Bright School course combines fun, exercise

Bright School course combines fun, exercise

September 25th, 2011 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Reyan Naik swings on a rope at Bright School's free running course.

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

With visions of James Bond running, jumping and climbing across the tops of buildings in the opening sequence of "Casino Royale," Dr. Jim Blair of Bright School recently created a gymnasium-wide parkour course for his physical education students.

Parkour, or free running, is a method of movement originally developed in France that focuses on moving around or through obstacles by vaulting, rolling, running, climbing and jumping with speed and efficiency.

"It's fun, exciting and new," said Jan Connell, a fellow physical education teacher at the North Chattanooga private school.

The course includes mini trampolines, balance beams, hoops, ropes, climbing walls and other hurdles for the prekindergarten through fifth-grade students. "They finish it red-faced and sweating, but they don't realize it's exercise. They don't want it to end," she said.

The students spent 30 minutes on the course for five days a week over two weeks as part of their regular physical education class.

Blair, who developed the course with Connell, said he watched videos of a California free-running academy to get an idea of what to do.

The first obstacle he created combined a balance beam and mini-trampoline, and he figured the course would slowly develop from there. However, he had it all put together, using equipment the school already had, by the next day.

On a recent afternoon, the gymnasium was a whirlwind of activity as 45 students crisscrossed each other to complete the course with Cee Lo Green's "Forget You" and other high-energy songs blaring in the background.

"It's kind of a free-for-all," said Connell.

She said the activity offers good exercise because it keeps the children running for 15 to 20 minutes and gets their heart rates up.

Blair said they were able to put together the course without purchasing anything new. Gymnastics equipment, for example, was repurposed, upturned archery targets were employed as obstacles and a storage room adjacent to the gym was turned into a transversing climbing wall.

"There's no right or wrong way to do it," he said of the students. "Creativeness is the key. Even the ones who are not the most athletic kids can do it" because they don't have to be disappointed at not being perfect.

Blair and Connell also stressed safety in the design, with nonslip grids under the landing mats as just one of many precautions.

Elevated heart rates, thrifty obstacles and nonslip mats weren't paramount on participants' minds when they were going through the free-running course, though.

"I like to do flips and jump over things," said fourth-grader Grace Richardson, 9, adding she appreciated the entire "obstacle course and how fun it is."

Fifth-grader Samuel Kleine, 10, meanwhile, appreciated the fact the course could make him bigger, stronger and taller.

"The fun thing is it's something different from what we're normally doing," he said.