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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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Lessons from Children

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 7.50.13 AMLast Friday, I was reminded of a lesson while celebrating Read Across America. This day isn’t on my calendar as it was when I was an elementary classroom teacher, but thankfully friends at Capshaw School invited me to read aloud. Although I often read with my Grands, sharing a book with a classroom of students is a different experience.

The calming atmosphere of the school where I taught for twenty years settled over me. I felt as if I were returning home, as a teacher in charge. The smells, the colors – all the same. The greeting, the smiles – different people, but the same.

Mrs. Rand introduced me and gave her second grade students a chance to ask questions. “What’s your favorite color?” Yellow, just like this questioner wore from head to toe. “Do you know my step-mom? She went to Capshaw.” I know step-mom’s parents. “What’s your favorite book?” Had this child been prompted to give me a lead-in to the book I’d brought to read?

These seven and eight year old students sat at my feet on the floor; I sat in a chair exactly like my former teacher desk chair.  I had practiced holding and reading a big picture book so that I could read sideways and upside down. “The book is Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae,” I said and showed the cover picture of a bright yellow, orange-spotted giraffe turning a flip.

In the book, Gerald’s knees buckle when he tries to twirl at the Jungle Dance. The other animals cha-cha, waltz, rumba and laugh at Gerald. “Look at clumsy Gerald! Giraffes can’t dance, you silly fool,” they jeer. Sad and alone, Gerald creeps away. The song of a cricket and his encouraging words makes Gerald sway his body, shuffle his feet, and swish his tail. And then he throws his legs sideways and leaps into the air into a backward somersault. The other animals gather around and declared Gerald the best dancer ever.

As I read the last words of the book, the children leaned forward and a few clapped. “So what could be another title for this book?” I asked. The children’s answers told me they understood the story’s theme. Giraffes Can Dance! Giraffes Dance When They Hear Their Music. Gerald Had to Learn. Everybody was Wrong, Giraffes Dance.

And then one child said, “Everybody can do something. Giraffes don’t have to dance.” I wanted to hug him and I asked him to please say that again. “Everybody can do something,” he said.   I got my teacher fix: a reminder that children are teachers, too. We adults can listen to and watch children and learn from them.

Some people say, “I could never be a teacher.” If every minute of a teacher’s day was like the thirty minutes I spent with those young students, everybody could be a teacher and everybody would want to. But everybody doesn’t have to. Because everybody can do something. Different somethings.

What Children Believe

I read an article in Reader’s Digest about silly things people believed when they were kids and I knew my friends had such stories. Things they thought were true, but weren’t.

Mary Jo showed her three-year-old son a picture of her mother and explained that his grandmother was dead. Mary Jo asked if he knew what that meant. Her son responded, “Yes, it means the batteries ran down.”

Brenda believed the sun and the moon were the same because she never saw them in the sky together.

Amy was sure there really was a man in the moon. She was so afraid of him she wouldn’t look out a big living room window when the moon was full.

Elaine made sure her bedroom window blinds were down at night because she believed UFOs would get in her room if she didn’t.

Anita thought when it rained God was crying and storms meant that God was angry with folks who didn’t behave.

Jan believed that the only thing people did in Heaven was float on big clouds. She didn’t think that was interesting and couldn’t understand the hype she heard in Sunday school classes.

Dana believed a baby’s first clothes were made from threads the mother accidentally swallowed while sewing.   Babies were born wearing pretty rompers. She also thought all women were good seamstresses because those in her family were.

My son thought everyone’s mom had summers off work. “You, Aunt Brenda, Jan and Marilyn (neighbors) were off. I thought that’s just the way it was.” We were all public school teachers.

 

Seeing pictures of penguins in books and on television, Andrea thought penguins were huge, six feet tall. She was surprised when she saw a live one.

Julie was young when she found a cicada wing, a big see-through wing with black veins. She was sure it was a fairy wing and saved it, wrapped in cotton and inside a tiny box, for a long time.

Kae’s older sister, by 8 years, told her the police dropped her off for her family to take care of and if she ever told a lie, or even fibbed a little, the family was to call the police to come back and take her away. For several years, Kae believed her.

Sara’s dad, a doctor, delivered one of her male classmates on exactly the same day she was born. Sara’s older brother said the babies were switched so her family would have a girl. As elementary students, Sara and the boy had the same eye and hair color and the boy’s name was her father’s middle name. Sara believed.

