Where Are All the Soapbox Cars?

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My most memorable childhood playthings weren’t factory-made. When I think back, I had the most fun swordfighting with poplar saplings, sliding down snowy slopes on cardboard boxes and playing battleships with homemade graph paper.

I‘ll never forget our day-long sod fights up in the woods—protecting  forts hammered together from old crates and using ammunition made from clumps of grass with dried soil still attached—or the satisfying puff of dirt that signified a direct hit on an opponent’s clean shirt.

But when was the last time you saw a child playing with a soapbox racer made from scrap lumber or a crystal radio set that they had assembled themselves?

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve noticed any kid in my neighborhood using homemade playthings—such relics have all been replaced by space-age technology from the toy factory.

Nope—a poplar sapling doesn’t stand a chance against a battery-operated Jeddi sword with sound effects and luminous plastic blade. Why rely on gravity to move your soapbox car when a mere $500 will buy you a fully operational miniaturized electrical sports vehicle.  Graph-paper Battleship games are now computerized, and air-powered splatter guns with washable die pellets have replaced our hand-tossed dirt sods. Crystal radio sets have been supplanted by 400 pound boom-boxes with enough power to stuff the Toronto Skydome with thumping, stereophonic sound.

Let’s face it, this is not the decade of do-it-yourself kids.  And while I must confess that I had my share of high-tech gizmos as a kid, including a T-V ping-pong game and a slot car racing track, none of them occupied much of my play-time.

Today, many kids have the attitude that if it isn’t store-bought and doesn’t have a peer-accepted designer label, it isn’t worth using.  And that’s a shame.  Our children are missing the great satisfaction of playing with one’s own creations. And with this, they’re losing the ability to improvise, to innovate, and to create something usable, if not perfect, out of nothing.

Perhaps as physical educators, we should provide more encouragement for creative improvisation. Check the “Equipment” section of the PE Update website and you’ll find dozens of ideas for home-made sports and PE equipment: everything from tin can walkers and 2”x4” balance boards, to garden-hose quoits and  pizza box hurdles. Here are some other ideas—some tongue in cheek and some not— that might improve our childrens’ dearth of plaything creativity:

  • Make MacGyver re-runs required television viewing for all school-age children.  Although our students may never need to know how to make an atomic bomb out of a comb and a lipstick tube, the program’s emphasis on creativity and improvisation is valuable.
  • Allow each student one hour a week in the school dumpster to find materials to build their own game or sports implement.  This “dumpster time” will also reduce the school’s waste output.
  • Provide an extra classification for school waste materials included in blue-box programs.  One box for glass and metals, one for paper products, one for organic material…and one for kids.
  • Use P.E. class as a “market” for your students’ creative efforts.  Sometimes all it takes to get a child’s creative juices flowing is an expressed need for it.  Scoops made from bleach containers, tin-can walkers, home-made hoola hoops, broomhandle aerobics implements—these are all examples of phys-ed equipment your students can make and use in class.

Perhaps our growing awareness of the environment and the trend towards recycling will make home-made playthings more acceptable to young people.  And as teachers, we can use this new attitude to develop our students’ ability to improvise and innovate.

P.S. In case I’ve given you the impression that I was a combination Huck Finn/Thomas Edison as a child, I have a confession to make…I never was able to  get my crystal radio set to work, and I’d personally like a light-saber.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]physical education,children's play,games,sports equipment[/tags]

Romanians Have Physical Education Problems Too

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In the early mornings, my clock radio kicks off the day with “Radio Romania” as part of the Canadian Broadcast Company’s morning programming (depending on how long I stay in bed, I can also hear English broadcasts from South Korea, Australia and Poland).

Not long ago, while rubbing the sleep from my eyes and nudging the dog off the bed, I overheard the Romanian announcers discussing the state of physical education and youth fitness in their country. The situation sounded familiar, yet different.

While a quick check in Wikepedia shows that physical education is mandatory in elementary school and that their system includes specialist PE high schools, Romanian physical education does have its problems – just as it does in North America.

Here is a short list of some of the problems they discussed. See how they compare to your own situation:

  • Sports and PE facilities are becoming less available as schoolyards are sold to developers for apartments and other developments.
  • When facilities do exist, they are often off-limits to students. Schools rent them out to clubs as a way to raise funds.
  • Many students don’t take PE because they don’t wish to carry their gym clothing with them during the school day. The problem is that few Romanian schools have lockers.
  • Kids prefer to take city buses to school when they could easily walk.
  • Children often spending recess time playing video games.

From Radio Romania International, 2/12/09
http://www.rri.ro/index.shtml?lang=1

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

To subscribe to the free PE Tips of the Week Newsletter, Click Here!
To check out the PE Update.com website, Click Here!

[tags]physical education problems,Romania[/tags]

Physical Education Training Produces Better Academic Teachers

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One thing about physical educators is that they realize the value of making lessons fun. They also realize that an active child is a child better able to learn.

This often applies for those physical educators who teach academic subjects. A great example is Marilyn Rodgers of Hernando High school in Desoto Mississipi, an experienced physical educator whose teaching skills were considered too valuable to be wasted on “gym.” Instead she was placed in a history classroom where she remains to this day.

However, Rodgers incorporates her PE training – and the love of games that first attracted her to the profession – into her history classes to keep her students involved and her lessons fun.

