Q&A with an educator: a physical education teacher strives to connect with students through outdoor activities
Amy Girard is introducing her students to new physical skills this year, while adapting her physical education classes to COVID times.
Girard has been teaching physical education to grades K-4 at Henniker Community School for the past seven years. Since COVID-19 has limited the use of indoor spaces, Girard has held outdoor classes as much as possible this year and has offered creative activities like outdoor snowshoe and sleigh races, and cardio percussion in classrooms in bad weather.
“Maybe I had planned to be outside, but all of a sudden it’s raining and we have to be inside, so now I need to have something different,” Girard said. . “This year has shown me that I am really, really good at being flexible.”
Girard attended New England College in Henniker, where she earned a BA in Kinesiology and returned for a Masters in Education, and loved the community so much that she decided to stay. Girard, who lives in Henniker, is also a part-time assistant coach for the New England College women’s basketball team.
Girard sat down with the Concorde Monitor recently to discuss teaching physical education during COVID-19. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Q: What has changed in the way you teach physical education this year?
A: So we try to be outside as much as possible. I go to their classes to teach when it’s raining or it’s too cold to go out. Middle school kids use the gymnasium as an indoor space when they need it because bringing middle school kids into their classroom to do physical education classes was more of a challenge for them than it would be for me with college kids. It’s just very important that we make sure the kids have all the proper clothes to be outside. It was about 7 or 8 degrees there this morning, but all of my students were bundled up and we stayed there for about half an hour. It was a good opportunity for them to get some of that energy out and have some fun.
What different activities did you do this year?
I brought pool noodles to use for drumming. We were doing cardio drums and I had different routines on different songs. We did it right before Halloween, so it was Halloween songs and music that we drummed on. And it was not just the drum, their bodies were moving, and different physical activities were also involved in the drum.
We were fortunate this year that Henniker qualified for a grant from the Department of Education, and we were able to provide snowshoes through that fund this year. We have a large lot behind the school and there is a small path. We were able to play tag games with snowshoes and I was able to take them for short walks on the trails. One thing I did with the fourth graders was snowshoe sled racing. I tied ropes to regular plastic sleds and I had a student sitting in the sled and a student was wearing snowshoes and running and pulling them and we had races back and forth. Snowshoeing was definitely something new to a lot of the students and they really enjoyed it.
And we are also able, because we have a hill right there on our playground, to just go sledding. Tobogganing has always been part of the recreation for our students, but since they are in cohorts this year and have certain places for the students and they spin every day, sledding was really not an option due to of the way things are done. So I said I would take the sled for physical education class.
Do children like to be outside?
They really miss the gym. But the kids were really great, they are very understanding and really willing to do whatever it takes to get them to school. So they know they have to be outside. We should always remind them “make sure you are ready, it’s going to be cold”, or “it’s going to rain” or “you need boots”. They miss the gym but they have done a really good job being able to be flexible where we are.
What made you interested in teaching PE?
Teaching physical education has always been what I wanted to do, probably since high school. I have always been in sports, I have always been competitive and athletic. I have played football, basketball, softball from the age of 5 through college. When I entered high school, I think we had six physical education teachers in high school. It made it really easy to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, just so I could see what they had to do all day. By the time I became a senior, at the school I attended, it was not necessary for seniors to take physical education classes and I was extremely disappointed because that was what I wanted to take. So I was able to help with a first year course so I was able to help teach here and there when I was in my senior year which kind of helped me decide that was what I wanted. to do.
Do you have favorite moments in teaching?
The “aha” moments are always the best, when a student finally gets something. And it can be something as simple as skipping a rope or catching a ball or throwing something at a target and they hit the target and they’re so excited that they got to get something done. Maybe it’s something they’ve always known how to do, and maybe it’s something they just learned to do. But that “aha” moment where a student is learning to do something or getting better at something and they’re so excited, that’s the best part.