November’s GIVING THANKS and DOING PLANKS Fitness Challenge

Are you ready to Flourish with Fitness throughout the month of November? If so, then it’s time for GIVING THANKS and DOING PLANKS! 

Why plank exercises?

Plank exercises strengthen the core. Core muscles help to support the body and allow us to use our arms and legs strongly and effectively. Strong core muscles form the foundation for good posture, coordination and balance. All gross and fine motor skills rely on a stable core.

Remember to practice and encourage proper form with your students. Now lets take a look at the challenge.

Part 1 of the challenge:

Choose 1 Timed Plank Exercise and 3 Counted Plank Exercises each day from the list of 10 plank variations below!

TIMED PLANK EXERCISES Hold for at least 20 seconds. Increase time each day for your personal best.

  • High Plank (on hands)
  • Low Plank (on elbows)


  • Plank with Shoulder Touch – 10 repetitions each shoulder
  • Up Down Plank –10 repetitions
  • Alternating Arm Raise – 5 repetitions each arm
  • Plank Jacks – 10 repetitions
  • Knee to Outside Elbow Plank – 5 repetitions each leg
  • Alternating Toe Tap Plank – 10 repetitions each side
  • Plank Leg Raise – 10 repetitions each leg
  • Knee Tap Plank (Low plank) – 10 repetitions each knee

Thank you Jedd Austin (@jeddaustin) for your incredible videography/editing talent.

Part 2 of the challenge:

Think of something or someone you’re thankful for, and write it on the calendar each day. If your thankful for a person, go above and beyond by telling the person or writing them a note.

Using the linked fitness calendar, write your initials for each day you complete the routine. At the end of the month, add up the total number of days completed, have your parents sign the bottom of the sheet, and return it to your PE teacher. Students completing at least 10 days will receive an award certificate and toe token.

For an editable copy of the November Flourish with Fitness Challenge, click Giving Thanks and Doing Planks 2018.

For a PDF copy of the November Flourish with Fitness Challenge (in case font does not work on editable version) click Giving Thanks and Doing Planks 2018.

For an editable copy of the Award Certificate, click Thanks and Planks Certificate Final.

“Strong Core Muscles Create Confident Kids!” Clamber Club, 25 Feb. 2017,

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October’s PUMPKIN DICE LATTE Fitness Challenge

It’s time to Flourish with Fitness by taking the Pumpkin Dice Latte fitness challenge. In order to take this sweet challenge students, parents, teachers, and staff will need the following:

  • Pumpkin – With the help of an adult, find a pumpkin you can safely lift off the ground and over your head. You should be able to hold the pumpkin with extended arms in front of you for at least 10 seconds.


  • Dice – Go to your game closet to find a single dice.dice
  • A desire to get fit!

Once a pumpkin has been selected, it’s time to get pumped using the pumpkin as a weight.

Check out this awesome video for a demonstration of each exercise!

Thank you Jedd Austin (@jeddaustin) for your incredible videography/editing talent. This video will, without a doubt, be a useful resource for everyone who takes the challenge.

  • Spooky Squats – Hold your pumpkin by your chest. Slowly complete a squat. Remember to keep your shoulders back and push off your heels.
  • Jack-o-Lantern Jacks – Complete jumping jacks holding the pumpkin over your head.
  • Pumpkin Press – Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Push your pumpkin above your head then down to your chest for one repetition.
  • Pumpkin Seed Sit-ups – Lie flat on your back holding the pumpkin on the ground with extended arms over your head. Lifting one leg, curl up and touch your toe with the pumpkin. Repeat this move while alternating legs.
  • Boogedy Boogedy Burpees – Complete a burpee while holding your pumpkin with two hands.
  • Frankenstein Kicks – Hold the pumpkin out in front of you with extended arms. Alternating legs, gently kick the pumpkin with your toes.

I spend the week prior to the challenge introducing the workout and practicing each of the exercises during PE class. This allows me to help students with form before setting them off to do the workout at home. I’ve incorporated rest days this year as well. Students need to know that giving your body a break is an important part of any workout regiment. At the end of the month, participants turn in their calendars. Anyone who completes ten days or more receives an award certificate with a two-inch gold sticker and a plastic shoe token.


