May The Field Day Be With You: A Step By Step Guide To Outdoor Star Wars Fun

Today I spent the day outside with kids I love doing what I love — PLAYING! It’s a treat to see 5th graders get to step out of the classroom and testing zone and enjoy their fleeting days of childhood. My daughter’s school simply rocks field day. Headed by her PE teacher, Mrs. April Cecil, and fueled by staff, PTA, and plentiful parent volunteers, they really surpass the norm for end of year fun. As a physical therapist, and play loving, outdoor activity advocate I appreciate the nice balance she strikes between choosing games that challenge them physically, are fun, rely on teamwork, and most importantly get them very wet. This is not your grandma’s day of potato sack races and tug of war. Because they do such a nice job – we feel the need to share.  Our hope is that other play loving, fun seeking schools will use this post as a resource to make end of year parties or celebrations simple and fun.

This year’s theme was Star Wars. Each class was a “team” and rotated through stations where they stayed and played for about 10 minutes. Breaks for water were built in. Volunteers ran each station and the PE teacher and PTA officers organized the stations, supplies, and volunteers.

Here are the stations they included:

  1. C3POP: Students will line up behind their cones in a single file line. On “Go” the first student runs down to the chair and grabs a balloon out of the bag. The student must pop the water balloon by sitting on it on the chair. After the balloon is busted, the student returns to his/her line and tag the next person in line. Activity is over when all balloons have been popped.
  2. R2D2 & C3PO Races: Students will get on a yellow (C3PO) or blue (R2D2) scooter and scoot to the cone and around it and then give to the next student in line. The first team who completes the relay race wins.
  3. EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: Students will set up to play “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Instead of tagging people and saying “Duck” the students will hold a water balloon and say “Empire” as they pass each student. When they get to the student where they would normally say “Goose,” they will pop the water balloon over their head and run as that student chases them.
  4. END OF DARTH VADER: Students from each group will line up behind their color cone. On “Go” the first student in each line will run to the large “Kerplunk” and pull out a stick. If they successfully pull the stick without allowing any balls to drop then they turn around and tag the next person in line. If all the balls fall, that team loses and the game is set back up again.
  5. BATTLE OF ENDOR: 1 student from each group will gather under one of the squares and play a game of 4 square – but in the air! Students will volley the ball back and forth and if the ball lands inside their square their team gets a point. After each point, a new student from each team will take a turn in the square. The team with the lowest score wins. (**Set made with PVP pipe).
  6. ATTACK OF THE CLONES: Students will line up behind their cone within 2 feet of the next person on their team. Each student will sit with a bowl on their head. On “Go” the first student will fill their bowl with water from the nearby bin. The student will then pour the water into the next person’s bowl while the bowl is on their head. That student then stands and pours the water into the bowl on the head of the next student. This continues down the line. The last student will pour the water into the team’s bucket. The team with the most water at the end wins.
  7. CANTINAS: Water break station!
  8. DESTROY THE DEATH STAR:  Each student will have a squirt gun and will squirt the beach ball until it moves to the cone. When the gun is empty, they return it to the next teammate who refills and takes a turn. The game is over when the first team gets the ball to the cone. 
  9. REVENGE OF THE SITH: Students line up behind their color cone. On “Go” the first person in line for each team will grab the sponge of their team’s color from the bucket and squeeze the sponge. They will then take the sponge and toss it back to the next person in line.  That person will then dip the sponge in the water and toss it back. The team that can do this without dropping it the least amount of times, wins. 
  10. LIGHT SABER BATTLE: Students will take turns “battling” each other with pool noodles. If someone gets hit, you are out. The noodle must hit students on the legs ONLY.
  11. DON’T DROP THE STORM TROOPER: The students will line up behind their color cone. On “Go” the first student in line will put their stormtroopers on their spoon and walk/run/jog to the cone and go around it. The student then passes the stormtrooper to the next person in line.  The team who completes the relay first wins.  If the Stormtrooper falls to the ground, students must scoop it up with their hands.  The students may not use their hands to keep the Stormtrooper on the spoon.  
  12. FREE HAN SOLO: Each group will be given a block of ice with Han Solo in the middle.  Each group must figure out how to melt the ice to get Han Solo out.  The first team that does, wins.
  13. JEDI TRAINING: The students will line up behind their color cone. On “Go” the first student in line will grab a cup from the bucket of water and go to the jump rope and jump 5 times. They will then run to the cone, do 5 jumping jacks, go through the hoop, jump in and out of the hoop, and then run back to the start to tag the next person in line. The first team to complete the relay race wins.
  14. CATCH YODA YOU MUST: Students will line up behind their color cone. The first person in line will grab the basket and run down to the other cone. The next student in line will grab a water balloon from a bucket and toss it to their teammate. The person with the basket will attempt to catch the water balloon in the basket while holding it on top of their head. If the balloon doesn’t bust, they must place it inside the bucket.  They will then switch and the person with the balloon will hold the basket while the other gets back in line. The team with the most balloons in the basket at the end wins.
  15. LEIA’S BLASTER: Break for drinks and popsicles!

