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15.02.2011 - Ausgabe: 1/2011

Exercise is not just exercise




Children need (exercise) tasks with which they can grow.

Exercise is more than sport. The term exercise is linked to sport and physical fitness in the traditional sense. However, exercise is more than sport, performance, competition, rules, victory or defeat, calories and fat consumption or muscle growth. An extended view incorporates daily motor activities as well as the complex, partly unconscious physical activities and their reciprocal effect with both cognitive and social-emotional functions. Exercise is a crucial resource, particularly for children who use it happily, self-determinedly and competently to advance their development (Fischer 2008). This exercise term is understood to be holistic and, hence, considered as a people-world relationship in the sense of a design of dialogue (Dietrich 2003). All exercise activities are “of increased significance for children and leave behind traces, which we describe in professional terms as competences” (Fischer (2008, 174). In particular, from this train of thought, the significance of exercise for education and development of our children is of increasing importance.

“Body, mind and spirit form a dynamic unit. With this complexity, in educational terms, nursery nurses and teachers have to find a way of getting involved in the active holistic being of the child, in order to help him or her to develop further. . .“ (Arnold 2006, 157)

It depends on the first few years

The natural inclination for children to be “curiosity-driven” is based on the need to actively explore their environment. In no other phase of life, such as at pre-school or primary school age, are the complex physical activities of children of such fundamental importance. These are typically realised when children can fulfil their spontaneous need to have fun climbing, balancing, jumping, throwing, swinging, running, hopping, hanging and shimmying and experience it also in challenging situations. At this phase of life, the particularly high ductility (shape and adaptability) of the growing brain – control centre of all our actions and central point for our feelings and thoughts – is permanently dependent on complex neuronal stimuli. Brain development is a construction of self on the basis of a motivating and purposeful interactive conflict between the children and the challenge-filled environment making it complex. Important requirement: Neither overcautious adults or overprotective and under-challenged activity options should restrict their explorative actions.
In light of this, it is all the more important that the frequently “artificial” and, certainly, created worlds of exercise in nurseries, schools or association correspond to the particular conditions of development, i.e. correspond to the complex reciprocal effect of exercise, cognition and social-emotional competence of children in a more purposeful way. In concrete terms this means:


  • The need to plan and design by oneself must be stimulated by autonomous conditions which appeal to the self-activity and creativity of children.
  • The different performance requirements must be conformed to via a differentiation of challenges and the readiness to assume risks.
  • Risk competence must be developed via one’s own adventurous experiences in borderline situations.
  • Confidence and the ability to protect oneself have to be promoted so that the child learns to be able to take responsibility by his or herself.
  • Social learning must be stimulated through task solutions and the required common, coordinated actions and plans.

Development mainly takes place through the child’s own activity. As children of today are rarely able to organise their freedom of movement, the educationalist, according to Fischer (2008, 175), has an important influence on the quality of the development with this own mindset and his methodical planning. “In the foreground is the movement task, the motivating exercise problem, making the child alert with all senses”. The educationalist suggests “investigating and sensing” (Landau 2003, 57), he claims not “educational but collateral” (Fischer 2008, 175). It has the role of “actively creating the surroundings of the child so that corresponding learning outcomes and positive experiences become possible” (Spitzer 2008, 11). The open space for tests, experiments, adventures and also errors is also important. Learning is always an emotional issue. Positive emotions from successfully coping with problems and tasks ensure great success. Thus, children experience a great deal through their own limits and always gain a concrete image of their own capabilities.

“Particularly development-supporting”

Sounding out, recognising and overcoming one’s own limits set by the environment and body, without exposing oneself to dangerous or hazardous situations, is always a concrete need for all adolescents. Children have the desire to control their body, to acquire skills and abilities, to develop dexterity and to assume risks. The focus is the movement task, the motivating movement problem, which the child faces in joyous - but at the same time - suspenseful expectation with all his or her senses. (Fischer 2008). Unfortunately these findings frequently do not conform to the surplus supply of products and concepts for promoting play and exercise. A good portion of the things offered suggests to the user a high degree of effectiveness without always reliably adhering to this claim. Nurseries, schools, family homes and local authorities are, in light of this confusing range of offers, partially overstrained when it comes to making decisions as part of their educational responsibilities. Furthermore, no objective, comprehensible quality criteria are noticeable for the customer, nor is the educational significance. As decisions relating to valuable and sustainable purchases are never easy for the user, the newly-created seal of quality should offer a ‘guideline’. The seal of quality distinguishes products, initiatives and concepts (indoors and outdoors concepts) which fundamentally support children in their basic urges to play, exercise and explore in varied, stimulating and challenging situations. Several products / initiatives / concepts have been awarded since 2008. (www.besondersentwicklungsfoerdernd.de).

