Like many coaches and teachers across the country, once in a while I come up with what turns out to be a new and effective teaching strategy. New ideas often come to me while at professional conferences, reading online, or simply talking with colleagues. I then take the idea and modify it to best fit my teaching environment. One such idea I’d like to share with you is a take-home activity journal.
When my girls were in school, I can remember them bringing home a classroom journal. They had to spend time writing about a topic that had been introduced on in class. In physical education, I once heard a teacher talk about giving their students small stuffed animals to play with at home, then encouraging them to write about the experience in a journal. In one instance, the kids were even given permission to take the animal on vacation with them and write about it.
My version of physical education journaling comes from this idea. I call it “Fun With Buddy.” “Buddy” is a stuffed animal. It’s one of those monkeys with really long arms and legs that have Velcro on them. I was able to get these donated to my program and have acquired 12 of them. This covers all of our grade 1-3 classrooms. Our principal was able to find book money to get us grade-level appropriate books that support being physically active. I put together a journal with blank pages. Each page has a space for the kids to write about what they did with Buddy over the weekend. The pages also have a place for the kids to either draw a picture of what they did, or to stick a photo of them in action with Buddy. And to keep all the items secure, our Home and School Association (H.S.A.) donated string bags.
One child in each classroom gets to take Buddy home with them for a weekend. In advance, I make sure to call the parents to tell them that their child will be coming home with Buddy. I don’t want them to be surprised when their child shows up with a strange stuffed animal! When we begin this each fall, I always ask the classroom teachers to recommend who would do a good job with this. I want to make sure that we set a good example of what is expected right from the get go. I make sure to start this off by selecting a few kids that I know will do something active with Buddy, and who I can trust to bring the sack with animal back to school the following Monday. I’ve discovered that the classroom teachers are invariably very eager to pick out their good students to get this started!
When the journal is turned in, I also like to add comments to each child’s entry. I want them to know that what they write is important enough that I want to read it too. It’s another way to reinforce their activity and writing efforts.
Our school has seen some great things happen with this activity. Families that may not make plans to be active are doing just that. The child is thrilled to be able to share what they did with Buddy with their classmates. The book we include in the bag gives the kids the opportunity to either read on their own, read to their parents, or have their parents read to them. All of the books are in some way related to physical activity. Here are some examples:
- Gr 3: We are Girls Who Love to Run, by Brianna Grant
- Gr 2: Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen, by Cari Best
- Gr 1: Stretch, by Doreen Cronin
Our principal loves it when I organize this activity. Not surprisingly, she is always looking for ways to integrate more language arts into the kids’ days.
But although it’s great to know that our principal likes the idea, that’s not the main reason I do it. And I hope that if you choose to do something similar, pleasing the principal isn’t your main motivation. Much more importantly, I’ve found that this journal endeavor helps me to get my kids (and their families) out and active together, and to see that being physically active can be something fun rather than something to avoid.
Don’t tell my principal this, but I’m also not doing this so the kids write more! I’m doing this to motivate my kids to be active outside of school. I’m trying to do all that I can to motivate my kids to want to be active on their own. I figure if this activity impacts at least one of my students and gets them to want to try something new on their own, it has been a success!
On top of everything else, this journal idea serves to give all of my students other things to think about to have fun being active. They may have not thought of going for a hike in the snow or going for a bike ride that day. One of their classmates may have written about going ice-skating in the winter or geocaching in the spring. This gives all students a few more ideas for ways to have fun while being active. You should hear the kids talk among themselves about some of the ideas too! It’s obvious to me that they are thinking about their new options and how they can get mom and dad to join in!
As teachers we all have so many different kinds of kids in our classes. The same thing doesn’t motivate everyone. This “Fun with Buddy” take home journal is a way that will get to some kids. Other kids are motivated differently. I believe that it’s up to each one of us to what turns our students onto physical activity so that everyone in our classes is motivated to live an active and healthy lifestyle. This journal may turn out to be the key for one kid, whereas watching themselves trying a new skill on video off my smartphone may inspire another. An unsuspecting “thumbs up” signal may be all you need for another child. You all know your own situations and opportunities. Maybe something similar to “Buddy” would help some of your kids be more active when they’re not in your class? Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway, teaching our classes in ways that motivate our kids to want to be active on their own? That’s my measure of successful teaching.