Maeve Visser Knoth: Picture Books during PE

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Picture Books during PE

In response to a question from a recent reader, I would like to describe a little about ways I have seen picture books used as part of an elementary school physical education program. I strongly believe that the right picture book can be used to start almost anything with children. Picture books can be part of a birthday party, part of rainy day recess, the thing you pull out of your bag when there is a line at the bank or the way to introduce a group of kids meeting each other for the first soccer practice. That said, I have seen picture books become an integral part of a physical education program and I have had fun inventing games to use with picture books.

One teacher I have observed starts most classes by reading aloud a picture book. Sometimes the book is just a way to focus the children and get them ready to listen to instructions. Sometimes the story leads into a game. When this is the case, the game often comes directly from the story. We would call most of these games "glorified tag" but to the students, these games are invented just for them.

Many books lend themselves to being "played". I enjoy reading The Great White Man-Eating Shark by Margaret Mahy and having kids act out the book as a game. The story is about Norvin, a very homely boy who looks very much like a shark. Norvin discovers that if he straps a dorsal fin to his back and streaks "back and forth like a silver arrow" through the nearby cove, the other swimmers flee and he has the water to himself. I have often read this book to an enthusiastic audience of 1st and 2nd graders and had them "shoot back and forth" across the gym floor pretending to be sharks. Once they have acted this out several times, the kids can smoothly transition into a game of tag with some children being "Norvin" trying to catch the innocent swimmers.

Counting books can be another good resource for PE teachers. Ten Sly Piranhas by William Wise is a funny reverse counting book that lends itself to physical play. Depending on the size of the group, I write the numbers from 1 through 10 with chalk on the ground or on large pieces of paper. The numbers can be a kind of "base" so that when there are ten pieces of paper on the floor and ten piranhas alive, the children have ten safe places to stand. As fish get eaten in the story, I pick up the numbers and there are fewer places to stand without getting caught. You will recognize this as a variation on "musical chairs".

Much of the time when I am reading to young children and trying to find ways to extend their literary experience, I fall back on traditional games. I don't have to invent a new game, I just have to come up with a slight twist on an old favorite. The book Avocado Baby by John Burningham has tremendous appeal to kindergartners and first graders because it is about a baby who becomes incredibly strong when he eats avocados. Few little children have not fantasized about having amazing strength. After reading Avocado Baby children enjoy a good game of "Simon Says" but this time it is not Simon who is in charge, it is Avocado Baby. So "Avocado Baby says touch your toes...and Avocado Baby says show your muscles!"

I would love to hear about more games that are directly connected to picture books.


Blogger kim said...

Thanks so much for your fantastic suggestions! I will definitely use them!
For now I'm having the children act as a group "Very Hungry Caterpillar" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider".
Thank you!

8/30/2006 10:23 PM  

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