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Canoes, curriculum & culture

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

Branches of gum trees create a picturesque frame to the smooth glass-like surface of the Pine River. Small hands flow loosely along the water’s surface, creating mesmerizing ripples as our canoe glides smoothly along the creek. The sound of a water dragon scurrying up the muddy bank can be heard over the absolute silence of the four paddlers who have embarked on a canoeing adventure.

In addition to the majestic scene above, picture two Occupational Therapists with their jaws on the ground (well on the bottom of the canoe to be precise). Why? Well let me tell you a bit about the other two passengers. Along with the OTs there were two children canoeing and these two children are well known to the team at Jump Up For Kids. These children bring an enormous amount of energy with them everywhere they go. They have been described using phrases such as, ‘rude’, ‘trouble finding friends’, ‘no stamina’, ‘poor coordination’, ‘unable to focus’, ‘explosive’, ‘a runner’ and the list goes on.

Yet here they were sitting safely, calmly and quietly gliding down the Pine River. We know these children wel

l at Jump Up For Kids and have worked together with them, their families and educators to help them understand and manage their bodies and emotions, in a range of different situations. We’d also like to think we’ve had some success in doing this, but we had never ever seen this level of regulation, focus and teamwork…ever! Hence the jaws on the bottom of the canoe.

After the initial feel-good buzz of our canoeing adventure we have spent time thinking and talking about why this activity was so successful and how we translate this success to other environments. How do we change the primary script in these boys' lives from rude, uncoordinated, explosive, socially awkward and loud to safe, calm, knowledgeable and quiet?

What have we come up with? It’s so simple…movement, play and outdoors.

Now if you know anything about Jump Up For Kids, you will know that we talk about movement, outdoors and play a lot! They are, in fact, the three theoretical pillars of our OT practice. What has made us really stop and think though, is the huge amount of playful movement in an outdoor environment these children needed to reach a truly calm, contented state of being. It was 75 minutes of carrying canoes, paddling, practicing standing in the canoe and splashing each other. That’s right, one hour and fifteen minutes!

Most therapy sessions at Jump Up For Kids are 45 minutes and they are typically outdoors & incorporate large loose parts play (wooden pallets, pvc pipes, tyres etc). So we often see some of the benefits of being outdoors and moving. But clearly our friends in the canoe need more, almost double this amount of time, before they are fully regulated and ready to engage in play, learning, meaningful discussions etc.

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