We incorporated marching informally last year as a fun means of moving from one part of the church to another as we transitioned between lessons. This relocation took place after sol-fa instruction, and I thought it might be a good means of reinforcing the concept of rhythm in terms of “keeping a beat.” Marching in place is, after all, called “marking time.” This year we are including marching in a more formal manner (i.e., with specific directions, emphasizing position in relation to the person in front of the child in line, etc.). I believe that marching will foster
a rhythm sense as we continue to practice it in community, and it makes me see all the more the wisdom in scheduling physical and musical education in the same slot on the schedule in the PNEU schools.
To my surprise, marching has tremendous value with only one or two students and not merely in a larger group. In addition to a development of the sense of rhythm, marching develops the concept of spatial awareness, or the ability to be aware of your position in space related to your surroundings. Spatial awareness applies in situations when the child is performing movements in the same spot as well as when marching forward via maintaining the distance between objects (or persons) during this progression of movement.
When the children are instructed to mark time (march in place) more often than not a great deal of “drift” occurs, leading to a deviation from their starting position. This in turn changes the distance between them and the persons in front and behind them, which alters the entire formation of the larger group. Marking time demands a surprising amount of balance, body awareness and self-control. Teaching the children to maintain the same distance between the persons they fall between in line is an important element of marching instruction, and the success of this activity is dependent upon the instructor communicating this clearly and the students focusing on mastery in the static positions before expecting success in a moving formation. Creating physical reminders of each student’s “spot” with an X on the floor created from masking tape may prove an effective means of reinforcing this concept.
In addition to fostering spatial awareness, marching in concert with other children develops a sense of cooperation and working together towards a shared goal that can lead to a sense of collective accomplishment, which reinforces the importance of teamwork. If one person in the line decides to “goof off” or not pay attention, then the integrity of the entire formation suffers. Helping children see this within the context of physical education can have powerful carryover to scenarios that have much more at stake.
Marching also promotes a child’s best posture, which may increase overall awareness of their alignment and help them to focus on demonstrating good posture during the seated activities that follow physical education in the course of the school day.
In a 1904 article for the Parents’ Review, Timberg, a physical therapist trained in Swedish School Gymnastics, writes:
To walk well is a great art generally more appreciated in a woman than in a man, and certainly more noticed, particularly in its absence in girls than it is in boys. It seems to me though that it is a pity, if a boy be ever so clever in his studies or skillful at games, as is by no means excluded, that he should be allowed to go slouching about. Great stress should therefore be laid upon the practice of marching in the gymnasium and a variety of forms of marching should be employed, such as with long or short steps, with marking of certain steps, etc.
Timberg, mentions the concept of “slouching about,” a defect that is all the more prevalent in our sedentary age. Noticing this in my own young boys, I am always looking for means of reinforcing well-aligned posture without nagging them to “sit up straight.” The act of marching seems to naturally instill in children a sense of pride that makes them stand taller and straighter, and that makes me all the more eager to incorporate it in our home Drill time as well as with our community.
Why is upright and aligned posture so important? There are a multitude of reasons, but the one that may speak to parents is that of optimal heart and lung health. Timberg writes:
All these variations being used not only to improve the pupil’s manner of walking, but also with due regard to their different effect upon the functions of the heart and lungs.
The act of marching carries more impact for the heart because it is a form of aerobic exercise, and the upright posture of marching is critical for lung health. When we sit or stand with proper alignment, our lungs have maximal room for expansion in our rib cage. If we “slouch” excessively – and do so habitually – then our rib cage ultimately restricts the ability of our lungs to expand to their fullest capacity. Because the elasticity of our body tissues, including those from which the rib cage is comprised, decreases as we age, it is important to maintain mobility in this structure in our youth. This starts with good posture.
Yep – your grandma was right. On many levels, I’m sure!
Once the children in our community can mark time in concert with each other and progress to marching forward in a synchronized manner, we will begin exploring creating formations during our marching time, beginning with simple formations such as moving from single file to double file and ultimately progressing to more complicated patterns such as wheel formation and maze formation. I’ll let you know how that goes.
In the meantime – I encourage you to try marching with your own students. It’s worth your time!
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.