The new Balance Blocks program and the Physical Education program support the development and growth of healthy minds and bodies for King Lower School students. Aligned with the Wellness and Academic Excellence pillars of the King School Strategic Plan 2020-2025, these initiatives teach our PreKindergarten-Grade 5 students skills and strategies that foster mindfulness, social and emotional growth, executive functioning, as well as physical strength and stability that undergird learning.
New Balance Blocks program teaches skills to achieve regulation and balance
In a new, dedicated block of time each week, Lower School students learn skills, techniques, and strategies aimed at fostering regulation and balance. Research has consistently demonstrated that when children are able to calm their minds and bodies, they are better equipped to focus, problem solve, think flexibly, tolerate stress, build resilience, reduce anxiety, demonstrate creativity, and increase compassion. This has a direct, positive impact on their social, emotional, and academic lives. Students are benefiting by engaging this year in programs including Generation Mindful, Mindful Kids, and the SMARTS executive function curriculum. Interventions are curated to meet the developmental and chronological age needs of our students.
Mindfulness is a practice that involves attending to the present moment, and cultivates awareness, curiosity, and self control. Dr. Erica Pomerantz, Lower School Psychologist, describes our curricular strategy as "integrating mindfulness with education about brain function, emotional intelligence, coping skills, and executive functions in order for students to gain the tools they need to support their emotional well being and academic success." Dr. Pomerantz works in classrooms and supports the faculty in weaving the social and emotional and academic competencies together through Responsive Classroom.
The foundational step to regulating one's emotions, is being able to recognize and label the experience. To support this endeavor, students in the younger grades learn through play-based interventions, reflective observation, and scaffolded support. Grades K-4 are working on growing their emotional vocabulary with the concrete support of structured programming. The students have built their own mood meters to increase their capacity to name, talk about, and scale their affective states. They work to develop strategies to manage big emotions in the school setting, to increase their availability for learning and social connection.
During their balance blocks, students in the older grades will begin to participate in an executive function instruction curriculum. Executive functions are the set of processes that have to do with managing oneself and one's capacities in order to achieve a goal. Examples of executive functions include time management, attention, impulse control, task initiation, planning, and metacognition. Students will learn strategies and skills to work towards independent mastery of these critical brain functions.
Physical Education fosters physical strength and stability that improve learning
The King Lower School Physical Education program further enables students to advance intellectual and social and emotional growth. The program prides itself on creating a safe and fun environment while helping students become better learners in the classroom. Children who build core strength through exercise and yoga poses are able to sit with proper posture allowing for more focused learning. Performing locomotor movements, such as crab walking and seal walking, help increase strength and stability in a child's wrists and hands. This reinforces the students' writing tool grip and helps improve penmanship.
Through the Physical Education program, students also build their sensory system through vestibular input. Alison Stoddart, Physical Education and Movement Faculty, explains, "Our students are constantly moving in different plains, speed, and directions through daily activity as they roll on scooters, flee and dodge, skip, jump, and perform yoga poses. All this movement constantly builds more and more neurological connections from our brains to our bodies." As President John F. Kennedy aptly noted in an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated, "Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity."
Mark McAndrews, Physical Education Coordinator, describes a key focus of the Physical Education program as "our work on the affective domain which helps students learn to be and love the best version of themselves." The affective domain involves our feelings, emotions, and attitudes. The children learn how to play individually, with partners, and in small and large groups. We work on sharing equipment and taking turns every day. We learn how to pass the ball to everyone, while at the same time understanding we need to work hard to get open in order to have the opportunity to receive the pass. We celebrate great examples in class of when hard work and positivity from one person has motivated an entire team. Now, more than ever, since we are all wearing masks, we discuss how crucial our body language is and how it is a major form of communication. Through these experiences, students become more cognizant of the story their bodies are telling their teachers and peers. Mr. McAndrews enthusiastically concludes, "Mrs. Stoddart and I have an amazing opportunity to lead and nurture students 3 to 4 days a week, which allows us to have a positive impact on each child's spirit, mind, and body. We do not take this opportunity for granted and hope the children enjoy P.E. class at King as much as we do!"
Lower School students shared their enthusiasm and appreciation for the Physical Education activities, saying:
"I like P.E. because it helps me get out my energy. The teachers are fun and the different games are interesting so you can really focus on playing and working hard." - Zeba Hart-Syed, Grade 5
"My favorite part of P.E. is getting active by doing exercises because it makes me feel energized and ready to take on my day." - Paxton Freeman, Grade 4
"I like when we play games against each other because it brings another level of competition, good sportsmanship, and fun." - Ella Mendez, Grade 4
"I love the warm-ups because it helps me get ready for the games we are about to play. P.E. makes my body able to be ready and focused for class." - Marko Cartiera, Grade 2