Enjoy! Get outside and may the FIELD DAY be with you!

Let them fill in the bubbles and JUST MOVE ON – a mother’s call to minimize standardized testing stress

I debated writing this blog.

It’s one of those situations where as a person who blogs (I still can’t publicly call myself a writer) you internally struggle with putting your family and your beliefs out there publicly, because there will likely be strong opinions and comments of all sort in return.

In the end I decided it was worth it.

So here goes…

First I want to say that children and education and parenting and politics can all be sticky topics. And while my husband and I have choices we believe in, I understand and appreciate that yours may differ from mine and I genuinely appreciate that. One thing working in the homes of families for more than 10 years has taught me is that what works for me might be awful for you and vice versa.

There you go. Now on to the important part.

If you, like us, choose public education for your children, then they likely begin the ritual of standardized testing in the 3rd grade. We believe and appreciate as taxpayers and as parents that there needs to be a way to measure accountability and progress for schools. However, we, like many American parents, aren’t super pleased with the job that the current testing process is doing. We have a current 5th grader and current 3rd grader and can say with confidence that the tests our oldest daughter has taken (and done well on)  have never been able to fully assess the incredible progress we and her teachers have seen through the years or more importantly measure the talent or work performance of her stellar teachers.

A bigger problem to us as parents is the pressure associated with the test. Because the schools here in our state (WV) are required to document to the state how they are “preparing kids to take the test” and “letting them know how important the test is,” there are lots of activities, written and verbal interactions, and general overkill (in my opinion) that this test is a big deal. Do you remember pep rallies for a standardized test when you were a kid? How about signs cheering you on? Or multiple letters sent home to your parents reminding you to go to bed early and eat a great breakfast? Yea – me neither. We showed up, got new pencils, filled in the bubbles completely (not half way now – that was the only thing stressed), and went to recess.  Is all the “hype” needed?

We enthusiastically say NO! Why? Because kids naturally know it matters and they will either try their best or they won’t. I’d love to see a study that proves the letters home about the importance of breakfast increases test scores. You know what I know for sure it does increase? TEST STRESS. You know how I know? My 5th grader started sleep walking and mumbling about standardized testing in the 3rd grade. There is nothing creepier than walking up to a zombie eyed kid mumbling about taking a test while hovering over you in bed. Worse yet, my current 3rd grader, spent the night before her first day of testing dry heaving for 90 minutes. That kind of did me in as a Mom. I’m tough, but not that tough.

My husband and I debated (passionately I might add) about what to do. My mom is a long term educator and past principal. I know the school needs test scores. I also know my kid needs to worry about riding her bike an extra 10 minutes vs. vomiting over a test at night. We want to advocate for our children AND their teachers. The question is how to do that? There’s a large “Opt Out” movement currently, with some state superintendents actually encouraging parents to opt out with the reasoning that educators can’t change legislation so maybe data will. I understand that desperate thought process (to be honest it tempts me), but I also know in the short term, right here in my corner of the world, it may hurt my precious school and teachers. So I communicated with my daughter’s teacher, prayed, and in the end she was fine the next day when she realized it wasn’t as bad as she had imagined.

And then I wrote to my elected officials. To be honest, even though I am a very optimistic person, I have little faith this will help, but I did it, because I have to do something. And when I shared it with my best friend (and co-owner of Milestones & Miracles), she immediately said, “Share it on the blog.”

