Challenge Your Students with Parkour

Looking for a challenging content domain to motivate children to learn a broad range of motor skills? Consider parkour! The goal of parkour is to overcome various obstacles in an efficient and creative way by jumping, swinging, climbing, and running. Research has shown that children love parkour! This was demonstrated by the fact that a majority of children voluntary participated in parkour during recess when they learned it in physical education1.

Parkour can contribute to meeting the SHAPE America’s National Standards and Grade-level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education in elementary schools. There are five different movement families within parkour: (1) landings, (2) spins, (3) vaults, (4) wall movements and (5) swings. Typically, we start with introducing landings and strides. Landing is important from a safety and ergonomic point of view. Strides are important since they can be used to connect different obstacles and they promote eye-feet coordination.

Types of Movement Families:

1. Landings:

A precision is a landing on two feet and is often used after a parkour move to safely land on a (narrow) surface. At first it can be introduced on the floor as a jump with a takeoff on both feet, a forward arm swing, followed by the landing on two feet.

A stride is a running jump where you make short contact with one foot and immediately push off to continue your routine. Stride steps can be first performed on the floor (i.e., from one poly spot to another, hoop to hoop, mat to mat).

With a parkour roll you can soften the impact of a landing by rolling over one shoulder.

2. Spins:

Within the movement family of the spins, a rotation is made around the vertical axis. With the butt spin a rotation can be made on wide (i.e., plinth) and narrow (i.e., rail) surfaces using the legs for momentum. The palm spin uses the palm of the hand as a contact point in order to perform a rotation on several horizontal surfaces, while the wall spin is a similar movement against inclined (i.e., springboard) or vertical (i.e., wall) surfaces.

3. Vaults:

Vaults are jumps over middle and high obstacles. A basic vault that can be introduced in lower elementary grades is the speedstep, which can be refined and extended.

A reverse can be learned by starting with a simple side vault in which both hands and feet are placed on top of the obstacle. When children can perform this smoothly, a rotation over the shoulder can be added while crossing the obstacle until eventually only the hands make short contact with the obstacle.

A barrel roll can be performed on a rounded (i.e., mat) or flat (i.e., plinth) surface, with or without helper. In this movement, children overcome obstacles using a back roll.

4. Wall Movements:

These movements are executed against a wall (or inclined springboard). While performing the tic or tictac you will place your foot/feet against the wall.

Running up against a wall is introduced by running up an inclined bench during the wall run.

One wall movement focuses on jumping towards a (climbing) wall and land in hang, this is called a catleap.

5. Swings:

These are swinging motions on a horizontal bar. This allows distance to be covered in order to land in balance. First underbars are introduced, this will allow you to cross an obstacle by means of a swinging movement. Children can swing on a horizontal bar, while maintaining a bent and small position, since there is a bar or rope below.

On a high horizontal bar, a swing will be facilitated by an angle in the hip.

Good Parkour Practices:

As you are introducing parkour during your lessons put an emphasis on safety, start with balancing, landing and strides. These are fundamental and offer children the necessary skills to progress and enjoy parkour in safe and structured environment. Work in stations where children can follow a small circuit in which several techniques are combined. In the beginning this can be a balancing task on a bench, balance beam, and some small and stable low object to perform landings or strides. Next, a basic parkour move can be introduced in each station. Also offer children the opportunity to connect the different stations near the end of the lesson, enabling them to connect the different moves while choosing their own track (encourage creativity!).

Providing your children with ample opportunities and sufficient obstacles is challenging. However, you do what a physical education teacher does best: thinking outside the box. Be creative and take every opportunity to create challenging and fun obstacles with the equipment you have: a pile of mats, a springboard, bean bags to stand on or to put on your head to foster body balance. Also, check your outdoor environment (check it carefully for safety!). Equipment of different heights can be used to accommodate children’s varying skill levels. With the right set up, children can engage in different parkour moves and are able to generate a lot of moderate to vigorous physical activity. The introduction of basic and simple parkour moves to start with, allows children to be successful while having fun. Teachers in turn benefit from the introduction of these parkour moves, as the short instructions enable them to provide children with feedback and reinforcement. It also allows for the introduction of small incremental steps in which basic parkour moves are made more difficult.

1 Coolkens, R., Ward, P., Seghers, J., & Iserbyt, P. (2018). Effects of generalization of engagement in parkour from physical education to recess on physical activity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport89(4), 429-439.

2 Cheng, S., Coolkens, R., Ward, P., & Iserbyt, P. (2021). Generalization from physical education to recess during an elementary sport education season. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education41(3), 492-501.

3 Vanluyten, K., Cheng, S., Roure, C., Seghers, J., Ward, P., & Iserbyt, P. (2023). Participation and physical activity in organized recess tied to physical education in elementary schools: An interventional study. Preventive Medicine Reports35, 102355.

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