The rope parkour: Adventure for mind and body

The “rope parkour” by the company Corocord, based in Berlin, is also one of the “particularly development-promoting” products. The idea of the “rope parkour” is based on the urban trend sport “parkour” which derives from France. “Parkour” is an elegant mix of jumping, running and somersaults, across all obstacles, which have to be tackled outdoors in public space. However, with Corocord, in place of the concrete walls and steel railings are innovative structures made out of 19mm-thick ropes and other elements such as membranes, wooden and aluminium sections. The “rope parkour” is made up of a total of nine elements. The individual elements are six metres long respectively and can be combined to make different landscapes of movement.
Tackling the self-selected routes on the individual proficiency level, requires the use of the whole body. Using the musculature so powerfully and coordinated to master situations that can, to some extent, only be tackled with the hand grip and with the confined position of the feet, develops trust in the child’s own ability and has lasting results for the child’s holistic development.

In the “rope parkour”, depending on the strategies for coping, the respective basic motor characters as well as psychological strengths such as courage, will power, confidence, the ability to protect oneself, concentration and determination as well as targeted, coordinated actions with others are required. This does not just require important psychological competences but also requires many other cognitive abilities such as

  • tackling complex needs – competence in solving problems
  • hink and act foresighted – strategic competence
  • plan targeted, coordinated actions – planning competence

“The absence of such meta-cognitive competences represents a risk factor for cognitive development and it is not uncommon that they also represent an impact on academic learning processes” (Fischer 2008, 177).

Integral discovery areas and areas of experience in the “rope parkour”

Depending on the situation or task, the “Rope Parkour” permits multiple access possibilities or different interpretations for educationalists and children. In the centre of many exercise actions is the struggle with balance with respect to physical and psychological strengths. When the “Rope Parkour” is tackled the search for balance is priority everywhere and is identified through apparent contradictions: Purposeful kinetics and playful actions, tension and relaxation, risk and safety, egotism and social referencing, positive and negative feelings.

For the psycho-physical area, the feelings of sensation and the personal handling of borderline situations acquire a special meaning. Being exposed to motivating exercise problems within the “Rope Parkour” (hazard-risk-situations) - with which you can lose control of your position if you slip-up or if you select the wrong movement action – includes experiencing variable emotional stress conditions such as uncertainty-certainty, joy-anxiety. Children learn to assess their possibilities and limits and how best to avoid hazardous and risky situations.

The success in achieving difficult exercise movements appears motivating. The child looks for repetition and a new calculated risk. If the self-select risks, preferably not influenced from outside, are overcome, the child gains self-confidence and the ability to protect his or herself. The exaggerated safety needs of adults unnecessarily thwart the child’s spontaneous action and, thus, important development processes.

A special quality of the social-communicative area is in the movement contest with the “rope parkour”, especially with targeted partner or group tasks. Whoever enters the “rope parkour” with others, will develop social behaviour such as joint responsibility, cooperation and intuition. Cooperation can be practiced: with leading and following, with helping and securing, with the creation of exercises in groups. Comforting your partner “in an encouraging way”, to tackle the cruxes of a route together, mutually pointing out alternative exercises or having fun after the success of a joint venture with tackling the route - are all characteristics of it.

In addition, it can definitely also lead to discussions encompassing safety-related aspects as well as the exposure to hazards and risks. If there is success in creating a basis for understanding in the common exchange of experiences and opinions, problems of interaction and factual problems can be better assessed, and relational and expert actions can be developed and can assist with comprehension.
The “rope parkour” with its many motor and psycho-social challenges can also play its part in helping children and teenagers to cope with themselves and with the world around them.

Literature with the editor
Photos: D. Breithecker

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