So here it is. Here’s my letter. I know it will likely be met with comments of how others handled it differently or how they opted out of a test or even opted out of public education all together and like I said before, that is ok and to be expected. We choose these schools and this village for our children for many reasons not mentioned here (even with a crummy test).  This letter might not be the best option of how I can advocate for my child, her teachers, and her school, but it is the best I have right now. So it is what I offer until I have something better. I shared it with her principal and thanked her for leading educators who care about my child’s future more than a test score.

To me, the real question is, for those of us who continue to want to access public education for our children, what is the most effective way to support both our children and our schools?

Dear Senator,


I am writing to share my opinion regarding our current education system and state testing policies in WV.

Let me start by sharing that as a daughter of a life long educator (most of those years in WV) and a parent who is beyond pleased with the education and experiences my daughters have received, I am a supporter and believer in public education. I have seen my mother change and inspire countless lives. I have witnessed teachers pouring their talents into my daughters and their classmates and not just caring but putting concern into action with students who are unsafe at home. When I speak of their creative projects, their involvement with the First Lego League, and the personal relationships with school staff that have fostered a deep love of learning for my children, people assume I send my children to private school. I beam with pride when I can correct them by saying my children actually attend public school in one of the poorest states in the country. The teachers and administrators we have encountered here in Berkeley County can and often do bring me to grateful tears.

Today is the first day that my 9 year old will take a standardized test. She is a confident and bright child that does well in school and has never complained about a test, an assignment, or going to school. On the contrary, she cries when she is sick and has to miss school! Last night, she shook, hyperventilated, and dry heaved for 90 minutes before bed – because she is “scared of the test.” This is a child that competed individually at the state gymnastics meet, played a main role in the school play, and speaks at our church in front of hundred of adults without even a mention of nervousness. My confident bright child was physically ill last night…because of a test.

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As I helped her take deep breaths, reassured her she was well prepared, and promised her that this test will have no affect on her future, I became quite frustrated and angry. What are we doing to our children?

I work for a federally and state funded program (as a Physical Therapist for WV Birth To Three) and so I understand the need for accountability. As a taxpayer I expect it. When we force our teachers to give tests that do not test true knowledge, we place them in a hard position. They feel the pressure and without ill-will pass that pressure on to our children. When we require administrators to document what they are doing to “motivate students to try hard/do well on the test,” we create unneeded stress on children. I would be curious to see if this well-meaning requirement actually hinders their scores. I understand that many children in our state do not have parents at home who are prioritizing or supporting education, but I’m not sure pep rallies for tests, signs cheering students on, and notes and constant verbal reminders on what to feed our children and when to put them to bed will solve that. The extra hype creates hysteria for my child and others. I firmly believe if she could come in and take the test with a good ‘ol “do your best” parents would not be seeing these clear signs of anxiety in our children.
As a home provider of early intervention in many of these at risk homes, might I suggest that working to change that culture in the home 365 days a year vs. the week before testing with community and school support that involves families might be more effective? There are better ways to do what needs to be done. If you haven’t read “The Smartest Kids In The World And How They Got That Way” by Amanda Ripley. I strongly encourage you to. It opened my eyes to the countries that are doing great things with fewer resources than we have here in the US.

I also work as a small business owner dedicated to providing educational support to families, reminding them what typical child development looks like (as a nation we are forgetting this), supporting a child’s need and right for free and safe unstructured play, and encouraging movement and sensory based learning experiences. One way my business partner and I do this is by going into schools and providing continuing education on how the young brain learns best and then problem solving ways for teachers to do this while still meeting state standards.

As a business owner I will continue to do this.

As an early intervention therapist I will continue to try to attempt to strengthen WV families and empower them to be involved with their children’s learning from the start.

As a parent, I will continue to advocate for my child and others, pray for their impressionable minds, and reassure my child that her individualized learning can’t be appropriately measured by one current standardized test. I will also support my child’s hard working and underappreciated teachers and administrators.

What will you do?

Respectfully-

Nicole Sergent

Martinsburg, WV

What does READY for Kindergarten really mean?

Yesterday I volunteered at Kindergarten Registration at my daughter’s elementary school.

