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School Recess is Needed Playtime

Last week I wrote about the need for children to play at home. But I’m still pondering the American Academy of Pediatrics report, ‘The Power of Play,’ because it also stresses the need for play at school. It encourages educators, pediatricians, and families to advocate for and protect unstructured playtime in preschools and schools. That’s a bandwagon I can jump on.

Elementary age school children watch the clock for recess time. When I taught 4th graders, some struggled to tell time on an analog clock, a round clock with hands that hung in every classroom. But all students knew exactly where the hour and minute hands pointed when it was time for recess and named that time as 1:40 or 20 minutes before 2. When I randomly asked how much longer until recess, students quickly counted forward, using the same skills that were so difficult during a math lesson to determine elapsed time.

Students ran to the playground. Ran. Just for fun and as if they hadn’t played on the swings and slide and merry-go-round and jungle gym the day before. And a pick-up ball game began quickly. Some children played four-square on the painted court on the blacktop. A few, especially girls, wandered off in small groups and walked and talked.

And students played in the dirt. Young children played house and pretended that large exposed tree roots created a home with rooms. Sticks became people and leaves were furniture. Those same roots were racetracks for Matchbox cars that boys brought from home.

Thinking back to the days I played on a school playground, my friends and I had an ongoing game of hopscotch. Using chalk from our classroom, we drew an eight-block court on the blacktop, pulled our best flat rocks out of our pockets, and continued the game from the day before. We also jumped rope. Does anyone else remember jump rope rhymes?   One began, “Cinderella, dressed in yellow,” and ended with all the girls counting aloud, screaming, the number of kisses Cinderella got from her fella.

During my teaching years, recess got a bad rap. The emphasis on standardized testing led some states to shorten or eliminate recess to allow more instruction time. An article defending recess in Time Magazine, October 2017, states, “There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores.” A 2016 study found that young boys who spent more time sitting and less time playing didn’t progress as quickly in reading and math. A 2009 study found that 8- and 9-year-old children who had at least one daily recess period of more than 15 minutes had better classroom behavior.

The Tennessee Board of Education recognizes the need for both teacher-led physical education classes and recess. Elementary students should have 130 minutes physical activity per week, including at least 15 minutes of daily recess. Putnam County teachers and administrators have assured me recess and physical education classes are part every student’s schedule.

Recess – time to exercise, to socialize, to break from work, to play. Children need it.

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Let the Children Play

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 1.04.17 PMWhen I read a recent news story stating that doctors should prescribe ‘Play’ for children, I did a double take. Surely, everyone knows children need to play. Surely.

A report, “The Power of Play,” was endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Michael Yogman, lead author of the report, stated that play often gets a bad rap as being a waste of time. He said, “Play is really brain building because it has all kinds of effects on brain structure and function. Executive function skills, learning to persist on a task, learning to solve problems, learning to be flexible about how they are learning things. It’s how we learn, not what we learn.”

As a retired elementary school teacher and grandmother of eight, I agree. Children need time to play. Free play. Inside and outside. Time to explore and pretend. Playtime alone, with friends, with siblings, with parents.

I think of when I was a kid and played in the barn loft and struggled to move the heavy hay bales to make a house and a maze. I didn’t know I was learning to plan and carry out a task.

When my childhood friend Elizabeth and I squished mud to make mud pies, we had fun and we learned. How much water was needed to hold the mud together? Where would the mud pies dry fastest? How long did it take them to dry?

I hope every child climbs trees. Obviously, it’s good physical exercise, but it requires decision making and problem solving.   Which limbs are strong enough to climb and which limb can be reached next?

I was probably eight years old when I sat in the top of my family’s cherry tree and thought I couldn’t get down. I was scared. I was allowed to climb any tree, as high as I wanted, as long as I could get myself back on the ground. My hands trembled. I eased down much more slowly that I’d climbed up. No one watched, unless they watched from inside the house. When I finally jumped to the ground, I felt a sense of accomplishment and success. I didn’t know I was building self-confidence.

Last week, I watched 4 year-old Jesse line up about twenty-five matchbox and other small cars and trucks in order. Big to little. Three red cars together. My Grand was learning classification and organization. When Fisher Price little people (two-inch toys) were stuck inside a small plastic playhouse, he turned the house upside down and shook it, but the people didn’t fall out. Then he looked through a small opening to see the stuck people and pushed them with one finger. After several minutes, he got the people out. I resisted offering help. This was Jesse’s problem.

