Thursday, August 20, 2015

Alpha Omega Publications: Horizons PK-2 Physical Education (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

I have never worried about doing a formal physical education class for any of the boys.  After all, when you're in Physical Therapy one or two days a week for months on end, that pretty much covers learning new skills, and the home program to work on those new skills provides plenty of activity for the rest of the week.  However, this year, we'll be working on different plan for their therapy.  Since they all are cared for by the same physical therapist, we've decided to do one boy + 12 weeks of intensive therapy, and then switch to a different brother.  This makes scheduling my life a little easier because it will be only one, maybe two trips to the hospital a week for therapy instead of daily.  However, it means that while one boy has Miss Nicole all to himself, the others are at a loose end.  She will give the big boys "off time" assignments to build on their skills, but prefers the little boys to have less structured yet developmentally suitable play programs.  We recently tried using the  Horizons PreK-2nd Physical Education program from Alpha Omega Publications, and found that it is an excellent play-style program not only for them, but also high schooler Luke.

 Luke has long wanted to do something in the pediatric physical therapy field.  One career path he has been considering is becoming "bridge" caregiver.  The problem with many therapy programs is patients are only allowed a specific number of visits with a Physical Therapist, but the patients often aren't quite ready to be out on their own just because their insurance company thinks they have had enough.  He has been in that situation himself, and found himself frustrated because he's not sure he's doing things "correctly," but there really isn't anyone to ask.  Since he's wondering if he could make a career of filling this gap, he became our gym teacher for the year.  He has developed a credit-worthy "Practicum in Pediatric/Elementary Sports Medicine" elective course, putting this curriculum into action as the program's core.

First, the curriculum outlines its goals.  As the parent who has sat in on more PT evals than I can count, the sign of a great therapist is one who realizes skills do not exist in a vacuum.  This program looks to layer intellectual goals with physical goals; it's not just about being able to acquire skills but understanding what they lead to.   A child who is frustrated from inability often makes poor decisions; a child who has the proficiency to throw a ball can then engage in a game with another child.  The goal of this program is to provide a physical education for the whole child, not just provide an outlet for a wiggly kindergartener.

This is a Christian-based program, so it integrates not just individual physical skills to the activities, but also development of the core Christian values of each student taking care of himself and others in a manner that honors God.  However, this book focuses more on scientific principles than Biblical ones, so I think it could be used by anyone, regardless of religious background.  A non-Christian family may feel differently in how these character skills are presented, but "play fair," "make healthy choices," "don't break the equipment," "listen to the teacher," "try your hardest," etc. are all core standards that all children should be held accountable to, regardless of faith.

Luke found that seeing the expected skills for a child's age helped him devise programs for the boys.  Evaluation tests in the back of the book allowed him to pre-test all skills to see where strengths and weaknesses were; having all the skills allowed him test Jude across multiple levels.  At his last formal evaluations, Jude had test scores that placed him in the average range for a PK/K, with a bit of variation, which held true for this checklist as well.  It was good for Luke to see skills that he "should have" based on chronologic age, as compared to his actual skill. For example, dodging someone chasing you is a skill most 2nd/3rd graders should have mastered, but Jude is way back at just trying to run and not land on his face.   Being able to see the big picture of Jude's (and Damien's) skills gave Luke some concrete long-term goals to work toward, while also providing a direction for what to work on now to help get to those larger-scale plans.

Luke really liked that there are lots of suggestions for age-appropriate activities for the actual PE instruction.   I love our physical therapist, because she's been incredibly supportive of Luke.  She's been working with him for about six years now, so she's become a mentor to him.  She's also a bit sneaky -- she knows that by Luke working with the younger boys, he's going to work on skills he needs as well.  Often, his "homework" is to do activities with the younger ones.  She knows if she says "Work on core strength with them," he's working his own core as he demonstrates exercises.  However, to say to Luke, "Work on core stuff," he looks at her and says "Now what?"  In the book, there are suggested activities to work on specific muscle groups.  Activities are also presented sequentially, with the basics of building gross motor awareness, control, and dexterity being the focus of the PK/K level student, and then throwing/catching a ball is not introduced until first grade, by which time that first fundamental skill should be solid.  They are also well described and illustrated, so that he is able to understand what is being recommended and implement them in a home program.

In addition, there were sample lesson plans for instructors.  While he is working on developing his own plans, they have been helpful for him to understand how much should be included in a session.  The biggest challenge he has had has been scaling it down to having only one or two students.  While some things can be easily adapted, especially activities that focus solely on individual skills (running, jumping, muscle building, etc.), or can be played with a very small group (1-on-1 soccer, basketball, etc.), some things are a little more difficult, like relays and circuits.  Luke's first panic attack was when he saw the "equipment and supplies" calling for 30 playground balls, 15 basketballs, 15 soccer balls, 100 tennis balls, etc.  This program is certainly excellent for a homeschool PE class, but some activities may be better suited to use with a co-op or play group.

Luke honed in on the Special Needs section of the book.  After all, his students have special needs, so he wanted to make sure that he could understand their perspective.  It discusses the IDEA categories for special needs students, and Jude probably officially qualifies best under "multiple disabilities" since he could tick off 9 of the 13 individual classifications.   I wish there had been more support/direction beyond the obvious "Students with learning disabilities may find it hard to process instruction."  Luke looked at me and said, "Um...ya think?"  He found that while there wasn't a whole lot addressing implementation with a SN student, it was easy enough to ignore "what grade Jude is in" (3rd, technically) and page back to meet Jude's skill level where it is.  There are resources listed to help direct activity modification, but the book itself doesn't have a whole lot of information.  Luke has found himself both teacher and student, because he is beginning to understand that while Jude may want to throw the ball, just tossing the ball back and forth isn't going to really make anything connect if Jude hasn't worked on strengthening his muscles so he can better control his body. However, one thing he has discovered is that it is far easier to skip group activities and work 1:1 with a student who may be uneven with skills; he's leaning away from being an official PE teacher and working more in an ultra-small group setting (2-3 children).

Overall, I'm impressed with this program.  If you're new to a formal PE program, it's a balanced integration of real-life activities with developmental expectations.  I think for most families, PE is often something that doesn't need "teaching" - kids generally play and gain physical and social skills independent of formal instruction.  However, I can see two specific types of families who would benefit from this program.  First is the family of a developmentally delayed student.  It allowed us to look at the skills Jude had, and work progressively toward increasing them in a developmentally appropriate sequence.  The second family type that this could be a great program for is one that has a high school student who also needs a health/PE credit.  While we have chosen to add additional subject matter to help Luke advance toward his career goals, the pre-printed lesson plans and clear activity descriptions make this something that an older sibling could work on with a younger one.

For more information on the many Alpha Omega Publications programs that the Crew recently reviewed, connect with Alpha Omega Publications on social media, or click the banner below to read other reviews.

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