By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
BOX ELDER - "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Madalyn right over." The excited chants of a group of second- graders echoed Wednesday throughout the gymnasium at Box Elder School. Hearing her name called, 7-year-old Madalyn Gardipee smiled, dropped her teammates' hands, and ran at the rival Red Rover team as fast as she could, her ponytail streaming behind her.
Her attempt to break through the opposing team's line proved unsuccessful, but Madalyn didn't seem to care. She simply joined the other team. There are really no losers in Red Rover, since all players end up on the winning team in the end.
"We're really trying to emphasize noncompetitive play so the kids aren't so into who wins and who loses," Melanie Jenkins, physical education and health teacher at Box Elder Schools, said Wednesday.
Red Rover was one of several games Box Elder students could play as part of the school's celebration of the Worldwide Day of Play, which will be held Oct. 2.
"That's a Saturday and we won't have the kids that day, so we decided to have our play day a little early," Jenkins said.
Nickelodeon, a television network for children, launched its "Let's Just Play" campaign in 2003, hoping to empower children to engage in active, healthy and fun play. Noticing the trend that children are spending more time in front of a television or computer than outside at play, the TV network decided it needed to step in, encouraging children to play and emphasizing the value of playtime. In recognition of the Worldwide Day of Play on Oct. 2, Nickelodeon is planning to go off the air for three hours, asking its viewers to go outside and celebrate play instead of sitting indoors in front of a TV.
"The play day is wonderful for our kids and good for our school," Dave Nelson, Box Elder's elementary principal and a former P.E. teacher, said. "It's bringing back the games that these kids' parents played in the past. Some of these kids will go home tonight and tell their parents or grandparents that they learned a new game, like Red Rover or Kick the Can. Their parents will probably just chuckle."
About 270 students from kindergarten through eighth grade participated in play day. The activities were held on Tuesday and Wednesday during the students' normal P.E. period. Jenkins said this is the first time the school has participated in the play day and the students' feedback has been positive.
"They are absolutely loving it," she said. "We're trying to get the kids to realize that playing is good for them."
About 20 feet from the Red Rover game, 7-year-old Tyler Hooper sat on a big blue ball watching his classmates juggle and toss bean bags. Suddenly he pushed off the floor with his feet, bouncing the ball around the gym. He smiled and shrieked with enthusiasm as he bounced the ball higher and higher in the air, his little hands clutching the ball's handle for dear life.
"I love this," he said, while taking a break from bouncing. "My favorite part is the scooters and the bouncy ride."
Jenkins said that after this week's success, she now plans to incorporate a day of play every year, whether it be during a gym class or an all-school field day. Jenkins said playtime is not only fun for children, it also helps them learn and develop academic and social skills.
"It really helps teach them how to interact with one another, creating positive interactions," she said.
By participating in and documenting a day of play, Box Elder Schools is now eligible to compete for one of 25 to 50 grants Nickelodeon plans to distribute. The funds must be used to further an organization's physical activity program. The grants range in size from $5,000 to $10,000. If Box Elder is selected for a grant, Jenkins said the school will use the money to build an outdoor basketball court on the school's playground.