“We’re recommending that doctors write a prescription for play, because it’s so important,” said Dr. Yogman. And he stated that the most powerful way children learn isn’t only in classrooms or libraries, but rather on playgrounds and in playrooms. I agree.

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Cousins Play Bingo

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 8.43.50 AM “Gran, can we play Bingo?” Dean, age 7, asked.

“Yes, that’s a great idea,” I said.

Dean and Elaine cheered. “And get prizes?” Elaine, also 7, asked. I nodded. My Grands high-fived and threw their fists in the air and shouted, “Yes!”

Dean and Elaine were born a month apart, but rarely play together since they live a three-hour airplane ride from each other. When Dean visited Husband and me for a few days (aka Pop and Gran Camp), I wanted these two first cousins to play, without parents and siblings.

“Gran, you get Bingo. Dean, let’s get the prizes.” Elaine took charge since she knows where the game and prize basket are kept. She and I play Bingo occasionally, but the only other time these cousins have played together was a family gathering when they were kindergarten students. Their parents, siblings, and grandparents played too. An adult called out the numbers and put marbles showing the called numbers in a rack. Elaine and Dean needed help then, but not now.

They carried the basket filled with fancy pencils and cheap trinkets and cheaper candy. “Look at this!” Elaine said as she held a piece of candy wrapped in Halloween paper. (Time to replenish the basket, I thought.)

Elaine chose a Bingo card. Dean shuffled through 100 cards and finally said, “The one on the bottom is always lucky.” Elaine reminded Dean to cover the FREE space with a small colored disk and that he had to cover five spaces in a row to Bingo.

“Get a card, Gran. You have to play, too,” said Elaine.

Dean turned the handle on the metal wire basket and counted four balls that fell into a trough. “I’ll call the numbers,” he said. Elaine frowned, then suggested, and Dean and I agreed, that we take turns calling four numbers.

Dean sat up straight, held a small yellow marble and announced, “B 5!” He placed the marble under B in the number 5 slot. “I don’t have 5,” said Dean and his shoulders slumped.

“I do! Look!” said Elaine as she covered the number.

“O 63!” Dean said.

“Oh, I have 62 and 64,” said Elaine.

“I have 62 and 65,” Dean groaned. “Gran, do you have it?” I shook my head. “Nobody has it! Why’d I even call it?”

The game continued. Every number was discussed. Who had it? Who didn’t? What numbers were on our cards close to it? Who had 54 when 45 was the called number? What numbers were needed to make Bingo?

Forty minutes later, Dean shouted, “Bingo!” and Elaine checked the called numbers on the tray. Dean had his eyes on his card and his hand clutching a package of Sour Tarts as said his numbers. “That’s a Bingo!” Elaine announced.

The hour-long game ended when each Grand had five Bingos and five prizes. Then Elaine and Dean ran upstairs to bowl on the Wii. They giggled and squealed and laughed.

I hope it’s true that cousins are childhood playmates that grow up to be forever friends.

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bicycle Built for Five

scan0005 (1)Why would anyone need a bicycle with five seats? And where do you get such a bike? How did such a bike end up at the top of the Spokes sculpture here in Cookeville?

Lissa Parks and I sat on the curb looking up at the bike. “Daddy built it so he and Mom and my three older sisters could ride together. I wasn’t born yet,” she said. As Lissa told me about her dad, Coolidge Holt, I was first intrigued because he was born and raised in Pickett County, my home county.

Coolidge was an only son born November 4, 1924, Election Day, and he had seven sisters. At 18 while a Pickett County High School student, he was drafted into the Army and served with the 88th Infantry. On July 13, 1944, Coolidge was wounded in Italy and spent the next eighteen months in hospitals in Italy and Kentucky recovering from injuries caused by shrapnel in his foot, knee, and shoulder.

Upon returning home, Coolidge enrolled in Tennessee Polytechnic Institute on the G. I. Bill and earned a B.S. and at the University of Tennessee he earned a Master’s degree, both degrees in Agriculture. He began his working career as a teacher at Manchester High School and continued to live in Manchester, Tennessee throughout his life.

In 1961, Coolidge worked for Arnold Engineering Development Complex, AEDC, as a recruiter and engineering aid, and he and his wife Donna had three daughters, ages 2 ½ to 5. He liked riding bikes and welded two bikes together to make a two-seater that he and Donna could ride together. But who would stay with their daughters while they rode?

