Trampoline Activities for The Orthopedically Handicapped

Milton H. Pettit


Judging by today's headlines, education seems to be moving through an era of change and uncertainty. The future of education for both the "normal" and "atypical" child even more than formerly depends upon the qualities of the individual instructors with whom the child comes in contact. This article on trampolining offers individuals working with handicapped children a new perspective in developing innovative motor techniques.

Trampoline Program

This program was designed to give orthopedically handicapped children at Cypress Orthopedic School a unique movement experience. It was felt that trampoline activities should be included in a well-rounded curriculum of physical education for the handicapped.

Before a child can participate in the trampoline program, written consent from both his parents and his doctor is required. Following the return of a specially prepared form by the doctor, a similar form is sent to the parents for their approval. Individual programs of instruction are developed only after all parties have given their permission.

This innovative program was introduced initially to 23 children from three different classes of orthopedically handicapped children.

The physical education instructor studies each child's medical diagnosis, his present condition, and his performance in other physical education activities. On the basis of his evaluation, a specialized and individual program is designed for each child. This program is mimeographed and copies are given to school administrators and school therapists. The instructor maintains a notebook which contains all the individual programs. These schedules of activities are then amended as needed during the course of the program.

Students take part in trampoline activities two or three times per week for seven weeks—each child's turn lasting from five to eight minutes. Individual records of attendance and participation are kept so that any changes in each student's motor development can be noted.

Program Progression

A talk on safety is given and the proper ways of getting on and off the trampoline are stressed. Methods of spotting around the trampoline are shown. Basic fundamentals and progressions are demonstrated before any child is allowed to use the equipment. Approximately 95 per cent of the time the child is actually performing, the instructor is either on the trampoline with him or is standing beside the trampoline giving guidance through a method of hand spotting.

The program for each child is planned jointly by the physical therapy and physical education departments according to each individual's handicaps and skills. It is important to gear the program so that each child can attain some degree of success regardless of the severity of his disability.

One of the first activities used is that of having the child crawl around the edges of the trampoline so that he becomes acquainted with the medium. This orientation is followed by a sequence of log rolls, egg rolls, side rolls, and forward rolls. Bounces such as the seat bounce, knee bounce, and standing bounce are then introduced. Other trampoline skills such as the knee drop, seat drop, and half turns are taught as the required degree of skill is attained. A great deal of dual instruction, that is, the instructor and child performing stunts together, is given to assure that the child achieves some degree of success and builds his self-confidence. Children who are severely handicapped have to be assisted greatly in order to accomplish the various skills. On the other hand, some of the more capable individuals are able to achieve proficiency in performing combinations of stunts.

Since most of the students have severe physical limitations, the instructor must be very alert to protect them from injury. By standing on a chair and straddling the outside edge of the trampoline, he can give direct assistance and assurance to each performer. As the children learn to perform the activities safely, the instructor spots but does not directly assist. Many children, however, need complete assistance throughout the program.

Fig. 1 , Fig. 2 , Fig. 3 , Fig. 4

Every child who participated in the program successfully mastered many of the fundamentals of trampolining. Even children with severe handicaps were able to achieve a level of skill which was worthy of praise and encouragement.

Students became more at ease, confident, and relaxed as they jumped and executed trampoline stunts. Those who had a tendency to be introverted became more outgoing and success-oriented in the classroom after participating in our trampoline program.

Study of Body Image

We were interested in seeing whether or not this type of program, which involved tumbling as well as trampoline activities, would help to improve the child's body image. Therefore, the Goodenough-Harris Draw-a-Person test was given to the students three times during the school year. The pre-test (T1) was given during the first two weeks of October prior to any trampoline or tumbling activity. The first post-test (T2) was administered in January after the trampoline activities were discontinued. The final post-test (T3) was given in May following the last tumbling class. Upon completion of the program, the drawings were sent to the district psychologist for grading and analysis.

The changes which occurred between T1 and T2 are shown in Table I . These results indicated that 54.1 percent of the participating students showed from moderate to great improvement in body image.

The changes which occurred between T1 and T3 are shown in Table II .

The district psychologist was then asked to review the drawings and attempt to determine if a change in SELF-CONCEPT had occurred between T1 and T2, and T1 and T3. No attempt was made to determine if any changes had occurred between T2 and T3.

The psychologist's evaluation indicated that between T1 and T2 seven, or 30.4 per cent, of the patients showed improvement in self-concept, while 16, or 69.5 per cent, showed no improvement. Between T1 and T3 ten, or 43.5 per cent, showed improvement in self-concept and 13, or 56.6 per cent, showed no improvement.


As noted, more than half the students participating in this program showed an improvement in body image between T1 and T2, i.e., after participation in trampoline activities.

However, the test results at the conclusion of the program (T3) were less satisfactory than might have been expected. This may be due to the fact that the final test was given toward the end of the school year and some children may have been so anxious to finish the task as quickly as possible that they did not give it their full attention. It appeared that there was little carryover from the short period of trampoline work in the Fall (twice per week for seven weeks) into a test given in May.


It was apparent that all of the children who took part in the trampoline and tumbling programs enjoyed them. Further, there seemed to be some improvement in body image following the period of trampoline activities. Empirical observation by teachers and parents noted improved attitudes both at home and in the classroom.

Milton H. Pettit is associated with the Cypress Orthopedic School, Ontario, California