To encourage outside playground participation for all students at Mark Twain Elementary School’s Super Kids Day in May 2012, James Thatcher, the physical education teacher and basketball coach, devised a method we could all adapt at home or at any outdoor event. [Mr. Thatcher, aka Coach Thatcher, is highly respected and liked by students, faculty, and staff.]
Released by grade so that each group had easy access to the games, Mr. Thatcher gave each one a simple handmade lanyard with a list of all the activities available. [This design worked well except for really active little guys whose paper list could not survive long; some kept these coveted signs of completion in their pockets while others simply lost them.] At the end of each period, students were supposed to return their records of accomplishments to their teachers for congratulations.
Students had three chances at each activity; activity supervisors such as the Devon mentors or other volunteers, checked each activity, coached vociferously, cheered success, or offered encouragement.
Some adults added a smiley face or exclamations for baskets made. Lists also had “snacks” and “drinks” written in at the bottom. Knowing they had only three tries at the games, most students politely waited in line. A few came back and asked permission to try again after they finished the circuit. The goal was participating, not winning. For the youngest children, a bit of cheating may have occurred at the frisbee toss as supervisors picked up and tossed a few missed throws into the baskets while the wee ones were distracted. Activities included: basketball throw, soccer success, football hoop throw, obstacle course, standing long jump, bean bag toss, jump rope race (harder than you think), three-legged race, bowling, and Frisbee toss.
Corporate and community sponsors and the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) provided some of the goodies, and the PTO oversaw snow cones, drinks, and other snacks. [Mark Twain's PTO is heavily invested in the school.] The climax of the day was the fire department's arrival to hose down some hot children and adults.
Best practices: encouraging everyone to participate in all ten activities, focusing on participation, devising games that all students could do to some degree, separating children by grades and by time so that the bigger ones did not crowd out or intimidate the younger ones, having parents so happily involved, and recruiting volunteers who served two-hour shifts to help teachers oversee their children.
Congratulations to the school faculty and staff, the PTO, the community and corporate volunteers, the firemen, and especially to Coach Thatcher!