- The Academic Benefits

Juggling provides a series of sequential problems that require the student to calm down, pay attention, listen analytically, observe critically, focus on one activity at a time, plan a learning strategy, go step by step, stay on task, screen out distractions, manage their muscles to act appropriately and with the desired results using successive approximations, persevere through a series of minor failures (drops), analyze final results of the process, and incorporate the newly learned activities into a larger pattern of complex learned activities that can be demonstrated and taught to others. It is a limitless, cumulative, branching model which teaches creative problem solving through direct experience and enhances creativity by offering intrinsic and extrinsic reinforcement with every gain in skill!

Students who understand the step by step learning system used in juggling do well in all their other subjects because they are not intimidated. They improve their attitude toward learning new subjects and acquiring new skills. They do not hesitate to accept challenges, just as they accepted the challenge of learning to juggle. This attitude of confidence and acceptance of risk-taking gives students who are involved in a juggling program a decided edge over those who are not.

When students can get up and perform successfully for adults or other students, self esteem soars. The key to enhanced self-esteem is the realization of one's self-worth, and nothing brings this home to kids better than praise and applause from peers and adults. One facet of the juggling break program is that every student gets to perform constantly for peers and parents. In this program the students are offered the opportunity to organize and present juggling performances which can enhance the stage presence of the students, the cohesiveness of the classroom and the spirit of the school. Improved self-concept leads to more effort in both motor and intellectual endeavors, creating a self-reinforcing system.

Research has shown that there is a direct relationship between the hand-eye coordination learned through juggling and the ability to read, write and reason. Academic connections are strongly indicated between juggling on the one hand and reading,, math, handwriting and other subject areas on the other. The most persuasive evidence for an academic connection so far comes from the work of Dr. Carole E. Smith, Physical Education Specialist Lackland City Elementary School, 101 Dumont, San Antonio, TX 78251 Dr. Smith's work shows that learning to juggle can improve both handwriting and reading skills. Her research merely reinforces the work of Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget, both of whom hypothesized that gross motor movements and tactile sensation increased cognitive learning. If every student learns to juggle in primary grades, and they are constantly reinforced to improve their juggling skills, academic performance should improve accordingly.

Research also shows that if students get up and move around energetically on a regular basis they return to academic tasks refreshed and will learn better as a result. Using juggling as the central theme, a program of classroom fitness and coordination breaks can be set up and run by the students themselves. Because each student works at their own pace, with their own equipment and in an environment which reinforces effort and accomplishment, the activity is completely safe and non-disruptive. Juggling is like a "sorbet" for the mind, a "right brain break in a left brain day." It is low-impact aerobics that rhythmically and energetically exercises the big muscles close to the head and heart, pumping blood to the brain.

A large percentage of kids come to school as "couch potatoes" and we don't want to create "desk potatoes" out of them. By creating a life-line between the classroom and the activity center (gym or playground) the teacher can see the student as a whole person, not simply as an academic entity. Skills can be learned that will be practiced eagerly every day at school and every evening and weekend at home and which can be carried on for a life time. This set of activities does not involve team sports or competitive games, but individual skill development and cooperative learning activities which are developed by students themselves in a self-paced manner.

If students can become involved in the teaching and evaluation process, they learn a great deal more than if they are simply taught a skill or subject by a teacher. The juggling program is designed to be initiated by a teacher but administered by students. It is not necessary that the teacher even know how to juggle, although that will happen in almost every case regardless of the teacher's previous experience with physical activity. This peer teaching program can include a goal setting and promotion system whereby students evaluate one another for advancement in a fun and casual way. There is no negative stigma attached to failure in these evaluation activities. Conversely, there is a great deal of positive reinforcement inherent in working together, persevering and eventually accomplishing the goal. Discipline and regular practice are natural outcomes of the process, just as they are when a group of friends challenges one another to learn to skateboard, toss a frisbee, play hacky-sack or shoot baskets. Learning to juggle uses a step by step self-regulated problem solving format with automatic reinforcement at every level of accomplishment. There are no losers in this process, only winners!!

Because you can only learn to juggle step by step, juggling is a great model for learning in general. Juggling skills are cumulative and students can see and appreciate their improvement and the improvement of others right from the first lesson. It is the sort of activity that reinforces the participant immediately for practice, and the payback is directly proportional to the amount and quality of practice. In this regard juggling practice is just like practicing reading, spelling or math, and the similarity of the cumulative step by step processes can be repeatedly pointed out to students.