Third-graders create obstacle course

Krystle Wagner • May 20, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Hammers pounding nails and wood echoed in the courtyard outside Annie Ratke’s classroom at Mary A. White Elementary School on Tuesday morning.

A group of third-graders bent nails as they put the final touches on their “Mission Impossible” piece for the upcoming Tot Trot obstacle course outside the Grand Haven school.

The event is for ages 3-6, and it’s part of the Tri-Cities Family YMCA’s Kick-Off to Summer Run set for Saturday, May 28. The free obstacle course starts at 9:30 a.m.

For the past several weeks, Ratke’s class has partnered with the local YMCA as part of a project-based learning opportunity. 

Tri-Cities Family YMCA Child Development Director Meredith Long said she’s been considering ways to partner with Ratke’s class. Long’s son, Matthew, is in Ratke’s class.

Long and Erica Phelps, director of fitness and wellness for the local YMCA, launched the project with the class by sharing their mission, and their responsibility with the community to promote healthy living and youth development.

Long said the Kick-Off to Summer event is family-focused, and aims at getting people interested in their health and doing activities with their children.

“We thought it would be a challenge we could take on,” said third-grader Harrison Fogg.

Before launching into action, the students learned about the ways children ages 3-6 move — crawling, walking, galloping, shuffling and more. They also took into consideration such things as age appropriateness, students with disabilities, and how long it would take a child to complete the obstacle course.

Some of the initial student ideas included tunnels, lanes, soccer nets, ladders and the possibility of needing to model activities for children.

The obstacle course is made up of groups with themes such as “Mission Impossible,” “Wizard of Oz,” Fairytale Land” and “Fun Time Island.” Students made prototypes of their ideas before moving forward with the larger-scale obstacles.

To help the project become a reality, Jason Pasatta, director of the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, donated the materials, Ratke said.

As classmates steadied a cardboard box, Sophia Galbabi and Aidan Lepo used scissors to cut flaps from it. The group is turning the box into a tunnel for kids to crawl through. They plan to cut the top off the tunnel to provide children with disabilities the chance to also go through it.

“We wanted to do it so we’re open for everyone,” Lepo said.

To gain a better idea of what movements and challenges children might have with their ideas, third-graders worked with the school’s Young Fives class. Through their observations, the older students learned that some younger children are able to crab-walk and army-crawl, but they had challenges skipping and doing the grapevine, and some had a difficult time with obstacles.

Third-grader Zoe Dull said she was surprised to learn that some children had challenges with some of their obstacle course ideas.

Dull said the project-based learning opportunity helped her and her classmates learn how to work together.

Fogg said they learned they can make their ideas better by listening to other people.

Ratke said she’s proud of her students for communicating their thoughts and taking everyone’s ideas into consideration. She said they’ve taken the project seriously and feel their ideas are valued.

“I love the way they’ve worked together and are open to each others’ ideas,” Ratke said.

As students work on the obstacle course, Long’s son provides her with periodic updates on how the projects are coming along. Long said she would welcome the opportunity every year to work with area youth.

With the Tot Trot drawing closer, the third-graders will test their obstacle courses with preschoolers. They will then make final adjustments to pieces of the course.

The students will also create advertisements to encourage families to attend the event.

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