An integral part of a classical education is the idea of the trivium and how it guides teaching methods at each of the three stages of learning – grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Can physical education follow this model? As a dancer and dance instructor, I believe physical education does follow this model.
A student may start dancing as soon as they can walk, but true ballet training typically starts between six and eight years of age depending on how aware a child is of how her body moves. This begins the grammar stage of her ballet studies.
In my classes for 6-10 year olds (grammar age)
, the students are taught terminology. They memorize many steps and basic technical elements of dance. More new knowledge is thrown at them in those first few years than at any other time in dance training. Dancers must memorize the steps, their French names, and sometimes the English translation. The main focus in a performance piece will often be memorization of the steps. Some times the execution is correct, but often you get one or the other – execution or memory.
Somewhere between ages eight and twelve, students cross over into the logic stage of dance. One day you repeat “lift through your center and stretch your legs” for the millionth time, and they think about it. All the instructions you have given finally click. A light bulb goes on. They do all of those little things – engage their abs, press their shoulders down, spot – and they execute an amazing double pirouette.
Those really are the moments I teach for!
The logic stage continues as they go through good days when everything clicks and bad days when they forget what they did in the last class. They are learning to work with their growing bodies and gain control of themselves. They argue with you – “I did lift my elbows!” (This is when a smart phone comes in handy, one quick video and they understand – their body is not doing what their brain is telling it to do.)
Eventually, they reach the rhetoric stage. They now have control of their bodies; they have learned how dance steps connect to music. They can take a simple step and put so much emotion and energy into it that a simple walk is beautiful to watch. They execute the most difficult steps with ease.
They share their art. They perform. They teach. They choreograph. But they never stop growing and learning themselves. There is always room for improvement. They realize that practicing basics with six year olds can improve their dancing as much as the most advanced classes, just in a different way. They understand the long process they have come through.
As with anything – kids move through these stages at different paces. A child with natural ability will excel just as a child who is good at math will progress faster than other kids her age. Likewise, a very determined child will develop faster than the recreational student, but eventually, they all get there.
So many sports follow the same ideas. Each age has a different focus – learn the skills, develop strength and control of body (just as a student develops strength of mind in the logic stage of studies), and then use the strength, logic, and reasoning abilities to develop strategies on the court or field.
A PE class may not seem classical, but the pursuit of a single sport or physical art form will lead a child through the path of a classical education.
I do not think every child should pursue a sport as an elite athlete, preparing for college competition or professional status. I do, however, believe that all children will benefit from the study of one athletic form throughout childhood. That ability will carry forward into adulthood as an appreciation for the game or art as well as giving them a way to maintain physical activity that does not feel like work.
Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.