For an editable copy of the October Flourish with Fitness Challenge, click Pumpkin Dice Latte.

For a copy of the Pumpkin Dice Latte certificate, click Dice Latte Certificate .

BTW – Don’t forget about the yummy pumpkin seeds when the challenge is over. They make a super, yummy, healthy snack. Click PUMPKIN SEED RECIPE for directions on how to roast them. I like to make several batches, each with a different seasoning. Here are a few of my favorites (season prior to roasting):

  • Salt and Pepper
  • Salt and Vinegar
  • Barbecue
  • Ranch – Envelope Hidden Valley ranch seasoning
  • Cheddar or Parmesan – use packets of powdered cheese from a macaroni and cheese box

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Teaching Team Building is Easy as 1-2-3…4!

No matter the age, the skill set for students today should include tools for team building and greater communication skills.

As in most Physical Education Programs, it has been tradition for my team and I to kick off the school year with two weeks of team building and cooperative activities. Not only is it the perfect way to get to know students, it also encourages them to communicate (talk to each other – a dying art!) and problem solve in small, medium, and large sized groups. Through these cooperative activities, we are able to determine which students work well in group settings, and those who may have difficulties within this dynamic.

Team building with students improves productivity, boosts motivation, increases collaboration, encourages creativity, and enriches communication.


Step 1: DEFINE and REMIND:

“What is a good group member?”

This is one of the first questions we ask our students before we delve into the heart of the unit. No matter what the age or grade level, students need to be reminded of common expectations when working in a group. This helps define the goal of team building and expectations. During a recent brainstorming session on effective group member characteristics, our third grade students devised the following list:

  1. Make compromises
  2. Listen to your teammates
  3. Takes turns speaking
  4. Stay on task
  5. Don’t give up – if a plan doesn’t work, try another
  6. Everyone participate
  7. Be nice to each other
  8. Be willing to work with anyone

Similar lists will crop up across grade levels. In fact, verbalizing expected etiquette while working in a group comes easily to the students, however, when presented with a group task, our shared ideas are frequently forgotten by a many, validating the need to DEFINE and REMIND.

STEP 2: Start small

When teaching team building, initially form groups of 2-3 students. Beginning with small teams will increase students’ comfort level, and empower them to freely bounce ideas back and forth.

Think about your next staff meeting. Would you be more likely to share your ideas or answer questions in a small or large group? As adults and children, we fear the prospect of “being wrong” in front of the WHOLE group, causing us to remain quiet.

Breaking into small groups allows all members to have a voice, and may increase the quantity and quality of ideas shared.

As the unit progresses we will gradually introduce more complex activities with larger groups.

STEP 3: TMI (too much information) – Avoid information overload

I’ve been guilty of this on many occasions. Too often, we forget our students are extremely creative, and can discover multiple solutions to a task or complex team building activity. Therefore, when presenting a challenge, don’t give away any possible solutions in your explanation. Be careful not to OVER DEMONSTRATE!

Below is a perfect example of a time when I gave too much information in the written description of an activity and over demonstrated while presenting the task. Notice how each group in the video is completing the task identically, just as I demonstrated it. Also notice the differences in the slide I presented to each class.

The result: limited solutions and stifled student creativity.

Noodle Stepping Stones

In this second video, I was less specific with the description. There was also no demonstration prior to the challenge. Notice the variety of solutions each group was able to present.


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Step 4: Processing and debriefing questions

Once the groups are formed and the task is presented, it is time for planning and implementation. It is imperative that the teacher is present and observing each group’s interactions throughout the process.

This processing or debriefing step is where communication, group dynamics, leadership, problem solving strategies, perseverance and other skills can be observed and discussed following the activity.

Unfortunately, too often, this necessary step is rushed or completely neglected during and after a cooperative activity.

Without debriefing, team building loses is effectiveness. Students need processing time to share what worked well and what did not, granting them stock in the methodology.

