Sometimes Giving Kids the Run-Around Is a Good Thing (GeekDad Weekly Rewind)

Geek Culture

An elementary school in Maryland that was encountering discipline problems with the students recently came up with a solution that “ran circles” around their expectations.

In recent years, the staff at Orchard Grove Elementary School in Frederick, Maryland, noted a steady increase in discipline problems at the school, with up to seven students per day ending up in the principal’s office. The culprit turned out to be an excess of energy on the part of the kids, and a lack of a constructive outlet for the energy. I’m sure that that particular conclusion will come as no surprise to any parent reading GeekDad, of course.

Gym teacher Brenda Tarquinio’s solution to this overabundance of energy was to create a running club. Students in the club were awarded popsicle stick tokens for distance run at recess. Once students accumulated 5-miles worth of these distance tokens, they traded them in for a small plastic shoe. As simple as this reward system was, it was enough to motivate students to get involved with the program.

Over time, the rewards developed themes such as snowflakes for running in winter, turkeys for Thanksgiving, and Shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day. As well, students were publicly recognized for significant distance achievements, such as the 26-mile Marathon Club or the 100-Mile Club.

The results were impressive. According to the article at Play Ball America:

Begun in 2009, its running club has resulted in rocketing fitness scores, dwindling discipline problems, rising test scores, improved self-esteem, and a 99 percent student participation rate.

Assistant Prinicipal Marylyn Mathews has reported that the number of children sent to her office after lunch has decreased from seven per day to three per week. “It really changed the culture of the school,” she said.

In recent years, there has been a marked decrease in the physical activity levels of children. Rather than active play, kids spend a staggering amount of time in front of screens, playing video games, watching TV, chatting with friends, and more. As well, phys-ed has been de-emphasized in favor of academics and standardized testing. Clearly, this shift in activity is not healthy for either the bodies or the minds of kids. Charlene Burgeson, executive director of the National Association of Sport and Physical Education, said it well:

This is the model. Most kids’ experience with running have only been in spurts. Here is a program that teaches how to pace yourself and gain endurance. And, at the end of the day, they can do so much more than they ever imagined.

Of course, getting kids active is not solely the responsibility of schools. As parents, we should be setting an example by being fit and active ourselves, and we should make a point of getting out and playing with our kids in an active, healthy way. So put down the mouse and get outside for a while — GeekDad will still be here when you get back…

[This article, by Roy Wood, was originally published on Monday. Please leave any comments you may have on the original.]

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