Part 3 – How does Imara’s Way of Teaching Nurtures the Physical Being
This is part three of the five-part series – Why I chose Imara’s Holistic Education for my Child which illustrates one parent’s journey through understanding and embracing Imara’s holistic education (commonly referred as alternative education) system, and its impact on her child as well as the broader society. This part talks about the elements that are part of nurturing the physical being of children across different age groups.
Go back to: Part Two: Why Does the World Need Integral Education? | Introduction
Little ones bouncing with enthusiasm, chasing each other all day, circling their facilitators with wide smiles on their faces – it is such a welcoming sight when one walks into Imara! Every day, children and adults spend the first hour in the school on physical education (PE). The young ones spend this time naturally training in an open space. They do not have a traditional PE program – rather, it is a natural extension of their desire to explore the world through their physical selves. It is frequent seeing children hopping around one second while suddenly immersing themselves in exploring the joys of a sand pit. (Shh, they are not told that playing with sand builds their fine motor skills.)
An enthusiastic boy is racing at top speed and then suddenly brakes to intently watch a centipede cross by. Soon, his friends join in and we can hear squeals of joy. This act of exploring centipedes continues for several days, at least until their curiosity has been satiated to some extent. Then the love of discovery might shift to something else – like leaves falling off a tree. Gazing at their size and shape, exploring their texture, recognizing their colours and patterns, and appreciating their natural beauty – all of this happens with minimal intervention of an adult. The process of learning is triggered though it is not given a definitive form and shape.
Collecting sticks and stones, and all random objects is another of their favourite activities – which is followed by the joy of using them for pretend play. Children engage with their classmates and let their imagination take a full round trip. Doing this in the first hour of school itself makes them fall in love with Imara! On some days, the young ones go for long hikes. Starting with few metres and moving gradually to more distances – they build strength and stamina. Did I tell you that jumping around and climbing trees is all in a day’s work for Imara’s students?
When the little ones grow through a natural, non-induced physical training program, their natural development happens optimally. As the children move forward to latter age groups, this program is tailored to their individual needs – starting with simple games, walks, and jogs, it evolves into specific strength, stamina, flexibility, and balance building exercises. It is a common sight to see a seven-year old working with hoops and jumping between tyres – while still enjoying the process of climbing trees.
The facilitators at Imara identify specific physical skills to be built, and use various means to incorporate them not just during PE but also during other parts of the school day. Before a six-year old is introduced to writing, their motor skills are nurtured. They undertake various art activities as well as handiwork (like stitching), that prepares them for writing along with several other benefits.
The favourite part of the day for students is the ‘circle time’! It is when they sing songs and verses relevant to things happening around them. Various games are also played during this time to aid physical development and build language development abilities. The little ones can be seen playing catch with small bean bags. Once they master it, further complexities like juggling two bags, catching them at a particular word or sound, or counting along with juggling, are added. It trains their mind and body to work simultaneously, while they are still having a good time enjoying themselves.
Playing with blocks, balancing books while walking, building mazes with furniture are some other ways of building strength, flexibility, and balance related exercises. Each of these exercises is chosen to complement the stage of development that the children in the particular age group are going through.
The facilitators also take additional time and effort to encourage those who may not show a natural inclination towards physical activities. While most young children are naturally inclined towards play and games, there are few who need additional support on some particular aspects – e.g. a child who trips often may need more attention to their natural balancing skills. These needs are observed by the facilitators and are worked upon continuously.
For me, personally, it is a sheer joy to see children enjoying themselves right in the morning, while their bodies grow stronger naturally. It is such a stark departure from what I had experienced as a child – standing in queues in the morning assembly, doing series of motions while someone counted from one to eight and backwards. I used to dread that time as it never motivated me – and frankly, it wasn’t fun in any way. The fear of being punished for getting it wrong always took away whatever little benefit I would have otherwise derived from the activity.
In the latter age groups, the PE programme involves more specific exercises and games. Certain days are dedicated to volleyball while other days are for handball. A much-loved game is football which is included at least twice a week. Children are also introduced to yoga from the early age of eight. It is common to see children giggling while learning to pronounce the names of various asanas.
As children continue to grow, they also start understanding the importance of physical fitness and notice changes in their bodies while when they pursue physical fitness versus when they are not active. The older children also start diving deeper into yoga, meditation, and pranayam to understand their bodies better and explore the connection between mind, body, and emotions.
Introducing PE as a fun activity, incorporating it in different parts of the school day and consistently doing it first thing in the morning naturally makes it a part of a child’s healthy lifestyle for years to come. It is also important for children to recognize that a healthy mind is part of a healthy body. It is a well known fact that a consistent physical activity routine triggers parts of the brain that encourage learning. It is also known that the emotional state of a mind is significantly improved through physical exercises. There are many other well researched and known benefits beyond these.
Beyond physical exercise, fitness is also nurtured by establishing healthy sleep routines. Students at Imara are encouraged to have earlier bed times to enable them to have a full sleep cycle, indirectly helping them grasp most of what is taught at school. Facilitators observe if a child is not sleeping correctly, or if they lack focus, concentration, and speed during PE and other classes. Body posture is also paid attention to by the facilitators and children are encouraged to maintain right postures.
Last, but definitely not the leas – food is part of fitness, and children are served healthy lunch with different options every day. They are encouraged to taste everything and then decide what they would like to have for lunch. Healthy versus unhealthy food options are also discussed. I have mostly observed that children at Imara clearly understand the pitfalls of junk food and consume it in moderation.
In the senior classes, students start becoming more aware of their body, its strengths and limitations. They work will facilitators to improve their fitness levels and develop a deeper understanding of their physical being. To summarize – at Imara, nurturing the physical being is considered as important as nurturing the mental and emotional faculties. Their interconnectedness is well recognized and incorporated throughout the day.
So, jump, skip, hop, and run all you want, children! Imara is a place that will make you fall in love with fitness without you even realizing it.
Next: Part Four: Helping our Children Become Joyful Learners