Reintroducing the Jump Rope: The First 6 Weeks

TAGS: jump roping, obstacle course, 12-week program, jump rope, special needs, Sheena Leedham, autism, children, jump

Sitting Indian-style next to my classmates on the dusty gym floor, I watched my grade gym teacher Mrs. Trotter present the jump rope. Her first lesson entailed laying the jump rope (the alternate-colored-plastic kind) on the floor in a straight line—she simply stepped over the line with each leg. Across a span of six weeks, each lesson linked with a previous one and on week six our entire class was finally permitted to hold a jump rope handle in each hand and jump high enough with both feet to clear the rope. To a class of twenty-five, her lessons were not fancy or exciting and clearly slashed everyone’s high intentions and expectations of jump roping that first day through week five. In her eyes, she was slowly building a foundation by teaching developmentally appropriate exercises that would allow an entire class to learn movements fundamental to jump rope. She was successful.

Mrs. Trotter had the entire year to meet the concepts, principles, and strategies of movement standards for our third grade class. The funny thing is, “How am I going to cover all this content in only a year?” probably crossed her mind.

In the decline of physical education time in the school year per student, how would her lesson plans look now? Would she be able to extend the concept of jumping rope over a six-week period of time? What repercussions exist for the child who didn’t get the concept in standard or modified form?

This article and the next, will shine light on students who are not given appropriate time or instruction to learn a gym concept. We’ll consider the child with autism who has a negative attitude towards jumping, a jump rope, and jumping rope because he couldn’t do it in gym class. Similar to my 12-week monkey bar program, I’ll outline a 12-week program insert to adjust a negative jump rope association into a positive one.

The progression is a template to illustrate how to maximize ability and overcome fear through appropriate exercise and personal connection. Teaching points you’ll find helpful throughout are:

  • Every week attention is given to the neural/motor tasks responsible for completing the desired task.
  • Creative exercises and/or activities mimic/replicate the desired task.
  • The trainer models expectations.
  • Physical and verbal assistance/cues are used as needed. Through its use (repeated or non-existent) body awareness, skill proficiency, and confidence increases.
  • The environment (onsite or offsite) changes when/if appropriate.
  • Play and schedule flexibility are leading components.

Note: This is a progression that worked for us. Feel free to shift weeks around and extend any week. You may find it helpful to revisit prior lessons before continuing — it’s all based on the child. Make minor tweaks to cues and presentation based on the needs of the child. As a reminder, these exercises and steps are intended to play as a program insert within a 30- to 60-minute training session.

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Week 1: Rope Step Overs 

How-To: Lay jump rope on the ground in a straight line. Step over jump rope one leg at a time. Once both feet cross over, turn around, face jump rope and repeat process. 

Benefit: This task is very easy to complete and the expectation is easily met. This lesson gives the child an opportunity to be reacquainted with the jump rope without touching or jumping it and experiences immediate success. You’ll notice we’re not even calling it a jump rope. Suddenly the negative association lessens.

Verbal/Physical Cue: Model to the child how to step over the jump rope appropriately. Demonstrate how an arm swing can become part of the process (opposite hand up of leg stepping over). Once both legs cross over jump rope, turn around and repeat process. Begin by staying close to the jump rope. When appropriate, have the child make longer strides, always clearing the jump rope with each step. Draw feet using chalk to reinforce foot placement. In the picture above we were stepping laterally from left to right. The shaded foot represents the lead foot.

Set x Rep: Demonstrate. Have the child try. Begin with small steps. See where more attention is needed. Gradually make steps larger and add in arm swing. Move laterally. Play follow-the-leader. Continue process as long as interest remains.



Week 2: Boa Constrictor Squeeze

How-To: Today the jump rope turns into a boa constrictor. It’s alive and we must be careful to stay clear of it’s strike. It’s unpredictable and volatile. Lay jump rope on the ground in a straight line. Holding onto one handle, demonstrate how the snake will move by moving the gripped handle side to side. Begin these movements slow and small. Have the child make the snake slither. Let a third person take hold of the handle so you can model the entire process, how to step over jump rope responsively as the jump rope moves side to side. Have the child try to step over as the jump rope moves side to side. Switch roles. If the child gets bit make the occurrence playful. In Chicago at Right Fit, Suzanne Gray liked to playfully squeeze the child through a hug if the child grazed the jump rope. You’ll know if this is appropriate for the child you’re working with or not. The kids loved this aspect of the game and its addition definitely engages everyone involved.