As I sat there watching the children march from station to station (either proudly or with nudging) with their parents behind them, I had a rush of mixed emotions. I was excited for the journey they are all ready to start at such an incredible place to learn. I couldn’t help myself from sharing, “Do you know you are going to come to the BEST SCHOOL EVER!? Waves of nostalgia passed over me as I remember exactly what my oldest wore to her Kindergarten Registration and how she went from station to station collecting documents and shaking hands like a 5 year old executive. Small pains of sadness and emotional gratefulness were in the mix too – my youngest will leave that incredible nest in a few months. Where has the time gone? I am going to have a child in middle school next year. Virtual hugs accepted.

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A child’s (and a parent’s) first step into an elementary school is a big deal. I know it and I felt it for those parents yesterday. That first impression plays a large role in a parent’s impression and expectations for their child’s school experience. And we all know that our expectations as parents play a large role in our child’s expectations for themselves.

I have to say that our elementary school does a really great job of this. Friendly smiles. Calm voices. Squatting down to greet kids eye to eye. Fun and festive decorations. These professionals got it going on! But this does not surprise me. They do an incredible job day in and day out so it is natural to share their gifts with families on their first special day.

As a pediatric Physical Therapist, I have a genuine interest in development, and through our work with Milestones & Miracles, I’ve become specifically interested and fascinated with the benefits of developmentally appropriate learning through play or hands on/multi-sensory activities with a purpose.  Lacy & I are so passionate about this that we developed a lecture to support schools with the good work they are already doing, with ideas to feed a student’s nervous system with the movement and activities they need to learn.

At the table next to me, was our school’s reading specialist. She is young, fun, and good at what she does. The little girls idolize her and the boys have big time crushes on her. She’s an elementary rock star. She was handing out a booklet yesterday to help parents prepare their children for Kindergarten. It quickly caught my eye because I remembered it. And when I remembered it, I also remembered my feelings absolute panic….WHAAAT? She has to do this BEFORE KINDERGARTEN? She’s not ready? Maybe I should wait a year? Will she ever succeed?

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When it was our turn to step into that school, I’ll admit this list clearly stressed me out. The self imposed challenge of teaching my child all of this information by September overwhelmed me and to be honest I didn’t want to spend our last summer before school stated drilling her to learn to write her name. To my knowledge she wasn’t doing most of these things at 4. She had gone to a play based preschool and we didn’t do worksheets or flashcards at home. (Side note: After she started school a few months later, her new teacher proudly shared she actually DID know/could do these things….shocking my husband and I…and starting the precious trend she has for refusing to learn most things we try to overtly teach her).

In solidarity with those parents coming to collect the list and learning sheets, I had a wonderful conversation with the reading teacher. It went a lot like many of the valued conversations I’ve had with my children’s teachers over the years…teachers know concepts they must share are often presented too early or in a format they don’t feel confident with…but the national trend for education and policy making is what it is. I shared that brain research tells us that children’s brains are often not ready/wired to read until closer to 7 years of age. She confirmed that she sees this often with students she work with. I shared as a parent of a first time student, that list made me nervous.  We both agreed our shared thoughts that expecting them to do things their brain isn’t ready for isn’t exactly fair (please note I am in no way saying a Kindergarten student should not learn, be challenged, be introduced to literature concepts etc. Just that there is a need to recognize ALL kids are biologically ready for site words the instant they turn 5).

The packet also included some great and relevant follow up information that expanded on the list..including helpful and reassuring information that these things did not have to be mastered by the first day of school (I don’t remember this part of the list when I received it?! So glad it was added).

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But in addition to those tips, I think it’s important to share with parents that PLAY BASED learning is still developmentally appropriate for 4 & 5 year olds….and beyond that, it is this type of learning that makes those essential concepts, imperative building blocks for advanced learned, concrete and real and strong. Without fully understanding these early learning concepts, our children don’t have a sturdy foundation. And yes some students prefer pencil and paper (even at 4 years old), but we know that the more senses (including movement) we involve with learning, the more our children will learn.

Experiencing is learning.

Purposeful Play IS learning.

Just because he/she doesn’t come home with a worksheet doesn’t mean learning didn’t occur.

Because we are so passionate about this for children and their parents, and because we have been so fortunate to have a unique and strong relationship in partnering with my daughter’s elementary school, I felt comfortable creating a short resource that could be shared to back up these principles.

And because I’m sharing it with that rock star teacher today, I thought why not share with you?

