Pull Your Own Weight: Early learning and the physical advance organizer

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A column by Rick Osbourne

When learning something new, the most important consideration is what you already know. In other words, it’s that experiential frame of reference that you already have in hand that serves as the mental scaffolding around which new information can be organized, assimilated, incorporated, given context, meaning, and eventually understood.

In fact it’s these existing experiences that allow you to say “Oh, this new information is kind of like this or it’s different from that.” When the new information becomes familiar and situated comfortably around these already existing experiences, we understand it.

Learning theorist David Ausubel called these currently existing experiential reference points “Advance Organizers,” and he contends that they are the foundations upon which new learning is most efficiently built. Needless to say, the stronger the foundation, the better the odds of adding to it becomes. And this is why EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION is so incredibly important!

Pull ups: A concrete advance organizer

In this light let’s now talk about how the simple act of learning to do pull ups can serve as an excellent and very concrete advance organizer for new learning – including reading, writing, and arithmetic. Mechanically speaking, a height adjustable pull up bar in conjunction with a technique called leg assisted pull ups (jumping and pulling at the same time) allows most kids to develop the ability to do pull ups in a predictable amount of time.

The strategy is to drop the bar low enough to allow each participant to immediately find a successful starting point. Success in this case means that each participant should easily be able to do 8 to 12 repetitions (jumping and pulling) right from the get go. From this point the bar is raised ONE INCH EVERY OTHER WEEK which gradually decreases the child’s leg assistance. Eventually they run out of leg assistance and they’re able to do conventional pull ups.

Now, aside from the physical strength, confidence, and the natural immunization against obesity that’s gained from learning to do conventional pull ups, what other lessons are tucked in between the lines of this extremely hand-on, concrete experience?

Special lessons learned from learning to perform pull ups

  1. Tackling a difficult task like pull ups, in front of your friends, is kind of fun as long as you succeed week after week, month after month, all year long. In other words, every kid on Planet Earth wants to be strong at everything (strong is always cool), and weak at nothing (weak is always un-cool). So growing stronger in front of one’s friends/peers embeds confidence and capability into a child’s DNA.
  1. Working regularly (in this case twice a week) produces small but predictable increments of tangible progress/success week in and week out, so they experience regular returns on their investments of time and effort, which in turn results in high levels of motivation!
  1. Eating strong foods instead of weak foods plays a big role in producing regular progress.
  1. Getting enough rest at night plays a big role in producing regular progress.
  1. Avoiding other habits that make you weak/dependent (like using tobacco, alcohol, and drugs) plays a big role in producing regular progress.
  1. When small increments of progress are piled up week after week, month after month, they add up to a lot of progress by year’s end.
  1. You must take responsibility for doing these things (those mentioned above) YOURSELF because in the end, nobody else can do them for you.
  1. The Habit of Winning is a function of growing a little stronger this week than last, a little stronger this month than last, and a lot stronger this year than last, in all kinds of ways.
  1. With this definition of winning everybody in class can be a winner – not just the few.
  1. It takes some kids longer to cross the finish line than others. But the important thing is crossing the finish line, and fulfilling your potential, even if it takes longer than expected.
  1. Helping other kids get stronger makes you feel stronger too because it strengthens your relationships, which in the end makes you an infinitely stronger (more human) person.
  1. Excess body weight undermines functional performance of all kinds. In other words, there are all kinds of payoffs for being physically strong and relatively light.
  1. If you apply these same principals to other endeavors (including reading, writing, arithmetic) you’ll become predictably stronger in all of them as well.
  1. You’ll never find out what you’re really capable of without giving life 110%!!
  1. Nothing succeeds like relentless persistence…absolutely nothing!

With these kinds of concrete, functional lessons embedded into their experiential frames of reference at an early age, children have tangible advance organizers upon which to add new and fascinating pieces of knowledge/understanding. In other words, learning to do pull ups starting at a young age makes kids stronger, more confident, and more capable of learning new things. That’s one more reason to implement this strategy beginning in kindergarten if not before.

Rick Osbourne is former physical educator and a pioneer in the field of functional childhood obesity prevention. He currently serves as President of the Pull Your Own Weight Foundation which is an Illinois based, 501c3, not for profit organization whose focus is functional childhood obesity prevention. He’s written and published three books in this field, the latest of which is entitled Beating Childhood Obesity Now: A Simple Solution for Parents and Educators. He’s the Examiner’s national childhood obesity prevention correspondent. He writes an online column for The Edvocate. And you can connect with Rick via Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook

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