Benefit: This activity will be familiar because the previous lesson had most of the same elements. Imagination is key‑this time we’re responsive to the “snake” because it too has moving parts. Therefore we have to pay attention to its movement in space and coordinate our response to avoid contact. We now have a reason to pay close attention, step higher and add some intent to our movements because if the snake touches us it’ll bite and potentially squeeze. Yikes! We now understand the jump rope is versatile—it moves, has parts, and using our imagination it can become whatever we what it to. Taking turns being the slitherer also gives us an opportunity to hold onto the handle of the jump rope and familiarize us with this part of the rope: how it feels and how to grip it while in motion. The hug/squeeze post contact represents well how our movements have great consequences (for every action there is a reaction).

Verbal/Physical Cue: The same cues remain as the previous lesson. We’re still not labeling the jump rope as a jump rope. As the slitherer, model how to hold the handle and move it across the floor side-to-side. Begin with slow and small movements. If necessary, assist the child by gripping her hand as she squeezes the handle. This will reinforce grip pressure and the movement pattern. Using the third person as a slitherer, partner up with the child and together move over the jump rope. This can be a great way to model when and how to avoid the snake.

Set x Rep: Switch roles (from slitherer to stepper) and spend as much time as you need on each role. Focusing on one of these roles may be the lesson for the day and that’s okay!Play follow-the-leader if a third person is involved. Continue as long as interest remains.

Week 3: Rope Tug of War

How-To: Choose a jump rope that if pulled in opposite directions, won’t result in a handle flying off or the rope snapping in two. We use a weighted rubber jump rope where all parts are connected as one. Use a regular rope shown in the video if you don't have access to a weighted rubber jump rope. Like regular tug of war, each player grabs an end of the jump rope and pulls the rope in a backward direction with the goal of pulling the other player over the chalked line.

Benefit: Like the Boa Constrictor Squeeze, this game requires the use of a jump rope with no jumping involved. This gives the jump rope new meaning and no longer is it solely associated with jumping or using one specific implement. Again, we’re reinforcing how this one tool is versatile and has so many uses that we’re competent in performing.

Verbal/Physical Cue: Start off with two hands gripping onto the rope. Model how to keep an athletic position while gripping the rope and moving legs backwards with a slight knee bend. As the child is pulling, lightly touch the child’s back (lats, lower traps) and leg muscles (quads and hamstrings) to make the connection between movement and some of the targeted muscles involved. Reinforce squeezing onto the handle so we don’t lose grip of the jump rope.

Set x Rep: Play three rounds or as long as interest remains. If appropriate, try a game using the grip of one hand and then switch hands.

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Week 4: Water Jump-In

How-To: This is an activity that plays heavily on the imagination — a muscle that too needs to be exercised often. I begin this activity through conversation by saying, “It’s pretty hot. I have an idea to cool off!” I pretend that a blue pad is a small square of water that opens to another portal (yes, it’s kind of out there, but kids love it). So, in order to cool off and explore within the water portal, we must jump in with both feet. “Jumping in” requires us to use both feet to jump up onto the blue pad‑some of the same muscles recently used. Once I step off the blue pad I share everything about my exploration: what I saw, who was there, how I feel, what it felt like to jump in, etc.

Benefit: Again, this activity plays heavily upon the imagination. I first model how to jump onto the blue pad using both feet, then articulate my exploration and how I’m instantly cooled off. You’ll notice, up to this point we have not referred to the jump rope as a jump rope, we have not jumped using a jump rope, and this activity has us jumping without a jump rope. This may seem odd, but again, we’re building up confidence and creating positive associations. Along with jumping properly, I’m also modeling how to use my imagination — for some children, this does not come naturally, and for many, it has been suppressed.

Verbal/Physical Cue: Model appropriate jumping form. Have the child try. Practice a few times without the pad. Work with what they’re giving you. Note: be mindful of how many cues your providing the child. Don’t overload the child by trying to simultaneously fix posture and arm swing. If jumping with both feet is not doable (with the minimal cues you’re providing), step onto the pad one leg at a time — make some aspect of the activity doable and pleasurable. If jumping is appropriate, cue to keep knees slightly bent, have both heels make contact with the pad, and land softly (bending knees as they land).