Processing as a group allows students to share strategies and offer useful insight to groups who may have struggled. Here are a few of the many question a teacher can ask during this step:

  • Did you have to try different ideas?
  • Did your team devise a plan?
  • How did you support your team?
  • What did a fellow teammate do to support the group?
  • How can you connect what you’ve learned from this activity to your life?
  • Was there a clear leader in your group? What does good leadership look like?
  • Do you feel your group communicated well?
  • Did anyone feel left out?


On some occasions, you may also need to do “check point” processing. Check point processing occurs midway through an activity. There are times when a large percentage of students may be experiencing difficulty with the presented task. Or maybe you notice there are several groups having a tough time communicating and sharing responsibility and ideas. If this occurs, briefly stop the task and gather the students for a group discussion. During this time the instructor can steer the discussion toward the sticky points witnessed.

Whether it’s building a hula hut in P.E., passing a ball on a field, or completing a team project in class, team building skills are indispensable tools for children to possess. Like any lesson, we can teach our students the benefits of sharing ideas, communicating thoughts, and working as a group, but ultimately it is the children that will connect and use those skills in the real world.

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Flourish with Fitness – September’s Back to School Fitness Challenge


Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 3.35.07 PM

I’ll be referring to the year’s take-home fitness challenges as FLOURISH WITH FITNESS challenges. As you see in the above definition, the word flourish refers to growing and developing in a healthy way, especially as the result of a favorable environment. We the parents, teachers, and guardians provide the opportunity for our kids to grow. What better environment for exercise than home, either by yourself or better yet, with family and friends.

The goal of each FLOURISH WITH FITNESS challenges is to introduce a variety of exercises, healthy habits, and routines that are quick, easy, and fun to perform, yet challenging enough to increase heart rates and help build strength. Ultimately, promoting lifelong fitness and its countless health related benefits will hopefully be a main take away for our students and families.

Updated BTS Fitness Screen

For the month of September, students will be challenged with an AMRAP (as many rounds as possible). I will spend the week prior to the challenge discussing the workout and practicing the four exercises that make up the AMRAP during PE class. This allows me to help them with form before setting them off to do the workout at home. I’ve incorporated rest days this year as well. Students need to know that giving your body a break is an important part of any workout regiment. I also encourage the students to teach their parents the workout. Many parents inform me that they too take the monthly challenges!

At the end of the month, students turn in their calendars. Students who complete ten days or more receive an award certificate with a gold sticker a plastic shoe token.


Shoe Tokens are always a hit with students

For an editable copy, click September Challenge 2018

For and editable copy of the award certificate, click Back to School Challenge Certificate.

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The Recess Equipment Dilemma: Part 2 – A plan that works

In The Recess Equipment Dilemma: Part 1 Frustration, I shared the challenges I’ve faced over the years plotting various solutions for student accountability in regard to recess equipment. Simply stated, “Why is all the recess equipment being stranded on the play ground?”

“Personally, I have meticulously developed plans, charts, and strategies to ensure all recess equipment would be retrieved and accounted for following each recess session. Initially, the designs worked flawlessly, however, much like the not-put-away shoes we trip over, forgotten equipment was strewn across the playground, waterlogged, faded, and over-heated. Ultimately, the playground balls in particular, would be lost, stolen, flattened, or would simply disappear into the playground abyss. Plan after plan after inefficient plan, would end with the same fate. No recess balls, no student accountability.”

Summing up my previous post, I concluded with the following:

Several years ago, my team and I set up a meeting to brainstorm ideas for yet ANOTHER plan. What we devised was a system which included the PE team, the classroom teachers and assistants AND the students all working together.


After poring over the many failed attempts to teach out students accountability, my team and I finally determined the missing ingredient: Us! The Teachers!

As adults, we set alarms to wake up, fitness trackers alert us when we need to move, and our cars remind us when we are low on fuel. Like us, students thrive with reminders. They crave adults leadership to model appropriate behaviors. It’s the same as a math teacher spending extra time on a difficult concept, ensuring that every student understands. The idea parallels the reminders we consistently give students in the lunch room when the noise level exceeds the limit. Even we, the adults, need similar reinforcement and guidance. My point is, we can’t expect to devise a recess plan, explain it to the students one or two times, the expect them to carry it out flawlessly over an extended amount of time.

