This is a before post. In a few days I expect there will be an after post. I’ve organized a modified Field Day for our elementary students that will run tomorrow morning. It has been three years since we last had anything comparable. Most kids have no real memory of what “Field Day” actually looked like. Which means that this year is a bit like starting from scratch.
In the past we had a whole school event involving 18 multi-age teams moving through 16 activity and two rest stations in the space of about 2 hrs 15min. 5th graders served as leaders and would marshal their groups from station to station while playing along within the 6 minute intervals. It was usually a highlight that garnered a lot of praise from students and colleagues after the fact.
We’re still in a pandemic and although masking is now only selectively required in school (i.e., when there’s a case in a classroom group), taking at least some precautions makes sense. Instead of an all-school, everybody-moving-at-one-time event, I decided to scale the whole thing down to two grade levels (around 100 -120 kids) at a time for about an hour. Tomorrow morning we’ll run Field Day three different times between 8:30 and 12:00.
As a way of building back towards large multi-age groups, I tried to put different grade levels together who normally might not have much to do with each other. I also tried to get the whole groups balanced numerically in order to guarantee manageable group sizes. Having multi-age groups was a kind of non-negotiable for me. There’s something very special about putting children into groups and asking them to yes, have fun together, but to also take care of each other as they go. And the dynamics of multi-age groups changes the games entirely. Few of the games are particularly competitive. If so, the competition happens in pairs or trios and is remarkably short lived. The goal at each station is to play as long as there’s time. When you’re a 4th grader playing alongside a Kindergarten student, you’re going to show up differently than if you’re surrounded exclusively by your peers.
Planning activities that will appeal to and work for students between 4 and 11 years old takes some practice and thinking. Throughout the year our students have built up a repertoire of games of low organization that are familiar and easy to manage on their own. Field Day is like a greatest hits album of fun, easy to play activities. And even for kids who haven’t played these games often, there are plenty of kids who have and who can explain (often better and more efficiently than an adult). Although there will be teachers available at each station, I’ve asked my colleagues to hang back as much as possible and allow the kids to show how capable they are.
An event like this has lots of moving parts AND the kids are prepared. They know the activities. They’ve seen the layout of the gyms and understand how stations work. The vast majority of them are literate and can read signs, pictures, maps. We believe they can manage it and they absolutely will. I’ve asked my best organized administrator and someone from his team to be the timekeepers, to help us stick to our schedule. My classroom teacher colleagues are sufficiently informed and will get their kids to the event in time. Water fountains and toilets are in relatively close proximity to all the different sites. Kids should all be wearing name tags with the number of their starting station, so if anyone gets lost, based on the time we should be able to locate their group pretty quickly. Also, there are only 9 possibilities, and within that range, each classroom group can only be a part of 3 teams, so I’m not worried about kids getting lost.
I’m writing this now to remind myself that my colleague and I put a lot of thought and effort into crafting this event. I’m feeling confident that everything will go as well as it possibly can. Of course there will be glitches. That’s a given. But there will also be a lot of joy and marvel and care. That’s what I’ll be on the lookout for: the smiles, the hand-holding, the new friendships, the adoring looks, the wild fun, the screams of delight and surprise. I’ve been watching these kids all year and tomorrow they will shine again. I know it.