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The Walkathon versus the Spellathon

When I was in elementary school, we had an annual fundraiser. For the first few years of my grammar school career, it was a "Walkathon" around our school grounds. For each lap we completed, we received a little stamp on a tag that we wore around our neck. Of course we had obtained monetary pledges ahead of time for each lap we'd complete, but the real motivation for us kids was to get our cards filled, and to possibly win prizes.

The event lasted all day so that we could take a break, eat, and then start walking on the course again. I loved it. The other kids seemed to enjoy it too. It was like a carnival, but also with a little exercise. It wasn't about speed, it was about how far you went.

I won the trophy for the most laps in my grade level one year.

But then the Walkathon was dubbed not educational enough. It was "too fun" to be of benefit to us.

The PTA instead decided to do a Spellathon. They figured they could raise money for the school (pledges on each word spelled correctly) while also boosting our educational content.

Booooooring.

I think we had something like 100 words to spell. I don't remember how it worked exactly, but I remember that in my concern over getting them all correct, I wrote so slowly and neatly that I misspelled "education" by adding an additional "tion." I don't know what happened. I imagine I was distracted briefly and thought I hadn't yet wrote the "tion." (And we were moving a piece of paper across our page that probably blocked the first part of the word.) The parents knew I could spell it, but I had gotten it wrong. I got all the other words correct, but of course didn't get a prize.

These days, the fundraisers are parent auctions, golf tournaments, gift-wrap sales, and the like. Aside from the parents competing with their bids or on the links, the kids aren't engaged in the outcome. There is no educational content, but there is also no physical content. Sure, we had a picnic earlier this year that doubled as a fundraiser because of the entrance fee, but it was a "fun only" event.

I wish they could bring back the "Walkathon" and yet I'm afraid that rather than being "too fun" the kids might see it as tedious. With all the "combat childhood obesity!" talk, such a thing might be viewed as a chore, not a fun opportunity. (Like those plastic exercise bike toys for babies - um, not a good way to frame things - and one toy I saw in the BlogHer Expo Hall was a jumping game called "Stamp Out Child Obesity.")

Imagine - if we had just kept doing the Walkathon instead of adding another academic goal to the pile, we could have kept our priorities straight. Instead, our brains haven't necessarily gotten "bigger" but our bodies have.

I've thought a lot about that recently with my various running events. The race I ran a week ago was to benefit high school athletics in a district whose physical education program now receives $0 from the state. Then the race I ran two days ago was for my school district; the participants chose which school they wanted their entry fee to benefit. Much to my delight, there were a lot of kids out there (most for the 5K, but some did the 10K.) I'm glad they also had a two mile non-timed event. I realized Sunday that in this way we do still have a fundraiser that is both fun and athletic. I'm glad.

But still, only a handful of kids participated as compared to the number who had participated in the Walkathon of my youth. (Yes, I know, I walked uphill in the snow to school both ways, even though I live in Sunny CA.) In my kids' school, P.E. is a "special" once a week event, whereas I'm pretty sure it was much more frequent than that in elementary school when I went, and nearly every day in junior high school. Now P.E. is cut from many schools altogether. Recess is cut from many schools as well, to optimize the instruction time. (Optimize? Sorry, nonstop instruction will not yield the same results as rest/active breaks throughout the day.)

It used to be that physical education was "too fun" - now it is something that we desperately need, and yet it is seen as a chore. Especially for kids like my son who are naturally active, it is so important to allow them to "shake out their sillies." (Unfortunately, the punishment for behavioral infractions is to miss recess -- so overactive kids end up having to sit on a bench, making it even more likely they will have a problem once class resumes.)

You can't have a mind without a body.

I wish I could have told those PTA folks that many years ago.

Comments (3)

Katy:

I completely agree. My son is only four, but is very kinesthetically oriented. I can already see that he is going to have problems going forward in school with little opportunity to expend his physical energy. I grew up in Illinois, where 5-day-a-week gym was (and still is) required through your senior year of high school. The 30 minutes once a week it is at our local elementary school in California is just pathetic.

(Interestingly, his school has a spellathon fundraiser, while my sister's public school in Orange County has a jogathon!)

Our school did have a walkathon this year! It was reasonably easy to organize and raised about $3K (we have a small school). The kids liked it--they walked in the neighborhood near the school, not just on school grounds, and some people came outside and cheered for them which was a big thrill.

I LOVE your line, "You can't have a mind without a body."

You are so right about mind and body, and it's even been shown physical exercise is important for learning.

The good news is walk-a-thons are alive and well down here in the South bay at least. It's our biggest fundraiser for school, and after two years of trying Keegan finally achieved his goal - 75 laps=7.5 miles=pizza with the principal. I was impressed. A lot of schools do theirs on the weekends, ours is Friday afternoon, so it's still pretty liesurly, including a lot of donated food for dinner, bake sale, etc, but we did discover no stopping for dinner or playing if you want to get 75 laps. The kids do love it, getting stickers and hair spray as lap prizes, and ice cream for reaching certain # laps for each grade.