To that end, here is the plan my team and I developed several years ago. We shared the new plan with our students at an assembly with a thorough explanation and PowerPoint presentation.


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The first thing we did during our presentation was state the dilemma and explain the  goal of the Improved Recess Plan.

Screen Shot 2018-08-20 at 9.00.20 PM

Next, we gave an brief overview of the plan.

Breif Plan Overview

We followed the overview with a more in depth discussion about each of the three points, beginning with the bag. We were fortunate enough to purchase several bags, each a different color for each grade level. Every year the bags are restocked with equipment color coordinated with the bag. Every school has a different budget for equipment so it’s understood that the contents of your recess bag may look different than ours. You can also use laundry baskets as a cost efficient option instead of bags. Regardless, the plan remains the same. 


The Bag

We later realized we were handing out WAY too much equipment at once. We now store some of the equipment for later in the school year.

Bag Continued

Our school has four classes per grade level. Each class takes turns storing the bag.

It’s imperative to include a checklist on the bag. This reminds the students of its contents when it’s time to gather the equipment.

SharpieEQUALLY IMPORTANT: With a sharpie, label each ball with the grade level.  


Bag Labels

Each bag has an inventory tag. This is a MUST!



We instructed the students and teachers to create an additional student job called Recess Equipment Manager. As stated below, the Recess Equipment Manager would have a specific job description. However, this chosen individual would need help.

Teachers on recess duty would have to remind students to collect the equipment using the checklist attached to the bag. They would have to hold not only the managers, but the rest of students accountable for the equipment if it was left behind. Teachers also have to remind students to report any lost or damaged equipment. Find a time to speak to all the teachers regarding this important responsibility. Set up a time during pre-planning if possible.

We later realized that there needed to be a team of Recess Equipment Managers. Therefore, each class would provide one manager for a total of four.  Following a recess session, having more eyes on the equipment proved to be more efficient and less taxing.

Students who are NOT the Recess Equipment Managers need reminders that they too are responsible for the equipment. If a student takes a ball from the bag, then that same student should make sure the ball is returned to the bag at the end of recess or when they are finished using it.

The System


Below is the policy we initially established for damaged equipment. Presently, without hesitation, we will replace any equipment damaged from normal wear and tear. We are not as lenient with lost equipment.



Replacing Equipment

Each school will have a unique plan for replacing equipment depending on budget and philosophy.

The above plan may seem elaborate and perhaps even over-the-top. I’m sure some of you have recess equipment plans which are more simplified and work well for your school. Our color-coded equipment plan has definitely, without a doubt, been the best plan implemented thus far throughout my career.  However, for every successful plan, there needs to be a team effort. Our students are being molded from early on to become responsible and accountable adults. Along with their parents, we the educators, play a significant role in this development. We can and should use recess as another opportunity to enhance student accountability.

*Special thanks to my colleagues Jedd Austin (@jeddaustin), Brian Balocki (@brianbalocki), and Laura English (@PECoachLaura.)


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The Recess Equipment Dilemma: Part 1 – Frustration

Why I love recess:

I strongly believe recess provides elementary-aged students a brilliant balance to their school day. It’s an opportunity for students to freely explore and socialize while developing and boosting emotional, physical, and social growth in an unstructured environment.

But wait! There’s more!

Recess also throws in a bonus lesson of responsibility for the students, and grants educators an opportunity to reinforce student accountability.

What? Read on.

SOLVING MY RECESS RIDDLE: Where is everything?

Over the last 25 years, I have attempted to teach students to be accountable for recess equipment, and I know I’m not alone. I’ve witnessed teachers with recess captains, leaders, and helpers toting out baskets, bins, and bags, filled with their gear, only to return empty.

Personally, I have meticulously developed plans, charts, and strategies to ensure all recess equipment would be retrieved and accounted for following each recess session. Initially, the designs worked flawlessly, however, much like the shoes we trip over that were never put away, forgotten equipment was strewn across the playground, waterlogged, faded, and over-heated. Ultimately, the playground balls in particular, would be lost, stolen, flattened, or would simply disappear into the playground abyss. Plan after plan after inefficient plan, would end with the same fate. No recess balls, no student accountability.

