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Making PE a Workout for the Body and Mind

19 Jul 2011

Rulang Primary GEMS and SPLASH

Deftly dancing with a ribbon while doing a split.

'Healthy body, healthy mind', goes the old saying. At Rulang Primary School, this principle is taken to heart in more ways than one.

For starters, the school exposes pupils to a diverse set of skills in a programme called GEMS (Grow with Energetic Movements and Shine). Alongside this, SPLASH (Students Play and Shine Happily) combines Physical Education (PE) with activities that help to nurture creative minds, build self-confidence and develop interpersonal skills.

Wushu, rope-skipping, dancing and gymnastics all come into play in GEMS, where keeping fit includes a good dose of fun as the movements are often done in sync with catchy music. Meanwhile, a SPLASH session might involve pupils learning to bounce, throw, catch and handle a ball in different ways that draw upon their creativity as they try to invent new games and challenges involving the ball.

Rulang Primary GEMS and SPLASH

Demonstrating a segment of wushu choreography.

From playing to performing

Playing remains a priority, though, and this is evident in the way PE lessons often begin with the pupils having free rein over the tools they will later use, such as the skipping rope. "We need to give space for the children to explore," explained Vice-Principal, Mr Chan Cheong Cheong. "It may look chaotic at first, but there is accountability as the children will come back and tell the teacher what they had achieved." With a grin, Joel Lim, a Primary 1 pupil, put it simply: "I love PE lessons very much - I love to play!"

After playing and exploring on their own, the pupils go on to learn various physical movements. At a later stage, the pupils will rehearse their array of moves to present a choreographed display at major school events. Depending on their aptitude, individual pupils may assume the role of a wushu exponent, graceful dancer, versatile rope skipper, flexible gymnast or fit athlete. Pupils who have difficulty mastering the moves are encouraged to keep trying and are given close guidance by their teachers. Joel, for instance, was initially hesitant about performing forward rolls and cartwheels but is now a competent gymnast after much practice.

Rulang Primary GEMS and SPLASH

Getting a little help with the skipping rope.

The wide range of physical activities in GEMS offers each child a chance to discover his or her strengths. Clare Yeow, a Pri 2 pupil, found her personal forte in rope-skipping. "I like to learn many skipping styles," she modestly declared before delivering a series of jaw-dropping manoeuvres. Her classmate Ainsley Chan has a different niche. Getting down to the floor with a perfect leg split, she revels in gymnastic exercises and happily pushes her physical limits in single-legged balances and twirling a ribbon in rhythm to lively dance moves.

With each PE session, the pupils grow in confidence and ability until they are ready to display their talents before the entire school. By then, they would have internalised not only new physical skills but also the importance of cooperation, motivation and resilience. Explaining why the performances form an integral component of GEMS, Mr Chan stated, "They learn to shine together as a class or as an individual. Besides learning how to perform well, they are also learning presentation skills such as making eye-contact and interaction with the audience."

Rulang Primary GEMS and SPLASH

Polishing their skills with the skipping rope in a mini-obstacles course.

Take Ong Kit Wei, a Pri 2 pupil who has come a long way since his debut on stage. "I was very scared and didn't want to do it," he recounted. However, he persevered and now gamely demonstrates cartwheels and wushu moves without batting an eyelid.

The pupils' minds also get a workout as they figure out how to coordinate their respective moves into a cohesive whole. "The performances are like mini-projects," explained PE teacher, Ms Audrey Koh. Each class must work as a team to decide what they will present, and with a little help from the teacher, draw up a storyline that flows with their choreography. The lion's share of the effort goes to the pupils, though, and they rightly take pride and ownership over their performances.

Games with valuable lessons

In SPLASH, the pupils engage in games of their own design. One Pri 2 class, for example, created a game in which players have to manipulate a ball amid obstacles such as a row of cones with concurrent challenges such as having to balance bean bags on their heads. Ms Koh observed that the experience of creating their own games gives the pupils a boost in self-confidence as well as shows first-hand the value of fair play and sportsmanship. "The students also develop the tenacity to try and try again at something that they might initially have difficulties with," she added.

Rulang Primary GEMS and SPLASH

A fun workout for the body and exercise for the mind.

By giving the children the chance to decide what they would like to present and play, GEMS and SPLASH have also encouraged the pupils to regard their teachers as partners and not simply as taskmasters. "The teachers are able to interact with the students and guide them, instead of being preoccupied with giving instructions," explained PE teacher, Ms Rina Tan. "As a result, the students see the teachers as role models and develop better relationships and rapport with them."

Summing up the goals of GEMS and SPLASH, Mr Chan said, "It's not enough to just focus on physical skills. We also need to look into developing soft skills." But for the moment, the pupils are hard at work as they take on a fresh challenge: to beat the school's old record of 193,831 rope-skips done backwards and chart a new high in the Singapore Guinness Book of Records!