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Safety-Minded Station Design and Instruction
By Patti Komara

Safety should be your number one priority when designing stations. If you’re not sure, don’t do it. It’s always best to err on the side of caution. Also, be sure to avoid putting stations too close together. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and don’t modify equipment or use it for any other purpose then what it was built for.

Some other thoughts about safety:
  • Don’t use a rebounder in circuits or obstacle courses
  • Never put an octagon or barrel in the middle of an obstacle course
  • Watch the size of the octagon or barrel you’re using-adjust to the size of the students
  • Watch for safe landing surfaces – landings should be on 4” mats or 2” panel mats on an 8” skill cushion.
  • Make sure when students land from a station they will not propel themselves into an obstacle. Take a hard look around to avoid crashing into open doors, etc...
  • Even though you could have a high ratio using obstacle course teaching, don’t. Adhere to the most accepted teacher-student/ratio which are: parent-tot classes no more than 10:1, preschool classes should not be greater than 6:1, and school-age classes 8:1
  • If you make your foam pit part of your obstacle course, ensure a safe entry and exit from the pit
There are stations, circuits, and obstacle courses. Understanding the difference between them is important. A station is usually a single piece of equipment with one designated objective (one mat, incline, or bar, etc.). Stations are good for one-on-one teaching. If you have the students hop back in line using hoops after they’ve done a forward roll down an incline, that’s a circuit. Basically a circuit is two stations put together. They are created for “passive rest” while the teacher works one-on-one with the other students. Circuits are best for those times you want the students to repeat the skills by themselves while you help other children at a different station. If you put a number of circuits together and the students flow from one station and circuit to another, that’s an obstacle course. They work best for parties and camps, but they are not good for instruction.

Stations- Most stations can be used for any age preschool child. They may need their parent’s help in parent and tot classes. Some of the teaching stations will require you to spot the students while they learn the skills.

When you use stations for parent and tot classes, use less stations as the kids get older. When kids are 1-2-yrs-old have a station for each student on floor. For children 2-3-yrs-old, try to have stations for three-quarters of the students. For example, if you have 12 children in a class of 2-3-year-olds, have at least eight stations on the floor.

Some stations should only be used for hand-eye coordination, foot-eye coordination, motor skill development, or other movement development purposes. Not all stations are for gymnastics drills and skills. Gymnastics skills are cartwheels, forward rolls, handstands, etc. A movement that helps a student learn a skill is a drill.

In addition to preschool, many of these stations can also be used for school-age instructional classes. The tools you use to teach an 8-year-old are often the same ones you use to teach 4-year-olds. The difference is your tone of voice and your demeanor. When teaching the beginner school-age student, still put out the poly handprints/footprints and use the cones and ropes. But then when explaining the drill, don’t use the “baby voice” you might use in preschool classes. Instead, talk to them like adults, while using visual cues and these teaching stations.

Whatever station you make, when you finish it, ask yourself these questions, “What is it for? What does it lead up to? Why should the students do this?”

When creating stations… think about these aspects:
  • Lead-up and drills for a skill
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Foot-eye coordination
  • Crossing the midline of the body
  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Coordination
  • Timing
  • Sports-related
  • Fun
  • Visual perception
  • Motor skills
  • Counting
  • Alphabet learning
  • Agility
  • Holiday fun
  • Movement patterns
  • Color awareness
  • Rhythm
  • Climbing ability
  • Overcoming fear of heights
Circuits-Here are some reasons to do circuits:
  • Keeps the kids busy
  • Reviews the drill or skill they have just done with a teacher, but now they are repetitively doing it and their retention improves
  • There is usually an improvement in social skills as kids have to wait in line, share the area, and are not being directly supervised by the teacher at all times.
  • They improve their body management as they have to complete the drill on their own.
  • They’ve done the skill before, so it’s a review (repetition is the mother of skill)
  • It’s fun.
Note: Don’t limit circuits to the floor, use them in all areas of the gym and at every event. Try to do the same skill at many different stations.

Obstacle Courses- You can teach with circuits, stations, or obstacle courses, but just be sure you’re really teaching. It’s easy to just watch the kids have fun and move through the paces quickly, especially during an obstacle course. So if necessary, stop them and make sure they have good form and are performing the skills properly.

Two of the best skill obstacle courses you can make are for cartwheels and back handsprings. They are suitable for many different stations and need to be very repetitive. Many times an instructor will put music on during an obstacle course. That’s fine if it’s for a party or camp, but if it’s for a class, maintain a structured, instructional feel. Safety is an issue during obstacle courses, so be sure to give students the safety rules before they start. Here are some different ways to move through an obstacle course:
  • Up and down
  • Straight and back
  • Circle
  • Figure 8
  • Square
  • Triangle
  • Rectangle
  • Letters
  • Numbers
  • In wheelbarrow with a partner
  • On Hoppity Hops
  • Double obstacle course (two identical courses next to each other and two kids go at the same time)
  • Blizzard (one child leads another child who is blindfolded through the course
  • On scooters
  • Forwards…then backwards…then sideways
  • Instead of always facing the obstacle courses east/west, put them north/south
  • Incorporate all gym equipment into one course (bars, beam, floor, vault)
When using circuits or obstacle courses, use these basic tips: (before they start, always check all the equipment for safety)
  • You or a child demonstrate the entire course
  • After instructing them on how to do the course ask them to repeat what the directions were to aid the auditory learners
  • Position yourself so you can see everyone and spot at the station where the kids will need the most help
  • If the students are succeeding at the spotting station, walk around and offer encouragement and praise at other stations
  • Place one or two students at stations throughout the course and then say, “start”, so they don’t bottleneck and have a pile-up
  • Sometimes a beam in the course will slow down the “run-away gymnastics train” which can be a good thing
  • So they can really learn the skills, have them go through the course a minimum of three times
A few extra thoughts:
  • Occasionally start classes with a fast-moving obstacle course, this allows parents to see action right away. If you start with a slow warm-up where the kids are stretching, that looks boring. And, that might be the only part of the class the parents see.
  • Use the circuit training idea: put your stations in a big circle with a station for every child and have them stay there for one minute while music is playing. When the music stops, they move to the next station.
  • Next time do it counter-clockwise
  • Keep your set-ups two weeks in a row. Again, repetition is the mother of skill. Make sure you are teaching the skill, because practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.
  • Stop the kids occasionally and ask them what skills they are doing. Have them name them.
  • And, always, always review what you did in class before the kids walk out to the parents.

This is the intro to the “BRAND NEW” #199 – More Stations and Circuits Galore. Available exclusively at

Tumblebear Connection / 219-865-2274 /