I recently stumbled across the following email sent to the faculty and staff of a school where I previously worked. The date was September 13, 2006, and I was frustrated another “well-thought-out plan” was leading to failure. I was seeking assistance and guidance from anyone to help teach our students to be accountable. Therefore, I attempted to douse the dilemma with a little humor, and draw other teacher’s attention to my frustration…empathy anyone?

Anyway, here’s the email:

Ladies and gentlemen,

It brings me great sadness to announce the untimely death of our beloved soccer ball. As I braved the elements and journeyed across campus in search of our missing friend, I was horrified to discover our once firm, bouncy friend, completely flat under a butterfly bush.  As I placed my hand on his damaged polypropylene skin, and shook gently while asking,”are you okay?”, I immediately realized I needed to attempt to resuscitate with my air pump.  After several minutes of rescue breathing I realized the ball was dead.  The apparent cause of death was several puncture wounds to the bladder.  It is my belief our friend was taken outside to be happily kicked around.  Then, instead of being put back with his friends in his little white laundry basket home, he was abandoned. Being forced to face the elements proved to be too much of a challenge for the less than 24 hour-old ball.  Perhaps as he was bouncing around searching for his friends football, volleyball, basketball and kickball, he rolled into a pack of dogs.  It seams the punctures are a result of dog teeth.  Dogs are NOT balls best friends. Hopefully DNA can narrow the search for the killer by presenting the breed responsible. There will NOT be a public viewing of the ball since I already threw it away. 

Please be gentle with the remaining balls as they are in a state of grief. Inform the children the balls may not bounce as high and far as usual since they’re feeling rather flat today. Kim is available for anyone who needs counseling.

Warmest regards,



Perhaps you’ve experienced similar challenges. Maybe you have a plan that has worked for your school. If so, please share. Several years ago, my team and I set up a meeting to brainstorm ideas for yet ANOTHER plan. What we devised was a system which included the PE team, the classroom teachers and assistants AND the students all working together. To be continued…

Stay tuned for The Recess Equipment Dilemma: Part 2 – A plan that works. 

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Recess Duty: Are you Qualified?

I am a HUGE advocate for unstructured recess.

I firmly believe a 30 minute recess should be a mandatory part of every child’s day, in addition to a supplemental fifteen minute brain break either earlier or later in the school day.

As a teacher, I have a unique opportunity while on recess duty to witness the emotional, physical, and social growth of children in an unstructured environment. This is a time when plan books are stowed away and learning is piloted by children’s imaginations and creativity.

Recess is a necessity

Olga Jarrett, professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at Georgia State, states when children have recess they are: less fidgety and more on task, have improved memory and more focused attention, develop more brain connections, learn negotiation skills, exercise leadership, teach games, take turns, and learn to resolve conflicts, and are more physically active before and after school.

In a previous post titled, Recess Lessons From the Playground, I discuss how unstructured recess is a student’s outdoor classroom where the following lessons are presented daily:

  • CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND PATIENCImage result for recess duty learning

Also, check out SHAPE America’s Top 10 Reasons for Recess.

Unstructured Recess Does NOT Equal Unsupervised Recess

In some instances teachers confuse unstructured recess with unsupervised recess. While students are being challenged by the real life lessons recess naturally provides, teachers must be present. For teachers, recess is NOT time for a break, to grade papers, sit and chat with colleagues, or catch up on social media.

Too often, adults on recess duty forget their purpose or simply don’t understand how vital their role is during a child’s free and unstructured play time.

What is the teacher’s role while on recess duty? Top 10 tips to guide you



1. SPREAD OUT  – Supervisor zones

Teachers need to spread out and observe. Much like lifeguards at a busy beach or water park, adults on recess duty need to separate themselves from other adults and keep their heads on a swivel. We need to resist the temptation to sit or stand in a group socializing throughout recess.


Every school should have a clear set of recess expectations and boundaries. Teachers on recess duty must not only know them, but also consistently enforce them. It can be frustrating for teachers and students when some teachers adhere to the recess rules while another group of teachers have loose interpretations, barely enforcing them. As teachers, we need to be consistent and fair.


