“May we build monkey bars in the Gan classroom?”

I presented this unusual request to Jen prior to the start of summer vacation. She listened earnestly as I explained that over the past few years, I have observed the positive impact that yoga, mindfulness, weight bearing exercises, and brain breaks can have on student focus and engagement. I described how the monkey bars would serve as an additional outlet for physical movement. Jen’s response was exactly what I hoped for; she enthusiastically replied yes, and led the charge to implement my seemingly outlandish request.

When possible, teachers aim to use real-life situations to teach their students. Learning how to use the monkey bars, in a classroom setting, fit perfectly into this goal of authentic learning. Prior to having the students try out the monkey bars, we created a Venn diagram to compare our Gan monkey bars with the monkey bars on the school playground. When the students understood how our classroom monkey bars would be used, we were ready to tackle the question of how to keep our bodies safe. It was ultimately determined that gymnastic mats would be the perfect solution to protect our bodies. We borrowed mats from our ECC neighbors and students worked cooperatively to measure the mats with unifix cubes, rulers, and measuring tapes. Students compared their answers and a message was crafted to send to Jen with the measurements and the mats we selected. Safety and application were now addressed and the final phase of testing out the monkey bars was ready to commence.

At the Gan grand opening, the children excitedly waited in line to take a turn on the classroom monkey bars. They cheered for and encouraged each other, as each Ganster pushed him or herself to physically move across the bars. “Come hang out” quickly became the phrase we used to work our muscles and to refocus our bodies. Our classroom monkey bars have come to symbolize a collective challenge, rather than an individual pursuit. Whether a child swings, stretches or advances across the rungs, there is always a classmate nearby, ready to dole out a high five or willing to lend a helpful hand to a fallen friend. To a classroom visitor, it may appear that the Gansters are simply monkeying around, but in reality, multiple life lessons are naturally and meaningfully embedded within their frolics.