Set x Rep: Take turns jumping in. Each time you jump in and get out, describe what you see. Describe how you feel: if you’re wet, cool, or still hot, etc. If progression from stepping to jumping is appropriate, go for it. Continue as long as interest remains.

Try this: After each exercise planned for the day, jump into the portal. This way, you’re extending interest over a period of time. This may hold as a nice transition between exercises too.

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Week 5: Obstacle Course

How-To: This obstacle course will be a combination of activities we’ve practiced in the previous weeks (rope step-overs and Water Jump-in) with a few new activities: hurdles and the ladder. In an open space, in a straight line, set up the following equipment to create an obstacle course:

Model how to move through the obstacle course. Move through the familiar exercises as practiced in the previous weeks. You may see variation in how the child approaches (this is good). Move through the new exercises in the most basic manner by choosing one way to move through it and then make adjustments as needed: change height of hurdles, change number of hurdles, add more space in between equipment, etc.

Benefit: I like obstacle courses because it’s a great way to incorporate previously learned movements with new exercises. This mixture of the two allows the new to be seen as friendly and fun. In our case, the new exercises are progressing the skills already learned by adding more physical boundaries. We’ve already practiced stepping over a jump rope, now we must lift our leg high enough to clear a hurdle. The ladder is differentiating our movement again, providing more possibilities to coordinate our movements in limited space and multiple directions.

Verbal/Physical Cue: Take your time. Just because this is an obstacle course does not mean this has to be done fast. Use the same cues for the familiar exercises if needed. You may need to help lift each leg of the child when attempting to cross the hurdles. You may need to use rubberized foot position pads to reinforce the use of the right and left leg when moving through the ladder (one foot in each square, two feet in each square, positioned laterally or vertically, etc.) 

Set x Rep: The child may find interest in one activity after completing the entire obstacle course and/or the child may want to go through the obstacle course 15 times in a row. Continue as long as interest remains.

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Week 6: Bug Ride and Step Over

How-To: Go to any craft store and you’re sure to find a fake, realistic-looking, mini-sized bug. Center the bug on the jump rope using some type of adhesive that will bind the bug onto the rope for the duration of the exercise. We call this exercise the “Bug Ride” because the whole point is to take the bug on a ride, starting at our heels and ending at the top of our foot. Model how to secure each handle in hands with arms by your side. Take note of how feet are shoulder width apart. This starting position is the only way the bug ride can begin! Model how to swing jump rope from the back of our heels to the top of our foot. In order for the bug to go on another ride, we must step over the rope with both feet. Repeat process.

Benefit: Up to this point, we are getting more and more comfortable with the jump rope and jumping as separate entities. We’re gradually blending both worlds beginning with this exercise. Rather than putting everything together, it’s still important we take small steps (literally) before attempting the whole jump rope sequence. Do note, it’s very possible that by this point the child is confident enough to actually jump the rope without prompting (connecting previous jump rope memories with their new set of skills and confidence). It’s also possible that you’ll realize how more time needs to be spent on the rotational aspect of the sequence without jumping. Breaking the sequence up in parts allows the child to experience success along the way and forces you too see where the child is instead of where they ought to be.

WATCH: The One Thing Blaine Wants

Verbal/Physical Cue: Emphasize the starting position and blame it on the bug. Consider how the child is moving the rope from back position to front position. Is it with the whole arm or are they mainly using their wrists? Take a look at what happens when the rope meets the top of their foot. Is the child at a loss for what comes next, is he or she trying to step over, did he or she attempt to jump? Break down this movement (shorten the ride, increase the ride) depending upon where the child is.

Set x Rep: The child may be able to complete the entire sequence (starting position, swing portion, and step over portion) with good form and lots of interest. If so, continue as long as interest remains. If the child is having a hardship in any of the segments, shift gears and give attention to where the child experiences success and start there to progress through the movement.

Weekly Assignment 

This one is solely for you. Each week, instead of placing conserved energy on whether or not the child will jump rope at the end of the 12-week period, exchange that exertion with some self-reflection using the following questions. Your answers will reinforce why what you’re doing is what the child needs and it will also illustrate how you’re actively making a positive change to squash negativity and spur growth:

  • What new skills did the child perform this week?
  • What new feelings were expressed?
  • What did she/he learn?
  • What did you learn?
  • How much fun did you guys have together?
  • What can you use from this week to transition into the next week?
  • What surprised you?
  • In what clever ways can you further dissect a skill into smaller parts before moving forward?

Six more weeks of this program coming soon!


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