnastics, partner acrobatics, stunts)
Gr. 6: Catch Falls, Seal Slaps, Thread the Stick, Pin Wheels, Shuttle Rolls, Group Stave Toss
Gr. 5: Jump Stick, Pullovers, V for Victory, Windmills
Gr. 4: Knee Dip, Bear Dance, Monkey Rolls, Pyramids
Gr. 3: Human Ball, Upswing, Forward Roll Variations, Churn the Butter
Gr. 2: Handstands, Crossing Forward Rolls, Back Bridges, Turk Stands, Low Hand-Foot Balance with Gr. 8
Gr. 1: Frog Stands, Squash, Candlesticks, Mercury Balance, Box Balance, , Shoulder Stand with Gr. 8
Other Individual Skills; Apparatus
See article at left