Instructors and researchers from Montreal’s National Circus School descended upon Cranbrook this week as part of a research project they are conducting. They met with teachers from Laurie Middle School and kinesiologists and students from The College of the Rockies (COTR) to integrate circus arts into physical education programs.
“The actual curriculum for British Columbia, the P.E. has been changed to physical health education,” explained kinesiologist, exercise physiologist and COTR instructor Sandi Lavery. “So we’re incorporating a lot of aspects of social, mental health, wellness, awareness as well as nutrition.”
Lavery expressed concern that the children in modern society are too prominently using their cell phones and other technologies, participating less in sports and physical activities. She said that circus arts build up social aspects common in conventional sports, as well as resilience, motor skills, sports skills and body awareness.
The participants so far have completed eight out of 12 total weeks of online courses and are now spending a week with instructors from the National Circus School, as part of the school’s teacher training program, to learn the essential elements of various circus discipline families such as trapeze, aerials hoops, juggling to name a few.
With parental permission they will be assessing the students of Laurie School before it becomes a part of their physical education class throughout the full year, and then they will be reassessed in May.
Alisan Funk is a teacher trainer from the National Circus School and is involved with the research project. A self described “circademic” she recently completed her Master’s degree in circus education and will soon commence a PhD in education to continue her work.
“It’s just another way of doing class management,” said Funk. “It offers a lot of creativity and movement play and the goal of including circus arts in programming is to connect with the people that might not really work with competitive sports that well. Circus is noncompetitive.”
Funk said the intention of integrating circus arts into physical health education curriculums isn’t to supplant other competitive team sports, but to work in different forms of motion so that the students develop a broad diversity of movement skills.
Another component of the program, usually designated for populations with specific physical, emotional or mental special needs, is called social circus and is used to develop self-confidence. Funk gave the example of someone coming into a class with no prior juggling experience learning to juggle that day.
“Now maybe what you’ve learned is just to juggle but maybe what you learn is, ‘oh hey I didn’t know how to juggle and now I do, that means I can actually learn something. I’m actually competent enough. If I can learn that, maybe I can learn something else,’” Funk said. “Circus you learn to fail. Failure is part of success; you will not learn to juggle if you are not willing to pick up juggling balls off the ground.”
Sylvain Rainville, another teacher here from the National Circus School, explained that the online component of the program has been in place since 2014. Ordinarily, the students upon completing the online course over a 17-week period, have to go to complete a week of live sessions in Montreal. This trip to Cranbrook was special as it was the first time that they did the live session week in another city.
Rainville detailed the benefits of the “social circus” element of the program, which is good for people of any background but can be very helpful to those struggling with dire financial circumstances, alcohol or drug problems or mental health issues.
“The circus,” said Rainville, “became kind of a means of, okay let’s do some circus to help you to get better, to improve your life, to build your confidence to learn to communicate.”
The session wraps up this Friday, September 1, but on Thursday at 6:00 p.m. there will be an information session offered at Laurie Middle School for grade seven parents and anyone else that is curious about physical literacy and the mental health and wellness aspects of circus arts.