One example is a game she plays in which students must correctly answer history questions in order to get the chance to take a shot with a basketball. (I’m not sure whether she had to does this in the gym, or with crumpled piece of paper in the trash can in the classroom).  The class is broken up into groups, with the team scoring the most baskets winning the contest. It’s popular, it keeps the kids involved, and they have fun while learning history.

It’s a great example of the physical education attitude and training applied to academic teaching.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]physical education,teaching,history[/tags]

Food Container Rant

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This is a tale of an invention that has been rendered useless because of corporate greed.  Strictly speaking, it’s not a physical education issue, but it does affect any teacher who packs a lunch for school or team trips.

What invention am I talking about? Plastic food storage containers.

I’m the king of leftovers. I eat them for most lunches. And when I pack for team trips, I usually pack my travel munchies in a plastic storage container so they don’t get scrunched.

Several years ago, a company (Glad or Ziploc, I believe) came up with a wonderful invention. Small rectangular storage containers that held one or two leftover portions. My grocery store stocked only one size and they all used the same snap-on top. It was so easy – you knew every top would fit, and the containers all stacked perfectly inside each other, making a nice, compact pile inside your cupboard.

I was in food storage heaven.

Alas, my happy days were not to last.

Soon other companies got into the act. They began innovating, and added numerous sizes and shapes. They redesigned the containers so the old tops no longer fit the new containers.

The result – where once there was a compact pile of plastic containers in my cupboard, there now lies a big old mess. And, finding the top that actually fits a container is now a test of patience, often requiring me to  spread a selection of tops on my counter and using trial-and-error until I find one that fits.

What brought on this diatribe? Last Friday morning, as I was packing for a team trip to Toronto for an indoor track meet, already late, I was delayed to the point of growling as I tried to find a top for a food container. From such frustrations are revolutions born!

Food container companies… I curse you now!

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]physical education,plastic food containers[/tags]

PE Students Need Senior Citizen Role-Models

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One of the primary goals of any physical education program is the development of our students’ ability to maintain an active lifestyle throughout their lives.

I’m the beneficiary of my own school experience in PE and sport. I still play a weekly game of old-man’s basketball – in my old high school gym with some of my old high school schoolmates – in a ritual that has been part of that school since the mid-1960’s. The youngest in our current  group is about 18. But we have two players in their sixties, with the oldest still fast-breaking and hitting the boards at 65. He still has quick feet, a good jump shot and is perhaps the most aggressive player on the floor. We think the pacemaker he had installed three years ago has given him a mechanical advantage.

So, when I heard about Ken Mink, I wasn’t surprised. Ken is a 73-year old grandfather of six, who, after retirement from the newspaper business, realized he had some unfinished business. On the basketball court, that is. In 1956, he was kicked out of junior college for an act of vandalism that he didn’t commit. It seemed to be the end of his basketball career.

But he obviously stayed fit and maintained his skills. So, retired and with time on his hands, he enrolled in some courses at Roane State Community College, in Tennessee, and tried out for the varsity basketball team. His enlightened coach, 50-year old Randy Nesbit, had an interest in the possibilities of athletic performance in older people. He gave Ken a shot, and Ken made the team.

He now plays between five and eight minutes a game, and his opponents don’t take it easy on him. Nobody wants to be the player who let a 73-year old score on him. And in November of 2008, Ken Mink set a Guinness World record, becoming the oldest-ever player in collegiate basketball history to score a point. In fact, he sunk two points, on free throws, after getting fouled while pump-faking an opponent.

And as I’ve pointed out, Ken Mink isn’t the only senior basketball player out there. How about 77-year old Don Morris of San Luis Obispo, California, who shot 84% in the free-throw competition at the recent senior Olympics California state championships, winning a gold medal.  Eighty-four percent! Shaq, give this guy a call.

The point is, students should be made aware of the Ken Minks and Don Morrises of the world, so they know that sport and fitness isn’t just something they do now…it’s something they do for the rest of their lives.

If you want to see some video of Ken Minks and Don Morris, check out the following YouTube links:

Ken Minks – On the Inside Edition

Ken Minks Versus Regis Philbin
(Ken is deadly from 10-15 feet with his set shot).

Don Morris
(Also describes his mental cues for foul-shooting).

Welcome to 2009. I’ll see you in two weeks!

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

To subscribe to the free PE Tips of the Week Newsletter, Click Here!
To check out the PE Update.com website, Click Here!

[tags]basketball,physical education,Ken Mink,Don Morris[/tags]

Women’s Teams, Bus Travel and Chick Flicks

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Laurentian University, where I coach the women’s track and cross-country teams, is four hours north of Toronto, and most of our competition venues are at least that far away. (I also coach a track club, but that’s for other blog posts).

So we  do a lot of driving. In the past, we travelled in vans, but this year our fortunes changed dramatically. We now use a 30 passenger coach,  It’s heaven! The difference in stress levels after a bus-trip versus a van trip is astronomical. In fact, I’m typing this blog while sipping tea in the front seat of the bus. We’re flying down the highway and I can see the fall colors flashing past, and rivers and lakes and other spectacular views. The bus has a bathroom, luggage compartment,  reclining seats and a professional driver.

It has one other feature that sounds wonderful, but is a double-edged sword – a DVD player with five screens and speaker system. Movies! What a great way to wile away the hours!

Or so I thought. On our first trip in the bus, I made a fatal mistake. Continue reading Women’s Teams, Bus Travel and Chick Flicks