Janna thought people in jail were in charge of changing the traffic lights.

Hearing a song on the radio, I thought the singer stood in the radio station building and sang into a microphone. My big brother laughed hard when I wondered how the singers travelled to different towns so fast.

These beliefs make me smile. Being naïve, the innocence of children.

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Freeze these Minutes

imagesWhen I give my Grand a block, he makes it a car, rolls it on the floor, and says, “Vrooooomm.” I watch Jess, two years old. He lays flat, stomach and head on the floor, and rolls the pretend car just inches from his nose.

After a few minutes, Jess throws the block onto the floor and gets two Hot Wheels cars from our toy shelf. Then back to prone position. Clutching a car in his right hand under his stomach, he rolls the other car with his left hand. Back and forth. “Vroom. Vroom. Vrooooomm,” he says.  I want to freeze these minutes when my Grand is totally engaged in a simple game.

Jess, the youngest of five, visits Husband and me and we relish that we can play with just him. And our Grand seems happy to play alone and have Pop and Gran all to himself.   When I say it’s time for a snack, he runs to the kitchen table, holding a Hot Wheels in each hand, climbs into a booster seat on a kitchen chair, and shouts, “Fruit!” His one-word sentences sometimes sound like demands. He swipes his hand across his chest, an attempt to move his hand in a circle, which signifies please in sign language.

Jess helps me peel a tangerine, remove the stringy white pith, and divide it into segments. His small fingers pick off every tiny white string before he plops a segment into his mouth. “More!” he says and swipes his chest.

Outside, Jess runs toward a rubber playground ball. He accidentally kicks it and it rolls away. He runs again. Picks up the ball and throws it and runs toward it. When I pick up the ball and suggest we roll it back and forth to each other, he grabs the ball and runs. “Mine!” he shouts. Yes, it’s all his and it’s his game until he’s tired and lays his head against my legs.

I give him a plastic spray bottle of water. He squirts the grass and then discovers water changes the color of our gray wooden fence. He giggles and then laughs out loud as water drips down the fence. Soon the bottle is empty and he runs back to me. “More. More. Now.”

Much too soon, it’s time to take Jess home. My fingers don’t manage the belt on his car seat well and my Grand sits patiently. He’s tired and I sing a silly song, “I’m fastening your seat belt, seat belt, seat belt.” Finally, he’s buckled in and Jess claps his hands, kicks his feet, and laughs.

When I tell him good-bye at his house, Jess responds, “Book. Read.” He grabs a book from his family’s children’s book basket and holds it toward me. Daughter, his mother, says, “It’s one of his favorites right now.” Jess and I settled on the couch and two of his older siblings sit close by. Jess makes the sounds to go with the pictures in the book. “Vroooooomm!”

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When Children Help

move_cartoon-florida-movingThere are have been some unexpected cherished times during this move to Husband’s and my new house. Although sorting, packing, hauling, unpacking, and ‘setting up’ house has almost done me a few times, I treasure some conversations with our children and Grands.

When Daughter-in-Law asked if we’d have room for all our furniture, I said, “We’ll probably sell a few things. Like the antique oak washstand. It’s not a family piece and it won’t go in our new kitchen.” Son muted the televised football game he was watching, and he tuned into our conversation. “Wait a minute,” he said. “What are you talking about? What’s a washstand?” I explained that it had always set in the kitchen by the bay window. “You mean the table where you put the little Christmas tree decorated with seashells?” Son asked. Yes, that’s a washstand.

He wrinkled his forward. “What do you mean it’s not a family piece?”

“It didn’t come down through your dad’s or my family,” I said. “We bought it a long time ago. Probably in the late 70s.”

Son leaned back in his reclining chair and tilted his head. “But it’s always been in your kitchen. It’s a family piece to me.” The washstand now has a place in a guest bedroom until Son wants to move it to his house.

Both Son and Daughter offered to help. Son said he’d fly across country to set up electronics and carry heavy boxes. We took a rain check on that. Daughter said, “Just tell me when to be there, Mom.” I thought she had enough to do homeschooling her children and her daily responsibilities as wife and mother. “I’ll come late afternoon or after supper,” she said. “And what about moving day? You’ll need your bed made and towels out and ready for a shower. I can do that.”

The tables have turned. Husband helped Son organize the garage in his new house last year. When Daughter was a college student, Husband and I helped her move into several dorm rooms and apartments and never left until the bed was made and the towels hung.

