Super beans is a program designed for children (5 – 8) with physical, mental or learning disabilities. At Super Beans, we set up a variety of physical challenges, weaving in critical thinking and problem solving, to help strengthen their bodies and develop the brain in a fun, inclusive environment.
The name Super Beans stems from the idea that Super Heroes have powers that are hidden in plain sight. Just like Super Heroes, the super powers of disabled children often go unseen in mainstream society. We created a space for the children to show us their super powers through physical play.
I have had children with disabilities amidst my mainstream classes throughout my 20 years of teaching Jumping Beans. There was an inherent bias towards these children regardless of whether their disability was visible or not. The need became apparent to me after a mum approached me about setting up a class for children with disabilities.
The mum is a teacher at a school for disabled children and has a child on the spectrum. She had been bringing in her autistic son to Jumping Beans since he was a baby, and stayed with us until he was 5. Her son was often asked to leave other programmes because he didn’t conform to their rules. This is a large barrier to participation for disabled children.
After COVID, her son started to physically regress, and she noticed there was a similar pattern in the students she taught. The regression was hindering their growth, development, self-esteem and confidence.
Another barrier identified was that a lot of other programs are teacher lead not child lead, meaning the child has little input into the direction of classes. For children with disabilities, this can limit their freedom of expression and creativity.
As well as this mum, we had letters from the Cerebral Palsy society and Autism NZ expressing their thoughts on the need for classes. They indicated that there are large numbers of disabled children in the Waikato who would benefit from physical based classes.
Super Beans classes have been implemented in the last 12 months. We reached out to a large number of organisations, and families, to fill our classes. Super Beans reached full capacity by Term 2 2023.
Over the last 12 months Super Beans has become an inclusive community setting for the parents and children. Super Beans encourages their children to be physically active, and allows the children to socialise in a safe space. The parents use Super Beans as a support network for issues their children may be individually facing with sleeping, eating, schooling etc.
The class runs on a term basis, with the elements of class reassessed at the end of each term. We consider the children’s actions when doing this, minimising the things they dislike, and enhancing or including more of the things they do like. A part of this reassessment is sourcing appropriate equipment for their evolving developmental needs.
Typically children with disabilities have higher costs associated with their upbringing due to medical expenses and the need for specialised classes. On top of this, a large portion of families have single income households, as one parent works and the other is a stay at home parent. Having funded classes allows families to attend our specialised class without the associated cost.
We highly encourage positive language in our classes for inclusivity. Instead of language like ‘Abby is shy’ we use language like ‘Abby is working on building her confidence.’ This is to help build the children’s self-esteem, and reduce putting labels on the children.
Super Beans classes offer different gradients of movement patterns and exercises to capture different children’s capabilities.
Super Beans aims to be accessible by removing the rigid, compulsory structure from my mainstream classes. The children can voluntarily participate in all aspects of class, they are welcome to pick and choose what activities they are most comfortable with. This flexibility allows them to go at their own pace and empowers them to make their own choices.
Super Beans has generated a lot of interest since it began. Our first class we ever ran had only a handful of children increasing gradually as the terms progressed. From Term 2 2023 onwards, we have been consistently sold out. Term 3 and Term 4 2023 sold out before the end of Term 2, and we have a long standing wait list. There has been endless support for Super Beans from the community.
We have gained a lot of trust with the children who have attended Super Beans from the beginning have started to show their familiarity with the format of classes. This takes away the fear of the unknown and enables the kids to be more relaxed in our class environment.
We have had a steady increase in the participation at mat time. We replaced our weekly mat time toy demonstration with science experiments (baking soda volcanoes, colour mixing etc). This has encouraged more of the children to come off the equipment and engage with mat time.
After running our first term of Super Beans, I was greeted by a 5 year old boy with Cerebral Palsy who was extremely shy. His narrative throughout the first few weeks was often "I'm scared" or "I can't do it" when presented with new challenges. By the 9th week of Super Beans, his mindset had changed to him approaching equipment and saying "I'm amazing" or "I can do this."
We have created a strong sense of community within Super Beans. We started with children and parents who were anxious of the unknown environment of classes. After multiple weeks, they gained familiarity with Super Beans. This encouraged them to want to enter the hall, and participate in class, bringing the parents and children together. We had a significant decrease in parents apologising for their children’s behaviour, realising our classes are an accepting space where their child can express themselves freely.
Everyone’s achieving their own little goals while working towards the larger goal of forming a community. The class as a whole has started their own coffee group to meet after class at a café nearby.
It has been a privilege to run Super Beans. The parents have shown me that the Super Bean community will live beyond the scope of my classes. While I’ve helped to bring them this far – I only hope to see them outgrow my classes and progress to their next physical challenge.
- Waikato District
- Commitment to Accessibility & Inclusion