If you are a teacher, parent, therapist or just anyone interested in the topic feel free to share this document with anyone who might benefit. You have our permission to print it. You can find it by clicking the PDF link at the end of this essay. We only ask that you respect our time in creating it and cite us as the source. It is short and sweet but provides practical suggestions for developmentally play based in context learning for those getting ready for Kindergarten.

We can all work together to make change by advocating for developmentally appropriate learning and advocating for play as an essential need for all children.

Is he/she ready for Kindergarten is a question we will all ask ourselves as parents. We believe that defining what “ready” really means makes it a much easier question to answer. We hope this list helps you do just that.

Kindergaten Here I Come – Ideas To Learn PDF

 

Have an infant or toddler? Want to support them with purposeful play – check out 1-2-3 Just Play With Me! 

The Question Most ALL Parents Have Had to Answer

IS HE READY FOR KINDERGARTEN?

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It’s a well-intentioned question, rhetorical in a sense because most, if not all, people are expecting you to respond, “Yes!” But what if you answered, “No”? Well, I have and I can tell you it’s not what people expect you to say!

 

My son begins kindergarten in a short 6 weeks. This spring as he finished up preschool several acquaintances asked me the above question. If I didn’t have much time to answer or felt they were just asking to be polite, not really interested in my response, I gave them what they wanted to hear, “Yes, I think he’s ready.” For those that asked with genuine concern in their voice, I answered honestly by saying, “I’m not sure.” Their puzzled expressions begged me to explain myself.

 

Why am I not sure? It’s not that he doesn’t appear prepared or that I don’t think he will be successful. It’s just that I’m not sure he’s “ready” per the kindergarten readiness checklist of most people. Does he know all his letters and their sounds? I don’t know. Is he able to write his first and last names, count to 30 and recognize some sight words? I don’t know. Can he sit for extended periods of times, undistracted enough to complete a structured, academic activity? I don’t know.

 

My son attended 3 preschools between the ages of 2 and 5. The first was very academically structured, the second very traditional and the last (and my most favorite, read why here) teaches children how to think, not what to think. Upon his graduation from preschool, he has matured in ways I didn’t think possible a year ago. I consider his growth and maturation over the past three years as preparedness for kindergarten but by most school systems standards that’s not what constitutes a child being “ready”.

 

I had a very short but impactful conversation with Lisa Murphy, The Ooey Gooey Lady, about my son entering kindergarten. I explained to her I didn’t think he was ready because he couldn’t do X, Y and Z. She looked at me and said, “Well, he shouldn’t. He’s only 4.” She went on to explain that sometimes we just have to trust the natural trajectory of development. Instead of pushing unrealistic expectations on preschoolers, expecting them to perform, act, think and behave like kindergarteners let’s expect of them what’s developmentally appropriate for their age. And trust that when the time is right, when they are developmentally ready, then they will be where they need to be…not too soon, not too late, but just on time.

 

I had that conversation with Lisa in February of 2013. O turned 5 that spring and my husband and I decided we would wait a year on kindergarten and give him one more year of preschool. That decision was quite possibly the best decision we have made for him (aside from our decision to go FEINGOLD)! But I was careful in my decision. Because of my work and research on play and developmentally appropriate age expectations, I didn’t want to send him to preschool 5 mornings a week so that he could get “ready” for kindergarten. He continued attending only 3 mornings a week. After all, if I was giving him another year at home, I didn’t want it to be boot camp for kindergarten; I wanted him to enjoy it and I wanted to enjoy more time with him! And we had a wonderful year! He happily attended school, loved being there, learning and exploring. He also enjoyed his down time at home just playing, just being a 5 year old. I’m so thankful I was able to give that to him.

 

So when people really want me to answer their question, when they have a minute to spare and appear genuinely interested in my answer, I tell them I’m not sure he’s ready by most other people’s standards, but I know he’s going to be okay and figure it out. I trust that when the time comes, when he hops on that bus and waves bye to me, I will be smiling trusting my decisions and the miracle of development that is him. He will be okay and when he needs me, I’ll be here to catch, encourage and support him like I always have been. It’s just another time in his life when he’s going to have to use his SUPERPOWERS to succeed without me.

 

So if you see me and ask me that age-old question, “Is he ready for kindergarten?” Just be prepared to hear my answer… and it may take a while! J