Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Freedom of Fourth Grade Field Day

Grey clouds hovered over the track like curious spirits, waiting for the charge of energy that could remind them of life’s crisp brightness. Suddenly, it appeared, the bulging crowd of children, and it was heading toward us with an alarming speed at its feet. Faraway laughter grew louder as the boys and girls raced down the dewy green hill to the track, their colorful tee-shirts already stained with the sweat of anticipation.

     “Fun!” their smiles cried. “Finally!”

     It was field day.

     The image of my daughter’s fourth grade class sprinting down the hill from the school to the track on field day brought me back to the easy joy of childhood. These children were thrilled to have just a couple of hours off from the intensity of the classroom and strict rules of upper elementary life.

     School is not the simple institution that it used to be. Today’s classrooms are jam-packed with language-infused math, guided reading, and lists of detailed rules that even make some parents go “hmmm... What do you think that one means?”  There are positive reinforcement programs, allergy action plans and behavior checklists. Assignment binders themselves weigh a whopping five pounds and can barely be stuffed into the giant backpacks the children carry around.

     There are so many tests.

     There are so many standardized tests.

     There are so many really important standardized tests.

     Growing up, I knew I had to finish my homework before I ventured outside to play. At that time, fourth grade homework took thirty minutes or less, so there was always plenty of daylight left after I finished math and spelling. If my parents wanted to take our family on vacation during the school year, they did so, without a second thought. My brother and I completed our make-up work and caught up when we returned from our adventure, never worrying that we’d missed the Science Olympiad or so and so’s half birthday celebration that was the event of the semester. As parents now, we have to fill out specific forms that show the educational value of our vacations. If our children miss too many days without doctors’ excuses, we are threatened with heavy fines and meetings with the magistrate. Make no mistake - school is serious business.

     Also, everything is online.


     From classroom newsletters to spelling lists to report cards.

     And if your wi-fi is glitching for whatever reason on a particular school night, be assured that an anxiety attack the size of Texas will ensue once your child realizes he or she is unable to access the teacher’s virtual homework page. Especially if it was a prep exercise for the really important standardized test that’s coming up.

     As a child, I remember giggling through fire drills, whispering with friends and shivering on the asphalt playground until being ushered back inside for sustained silent reading. Today, there are emergency drills that force elementary age children to imagine what it would be like if a gunman entered their school. We need these drills.  Sadly, this is the new reality.

     Still, it’s a lot for our young children to take in and carry around on their little shoulders every day. And this is why I found myself relishing the happiness of the moment when the kids hit the field for a day that was entirely carefree. Oh, how they needed this.

     Rough red kickballs littered the fields, evoking memories of being chosen last for the team. I pushed away the nervy nostalgia and focused instead on the sheer pleasure that oozed from my daughter’s face as she emerged onto the track with her grinning buddies.

     The teachers were dressed down and ready for fun.

     The kids were chatty, competitive and even a little unruly.

     The water balloons were over-filled and tempting.

     What a perfect way to celebrate the end of an effort-filled school year and the arrival of summer’s bliss.








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