By Guest Contributor Bill Yu, K-6 HPE Teacher, Toronto
It all started about 10 years ago when I was introduced to the Rocks and Rings program with my grade 6 students in Toronto. I loved how the program and presenters introduced the game of curling in a fun way inside our gym. I didn’t think much more of it at the time, but little did I know how much it would impact me and my students in the years to come!
A few years later I was hired at another school to teach Health and Physical Education. I did everything I could to get a fun and welcoming atmosphere in the gym and did my best to get equipment and sports from as many places as possible without breaking my budget. I fundraised and got donations wherever I could. A couple years into my time at the new school, I was informed the parents had a “complaint” about me at school council meetings: I wasn’t asking them for anything and not spending any money! They told me that they had fundraised for the library, music program, technology, nutrition, etc, but that I had not submitted any requests for equipment. They told me they wanted my wish list.
I thought about what I had in the gym, I thought about my experiences at my former school and I told them that I’d like to start a floor curling program to go with my winter sports unit. To my surprise and delight, they approved it and the FloorCurl kits were purchased. I wanted to use it annually as “legacy” equipment. I thought it would be a fun way to introduce students to a non-traditional team sport. I also loved the way it was so inclusive (more on that later). I had thought that it’d be a simple 2-3 week unit during the most brutally cold part of the winter and that would be sufficient, but it became so much more!
The units started simply enough, stretch, learn how to hold the stones, aim, throw (push). The students enjoyed the fun terminology (house, hogline, button, hammer, etc). Then I started to notice how much students who weren’t your prototypical “athletes” were excelling because while they weren’t the biggest, fastest, strongest, etc they were focused, calm, and had a great sense of the math and science behind the movement of their bodies and the stones. This became the great equalizer! I loved how inclusive it was and in guiding how they made teams (mixed grade, ability, gender, etc). They learned to work with each other, communicating and cooperating. Now this should be in ANY activity, in any sport, but floor curling had a different feel to it because it really did feel like anyone could do it. With the assistive Pusher Sticks, my students with mobility differences/limitations could take part in the fun of the sport with safety and success. I started as young as JK all the way to grade 6 and they really could, even with some modifications.
A couple weeks into the unit I realized that I could do something more and thought that it would be great to do in-class tournaments with the students. Full round robins were created and the students had a blast! I then took the top team from each class and they entered the intramural tournament versus the other top teams in grades 4-6. There were upsets, huge comebacks, and hundreds of students coming in to watch during lunchtime. It was a wonderful, joyfully raucous time and the students demonstrated my 4S hallmarks (safety, sportsmanship, sweat, and skill) with every match. I got medals made for the two teams in the finals, treats and high fives for everyone else and the students and I looked forward to it each year.
Then covid hit.
Masking, social distancing, sanitizing, etc. became the new normal. I scrambled to create a phys. ed. program that would keep the students active and engaged, but also tried to bring them some joy and fun in these uncertain and unprecedented times. You know what was a real blessing? Floor curling! Sure we couldn’t do a school-wide tournament, but classroom tournaments and activities were a go as the equipment was easy to clean, quick to dry, and I could separate the students safely throughout the gyms on our “sheets”.
This year I did the same thing, but then towards the end of the classroom units we got word that we were able to mix cohorts again if we did so in a safe manner. Upon looking over all the logistics the tournament came back with a March Madness tournament to rival anything the university basketball players could come up with down South! Play-in tournaments, wild card entries for the grade 6 classes (who’d missed the most due to the pandemic), gold, silver, and bronze medals, mini cruller donuts for my mini curlers, I went all out to make this a wonderful event for the students who’d had such a limited school life experience in the past 2 years. Add in the Winter Olympics or Scotties/Brier on the projector in the gym during matches and they also got inspired to see how the pros do it! Who knows, I may have inspired a few ice curlers along the way!
The big and tough kid harnessed his energy and was a great skip, the student who’d bounced from virtual and in-person learning made unbelievable shots, the quiet student who never spoke up was vocal about her opinion on take outs and taps, and I was just so thrilled to be able to offer this to my students once again.
I love sports, but I love seeing my students succeed no matter if they fit the traditional “athlete” mold or not. I’m not a pitchman, but if I believe in something I put everything I have into it and FloorCurl has become one of those things. The inclusivity, the ease of set-up and use, the cross-curricular connections you can make all make this a teacher’s dream. Sure there are teachings and learnings that have to take place for optimal success (my cracked floor after allowing them to swing down with stones for momentum was a lesson learned… watch the video series, folks!), but it’s been nothing short of incredible for my students and community.
Thank you FloorCurl!
Bill Yu, K-6 HPE Teacher, Toronto