For the past year I have been coaching PE at the elementary school level. I get to work with Kindergarten through 6th grade, and attempt to remember the names of all 450 students I see each week. Rarely a day goes by that I don't ask myself, "What was I thinking??!!"
The drive to be involved in Physical Education comes from my lifelong passion for athletics, my lifelong involvement with running, and my own observations of childhood obesity and childhood weight/diet related disease. Some years back, when my sons were in elementary school, I worked in their classrooms and spent a lot of time hanging around their school. I noticed way back then how many children seemed to be overweight, and it wasn't long before it came glaringly into the public eye. Thankfully many schools have instituted a more structured PE program to help address the issue, as well as improved upon the types of food they serve during breakfast and lunch.
Priority one for my PE program is to get the kids moving around and to teach them skills that can keep them active all the time. I want them to know and experience how many different activities they have available to them and for them to discover what amazing feats their bodies can accomplish.
Let me just state at this point that getting kids moving and teaching them new skills is much easier said than done. Of course there is always going to be that 15% who love to run, love PE, love to learn, love to try, love to give their all ... but the remaining 85% of elementary school students pose a huge challenge to me in one way or another. Because they often don't take personal ownership of their own fitness and abilities, they decide to walk the lap instead of run, chat with a neighbor instead of focus, defeat themselves with crippling words like, "I can't," choose not to try, not to give their all, they complain incessantly and I am left scratching my head wondering how am I going to make PE matter to them.
To make matters worse, at our school, sometimes my PE class has to compete with breakfast, and when students are given the choice, breakfast usually wins. Because there is not time to fit PE into a school day, in some cases I conduct PE during recess time. For whatever reason, the school offers a "second chance breakfast" during recess and it is available to any student and is free at our school. Mind you, this is the second offering of breakfast for the day and comes only a short time before lunch. Kids who had eaten during the first offering of breakfast (before school) or had eaten before school at home can simply eat again and if they are in my PE class they have to be permitted to leave so they can consume these additional Calories. That means, not only are they not exercising, but they are in most cases eating when they don't need to be.
It is flawed and makes no sense from my perspective and after 6 frustrating months of less than productive recess PE, I made a change in my approach. I started the Mileage Club.
The Mileage Club is basically what it sounds like. It is an optional program, not required, whereby kids accumulate mileage in the form of walking or running laps during recess. The program I use includes gentle incentives in the form of Toe Tokens (a little plastic foot shaped charm). For every 5 miles accomplished, a student is awarded a chain necklace and their first token (they choose the color of their token). Additional tokens are awarded for every 5 miles thereafter. It's nothing fancy but those necklaces have proved to be highly coveted and intangibly valuable.
I thought this club would perhaps help students to take some ownership of their fitness (that's why the fact that it's optional is important) and their recess time and give them a goal on which to focus that might take their mind off of second breakfast. It seems I was right. Our Mileage Club is hugely successful as dozens have already earned their necklace and first toe token, and did so within 2 weeks and a few have already earned their second toe token, and around 80% of the students who have the option to participate, have logged laps.
When a student reaches a 5 mile goal, they are awarded their toe token during their afternoon PE class so that their classmates can celebrate with them and be challenged and motivated to follow their example.
Since beginning the Mileage Club in January, the enthusiasm has continued to increase. When the bell rings to signal recess, I smile when I see a herd of little feet running out to me. Something about the idea that "they don't have to but can if they want to" has the PE haters out on the field doing laps on their own time, and those who won't try or put forth effort during our class are now smiling and asking me to hold their water bottle while they run. Every time they come around for a lap, I punch their foot shaped card with a heart shaped hole puncher, remind them that they are making their heart stronger and that I am proud of them. Thirty laps equal 5 miles and they are so focused on those heart holes, how many they have, how many they need, that they decide to do three more laps instead of heading in to the cafeteria.
And you would not believe how many students are going to participate in our track and field program this Spring. It will be the first for our school and oh how it makes my heart swell when I hear the words, "Coach Cindy, can we run another lap?" What they don't realize but I know is that running can change their life.