Coolidge solved the problem by adding three more bike seats so the whole family could ride together. The bike first claimed notoriety in the AEDC newsletter where Coolidge’s family was pictured on the bike and a written description explained how it was made. That instigated the bike’s story going nationwide. In January 1962, Elmer Hinton included the story in his Down to Earth column in the Nashville Tennessean newspaper. Then it became an AP story and was included in magazine inserts in major newspapers across the nation.

Lissa shared a copy of a September 1962 Popular Science magazine that showed a picture of her family on the bike. So within months, this unique bike that the Coolidge’s family rode for fun became famous. And Lissa said that everyone who lived in Manchester until the late 1980s rode her dad’s bike.

Eventually, the bike landed in storage and because Lissa’s son bike raced professionally, Coolidge gave it to her and him. When they heard about the plans for a bike display, they thought it might be the bike’s perfect home. And it is.

Lissa said, “When I look at that bike, I think of Dad’s creativity, enthusiasm. His ingenuity, his love. And safety, he was so safety first.”

Take time to see Spokes on West Broad Street near the train depot. You’ll see people’s stories, not just bikes.

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Not a Typical Quiet Morning

My early morning routine was disrupted last week. Most mornings I awake early, drink a cup of coffee alone, and gather thoughts of inspiration. An hour that’s all mine. And I need it.

But Tuesday morning at 6:05 a.m. as I shuffled from my bedroom to the kitchen past the upstairs stairwell, I hear a soft voice say, “Hi, Gran.” Two Grands, who live an airplane ride away, held hands and stood halfway down the steps. Neil, age 5, wore his Super Hero pajamas and grinned from ear to ear. Three-year-old Ann sucked hard on her pacey (big girl pacifier) and rubbed her eyes. Their big brother and parents were still asleep.

“Good morning, Neil. Good morning, Ann. Come on down,” I whispered.

Neil let go of his sister’s hand and said, “Ann, be careful. Hold the rail.”

My Grands walked slowly. I held my arms wide and they nuzzled their heads on my shoulders. Those few moments froze in my mind, my heart. I hugged until my Grands wiggled from my arms. “Go potty and then we’ll sit on the front porch and drink juice,” I said. Both raced toward the bathroom and it amused me that being first is important.
“I’ll go first Ann. I’m bigger,” Neil said just before he closed bathroom door.

These two Grands didn’t know about my pass-through kitchen window that I wrote a column about a few weeks ago. “Come to the kitchen. I have something to show you,” I said. Two small plastic glasses, 1970s vintage Snoopy and Strawberry Shortcake, and my coffee cup were on a tray.

“Can we take juice outside?” Neil asked looking out the window at the table on the front porch.

I raised the window that didn’t have a screen. “How about we set the tray on the porch stool and not carry anything outside?” My Grands clapped their hands.

Ann started toward the front door. Neil grabbed her arm. “Wait. How about we climb out the window?” he asked and looked up at me with his eyes open wide. I nodded and Neil ducked his head under the window. “Watch me, Ann. You’re next.”

Sitting together on the front porch, Ann, Neil, and I talked about sounds. Trucks on a big highway. Birds chirping. We saw dog shapes and circles in white fluffy clouds. Neil told about the big ugly monster that was in his bad dream. Ann said she just slept.

Son joined us at the table. “Daddy, guess what? Me and Ann didn’t walk out here,” Neil said.

“We climbed!” Ann said. And, my Grands raced into the house, their daddy followed to raise the window, and Ann and Neil climbed out again.

So upon rising that day, I immediately kicked into second gear to pour juice and enjoy two young Grands. Later, I hit high gear and stirred pancake batter. I’d trade my normal quiet morning of solitude for a morning with Grands anytime. Any day.

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There’s More Summer Living

At the end of May, my 11-year-old Grand wrote ‘Summer Schedule’ in big letters on her family’s laundry room chalkboard. Louise had erased her family’s plan of sport practices, music lessons, and dance classes, and she wrote three short sentences.

Stay in bed to your heart’s content.

Swim to Mom’s content.

And read to your brain’s content.

Every time I’ve seen Louise’s schedule I’ve hummed two songs that I first heard as a child. Summertime and In the Good Old Summertime. We weren’t a singing family, but I learned a few lines from Summertime that I’d sing and Dad whistled.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’
So hush, little baby, don’t you cry.

