Adapting Activities for All Children: Considering Constraints Can Make Planning Simple and Effective

By Getchell, Nancy; Gagen, Linda | Palaestra, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Adapting Activities for All Children: Considering Constraints Can Make Planning Simple and Effective


Getchell, Nancy, Gagen, Linda, Palaestra


Too often in society, persons with disabilities are considered in terms of what they cannot do, and how they differ from people without disabilities (Silvers 2003). Disabilities are thought of as restraints. In many college-level physical education programs, this focus is reflected in the curricular distinction between physical education (generally the bulk of physical education courses) and adapted physical education (a much smaller, specialty area). This lays the groundwork for physical educators and others to focus their thinking on movement differences, and what physical activities students with disabilities cannot accomplish within an inclusive physical education setting. This teaching mindset may cause students with disabilities to become isolated and their differences accentuated within a movement-based setting, which could lead to negative feelings and attitudes about physical education.

It is important to see the notion of disabilities in a more inclusive conceptual environment, disabilities as constraints. Constraints, for many, bring an image of negative conditions. Within motor development, constraints describe the status quo, merely conditions existing at any time marker. There is no value judgment about whether those conditions are positive or negative. Avoid any past negative meaning you may have attributed to the word constraints; the concept referenced here was applied to physical education in the work of Karl Newell (1984, 1986). In brief, Newell described constraints as the characteristics of the individual, environment, or task that work together to encourage certain movements and make others more difficult or impossible. Difference between restraints and constraints is not simply a matter of semantics, but of philosophy. When one envisions a disability as a restraint or a limitation, focus is placed on negative aspects of performance (he cannot run; she cannot swim). Alternatively, when one envisions disabilities as constraints, disabilities are viewed as neither positive nor negative, but simply as conditions encouraging different kinds of movements by the performer. By learning about disabilities as constraints (but not restraints), physical education students can build a knowledge base that begins, by definition, with inclusion and focuses on abilities. By considering disabilities more positively as constraints, current physical educators can empower students with disabilities to explore what they can do. In addition, by identifying the most important constraints acting on students with or without disabilities, physical educators can construct a learning environment both challenging and rewarding to all children.

The Theory of Constraints as Applied to Movement

The theory of constraints comes from a theoretical perspective known as the Ecological perspective. In recent years, various researchers in different areas of motor behavior have found the Ecological perspective valuable in understanding human movement (e.g., Hamilton, 2000; Langendorfer & Roberton, 2002). At the same time, others have discovered useful principles that spring directly from the perspective (e.g., Chen, Rovegno, Todorovich, & Babiarz, 2003; Gagen, 2003). The theory of constraints offers many practical ideas that can be directly applied in a physical education setting to help teachers plan activities allowing all students to become more proficient movers (Gagen & Getchell, 2004).

Briefly, the theory of constraints suggests, in order to understand why movement patterns exist, one must consider not only characteristics of the mover (individual constraints), but also characteristics of the environment and task, as well (Gagen & Getchell, 2004; Newell, 2000). In short, everything matters. It's easy to focus on the characteristics of the performer, particularly when he or she is a person with a disability, and forget that many other factors may influence movement--the presence or absence of other people, gymnasium space, the surface of the floor or ground, the lighting conditions, and the equipment size, shape, and fit, to name a few.

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Adapting Activities for All Children: Considering Constraints Can Make Planning Simple and Effective
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