I recruited my 9 year-old Grand to help pack our playroom, a former bedroom filled with blocks, cars, dress-up clothes, Fisher-Price play sets, books, art supplies, and more. All saved from our children’s childhood and things I’ve bought because the Grands needed more toys. What to keep? What to cull? “Gran, keep the multi-colored, funny wig,” Lou said as she threw it in a packing box. “Get rid of this straw hat and these caps – nobody ever wears them. Keep these purses. The little girls (her younger sisters) like them.” Lou sorted quickly and she packed, placing things tightly, with no empty spaces. We finished an all-day task by lunchtime.

David, age 11, sat on the floor in the middle of our new garage. Papers with printed directions, metal shelves, screws, and bolts for Husband new workbench were scattered around my Grand. “Pop had some other things to do so I told him I’d do it,” David said. Two hours later he told me, “Some of pieces looked the same, but the directions were good, and I took my time.” Project completed.

One day only David and I were riding in my van and we’d talked about the official moving day. He asked, “Gran, are you happy about this move?” Yes, of course. “Aren’t you sad, too?” I nodded. “So are you more happy or more sad?”

I’m thankful for our children’s and Grands’ help. It’s made for a happy move.

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Special Delivery

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-15-56-pmAs Husband and I drove 1295 miles west, we wondered how much it would’ve cost to ship everything in our van. Son’s stuff that been stored at our house all his life and a few of his and Daughter-in-Law’s things. Now we were spending two and a half days travelling in a van packed to the hilt. Picture albums, quilts, treasures from grandparents, Daughter-in-Law’s great-grandmother’s desk, a Civil War rifle, a handmade cedar chest, and so much more.

For days, Husband and I gathered and wrapped and packed. We prayed for travelling mercies: good weather, safety, a sense of humor and all went as planned. We arrived at Son’s home in time to greet our five-year-old Grand as he stepped off the school bus. Dean’s eyes grew big when he saw his parents and us. He jumped down the bus steps, almost fell, and ran to my open arms. “Gran!” he shouted and threw his arms around my neck.

“What’s in your van?” Dean asked when saw it in the driveway. Things that belong to your daddy and mommy. “Any toys?”

The next day after breakfast, Husband opened the van’s doors and Son and Daughter-in-Law were surprised to see how much we’d brought. The best way I could help was to take the two younger Grands for a walk. Neil, age 3, rode his balance bike, and I pushed sixteen-month-old Annie in her stroller.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-16-38-pmWhen we returned, the van was empty and Son’s office was piled with treasures. Sitting on the floor, Dean plucked the strings on a guitar that lay across his legs. Son tightened the strings, showed Dean how to hold a guitar, and admitted he never learned to play when he got it as a young teenager.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-15-02-pmNeil grabbed a stuffed Benji, Son’s sleeping buddy when he was a toddler. Then he found two other Benjis and hugged all three. “These are mine!” Neil announced.

Chests that my dad had made were carried downstairs. The toy chest was filled with dress up clothes in the playroom; the cedar chest set at the end of a bed for guests. “It’s perfect here and I want to store quilts we aren’t using in it,” Daughter-in-Law said.

Dean discovered an orange and tan quilt that my grandmother had made and dragged it to his room. He yanked a quilt off his bed, threw it on his brother’s bed, and pulled the orange quilt onto his. “Here, Neil, you can have my old quilt,” he said.

Annie rocked in the toddler-size rocking chair that my dad made for Son almost 40 years ago. It fit her perfectly. Several times during the four days Husband and I visited, Son ‘went missing.’ He unpacked and unwrapped and reminisced, and he didn’t try to send anything back with us although I predict some things might be donated or tossed.

After we left Son’s house, he texted a picture of a 1940’s porcelain white chicken candy dish that was his grandmother’s. “Just found the little white chicken. It’s great! Some things old are new again.” I wiped sentimental tears.

When we got home, Husband found a box we forgot to take and two weeks later, I found a box in our storage closet labeled with Son’s name and “School stuff and more.” He’ll be surprised when UPS delivers a box on his doorstep. I hope he reads the autobiography he wrote when he was in the 8th grade and I wish I could be there when he opens that box.

Driving 1295 miles wasn’t just about delivering stuff. Hugs and kisses and playing can’t be measured in dollars.