There’s no doubt conflict runs rampant during recess. Whether it’s a heated football game or a group of students excluding someone from their tribe, conflict is inevitable. It’s also necessary. It helps foster resilience and assists in developing problem solving strategies. It’s important for recess duty teachers to allow students the opportunity to resolve conflict on their own.

On some occasions, a teacher may need to step in to facilitate and give students the tools necessary to resolve the present and future issues.



While on recess duty, there are always areas on the playground that need more of a watchful eye than others. For example, if the majority of a class is playing in the Gaga pit, then obviously this area needs direct supervision. One, because of the volume of students, and two, Gaga ball tends to be a game which challenges student integrity (stay tuned for a future post called, Gaga! Welcome to the Integrity Ball!). 



Scan the playground from your post. Even if you’re on fifth grade recess duty, be prepared to assist students from other grade levels on different parts of the playground as needed. Just because students aren’t under your direct supervision, doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for their well-being.


Hypothetically speaking, let’s imagine a group having difficulty playing football on a daily basis. They can’t agree on teams, and the games are out of control.

Teachers can become frustrated with the students and ultimately ban them from playing. A better idea would be to monitor the games daily and give the students ample opportunity to resolve conflict.

When and if necessary, provide them with the tools to make teams and strategies to resolve conflict during the games. It may not be easy, but it’s a teachable conflict that will take time a patience.


Take advantage of your recess duty to learn something new about each of your students. You may already know a certain student loves to read, but struggles in math. However, did you realize the same child enjoys running and catching insects? Use this knowledge to build connections with your students.


Punctuality is a must. Never give the students an opportunity to be unsupervised. Whether picking up your students from a classroom or meeting them on the playground, students deserve the entire allotted time to run, play, and explore on the playground. When recess is over, make sure all your students have safely lined up and make their way back into the school.

Diane Swings


Kids are inquisitive. Many, if not all, have an innate desire to explore, even if it pushes beyond the recess expectations and boundaries. In many instances, children are so engaged and hyper-focused on what they’re doing, they don’t realize they may be doing something wrong. You might find a group of students organizing a soccer game in the middle of a preexisting football game. After giving the two groups ample opportunity to resolve the overlap, you may have to help the soccer players find another safe place to play.

It can be easy to assume bad intentions when you notice a child or children breaking rules or overstepping boundaries. Take a deep breath, and calmly approach the situation.  Have a conversation to discover the true intentions. If necessary, redirect them to appropriate activities. Often, the original idea can be tweaked in order to make it acceptable for recess.


Student and teacher safety is of utmost importance during recess. All teachers need to be ready to react to any given situation.

Here are my top 7 Emergency Readiness Strategies:

  1. Know the protocol for minor and serious injuries.
  2. Memorize your nurse’s phone number and/or program it into your phone.
  3. Keep your CPR and First Aid certifications up to date.
  4. Be able to locate or direct another person to your school’s Automated External Defibrillator (AED).
  5. Study your school’s emergency guidelines in regard to severe weather and intruders.
  6. Be sure your colleagues are on duty with you, appropriate student to teacher ratio is a must.
  7. When an emergency situation presents itself, be proactive.

For teachers, recess duty is a job in itself. I’ve been extremely fortunate to currently work in a school where recess is taken seriously. All students in all grade levels receive  recess daily. Our administrators begin each school year with a reminder that all recess duty teachers must spread out and supervise the outdoor classroom.

So next time you’re on recess duty, remember “duty” isn’t just a word that makes your kids laugh (like mine). It is a critical responsibility to ensure children are safe and given an opportunity to blossom in their outdoor playground. Make sure you’re qualified, follow my 10 tips, and keep those kids in motion!

This post is dedicated to Maryellen Berry. An amazing teacher, administrator, friend, and yes, recess monitor. Maryellen, thank you for consistently reminding us about that education happens everywhere, even/especially on the playground. Recess

“Recess Makes Kids Smarter | Scholastic.” Scholastic Publishes Literacy Resources and Children’s Books for Kids of All Ages,

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