Where the Magic Happens

Written by: Brandi Heather, adapted physical activity and play development specialist

I often remind my students that in adapted physical education (and life) nothing great happens until they start to understand themselves, what they love, what they fear, where they have been and where they want to go.

So many people ask about tools that will help them work in the physical education setting with children who have disabling conditions, and I have lots of ideas – thousands in fact. However, every one of these ideas came from trying and failing 4000 times in order to find what would work.  

My willingness to be wrong and learn from it is what makes me good at my job. Last week I found myself trying to adapt a locomotor station for a student who uses a wheelchair, and the safety bar got stuck every time they tried to go over my obstacle. The student insisted they could go around the obstacle in the course, but the magic doesn’t come from going around – the magic comes when we find a way to help everyone get “over.”

To make this happen, the whole class became designers, engineers and builders. We tried yoga mats, cardboard, pool noodles, momentum, etc., and in the end we created a bridge of cut pool noodles to make a mini ramp that the student using the chair could get over… and then the magic happened.

One of the other students went and grabbed a scooter board and said let’s make the station so we all go over!

Everyone was wildly engaged, using strength, locomotor skills, cooperation, inclusion, etc. If you see every “obstacle” as impossible, you will never find the magic in the opportunity.

I always love connecting with teachers and finding out how they are failing as well as finding the magic – because if you are willing to be wrong then you are going to be fine!

But in order to find the magic in all kids you will have to first understand what keeps you from seeing the magic.

So these are my first questions:

Do you worry about making mistakes? Do you worry that you will say something wrong? Do you worry about safety? Do you have little or no experience working with students living with impairments and worry about experience?

I have a secret that many people don’t share – it’s alright to have fear AND it’s alright to not know all the answers.

Let’s have honest conversations about the diverse needs of every student, about large class sizes and managing an ever-changing expectation that we “know all the answers.” The expectation that we will know all the adaptations, modifications and strategies is one of the biggest barriers to being creative and finding solutions.

Like building a house, let’s start with the foundation and get some solid conversations started about the challenges and opportunities that inclusive physical activity spaces can provide. Let’s build strong support in understanding, connection, knowledge and strategy sharing and get away from standardized ways of thinking.

Take a risk, ask a question, be curiously kind, ask the student what they need, connect with their support and ask what works best. Consider first the students strengths – physically, cognitively, socially and behaviourally and build your house on that – not diagnosis, not assumption.

Brandi Heather is an adapted physical activity and play development specialist based in Red Deer, Alberta. As both a builder and instructor, she has spent 19 years using accessible play as the foundation of her programming and teaching. Brandi has helped build a highly successful, two year adapted physical education diploma program at Red Deer College. The program’s foundation is built on teaching strength based physical literacy programming for people with disabilities. Her program is delivered in a community service learning model whereby students gain the knowledge, skills and experience of designing adapted physical activity programming that serve the community.


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