It’s the first line that stuck in my head. This lullaby was written in 1935 for Porgy and Bess, a play about troubled people in Charleston who played hard, fell in love, and for whom life wasn’t easy. I didn’t know that story when I was young; I just liked that the livin’ was easy.

I remember only part of the beginning verse, about holding hands, from In the Good Old Summertime. We didn’t sing it as it was written in 1902 and recorded by many artists through the years, up to 1965 by Nat King Cole.

In the good old summertime
In the good old summertime
Strolling through a shady lane
With your baby mine
You hold her hand and she holds yours
And that’s a very good sign
That she’s your tootsey-wootsey

In the good, old summertime.

Mom and Dad sang, or actually chanted, a version that went something like, “I’ll hold your hand and you hold mine and that’s a very good sign. That we’re having fun in the good, ole summertime.” Or sometimes we’d dine in the good ole summertime. Or we wondered what time it was in the good old summertime.

So now that school bells are ringing what happens to Louise’s Summer Schedule? Stay in bed, swim, read. Even though the summer season includes August and most of September, when school begins, summer seems to end. Like many children, my Grand isn’t ready for a school schedule to squelch summer time. And I’m not either.

There’s still a lot of summer living. There are long days for walks in the woods, along a stream, and downtown to the ice cream store. There’s time for more backyard playing and cookouts. More fresh homegrown yellow squash to fry, more juicy red tomatoes to slice, more green beans to snap, more watermelon to slurp. More lake sunsets and boat rides. More front porch rocking.

Although Louise and her siblings are back in school, her Summer Schedule is still on the wall. Her mom said, “I just can’t give it up.”  Who wants to give up good old summertime when the living is easy? Not me. Nor my Grands. Nor their mother.

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Too Old for a Swim Day?

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 2.12.39 PMTowels. Sunscreen. Water bottles. Lunch. Dry clothes. Daughter’s van was loaded for a day at the pool. We had packed as if she and I were taking her five children across country, not an hour’s drive to a pool with slides, fountains, diving boards, and picnic tables.

Riding shotgun while Daughter drove, I thought of my grandmothers. Would they have worn bathing suits and set out on a day’s swimming adventure at my age?

“What’s so funny?” Daughter asked. I didn’t realize I’d chuckled.

“I’m imagining my grandmothers wearing bathing suits. I don’t think I ever saw their legs and they would never have spent a day at a public pool.”

“What about Grannie? Would she?” Daughter referred to my mother.

“Maybe. But she was younger than me when you were the age of your children.” Am I too old for our planned swim day, I wondered?

At the pool, we claimed two lounge chairs to park our belongings. Sunscreen was lathered on bodies, Daughter gave instructions, and my five Grands took off in different directions.

Lou and David, ages 11 and 13, headed to the deeper water beyond the rope that marked “where you can touch bottom and where you can’t.” Elaine and Ruth, ages 7 and 9, climbed steps to a tunnel slide. Four-year-old Jesse ran into shallow water and jumped, splashing water over his head.

Could Daughter and I keep up with them? She heard my unspoken thought. “Mom, they’re good swimmers and Jesse is wearing a life jacket. Lifeguards are all around. One of us will stay close to Jesse. I will now,” she said.

I walked into the water standing where I could see the other four Grands. They separated. Lou swam laps. David on the diving board. Elaine in line to go down the open curved slide. Ruth under a fountain. I glanced at the pool clock. Only 10:30. Then none of my Grands were where I’d last seen them.

Many kids and adults played close to me, closer than I wished. Suddenly, water splashed on my back and head. I turned and saw David. “Gotcha, Gran!” he said and swam away quickly when I splashed him.

Ruth swam to me. “Gran, did you see me go down the slide? Watch. I’m going again!”   Elaine swam close and turned flips for thirty minutes. I counted how many flips she did without stopping and watched as she flipped forward, backwards, sideways. Then my Grand asked, “Will you take me to the deep water?”

Lou swam underwater and brushed my legs, came up smiling, and said, “You never knew I was there.” I scanned the crowd to spot my Grands and was glad they occasionally came near. I marched in place and did straight arm circles, remembering moves from water aerobics classes.

Jesse waved and shouted, “Gran, come play with me.”

At the end of the day, my nerves were frazzled. My body tired. My thoughts happy. Thankful that grandmothers of my generation wear bathing suits and play.

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