Caroline Gates, the ‘games’ teacher at P.S. 3, and a student.
Let the games continue, preferably without poles
By Judith Stiles
By third grade every child has learned that it is completely unacceptable to hurl things at a classmate from across the room, except for one precious hour, once a week, when it is considered great fun to take aim at another student, even when the classmate can end up in kid’s prison. That’s right, the corners of the so-called gymnasium are the designated prisons, and if a child is good at hitting a moving target, he or she can send everyone to prison in the time-honored game of dodge ball.
“Dodge ball is a favorite of third graders and I think they love it because for once it is all right to throw things at other people and not get in trouble,” says Caroline Gates, who teaches what is usually known as physical education at Public School 3 on Hudson St. in Greenwich Village. At P.S. 3 we don’t call this physical education, we call it ‘games,’ because playing active games is a great way for the children to get exercise and learn about different issues, such as winning and losing,” she adds with a smile.
Gates, who was a competitive downhill skier, notes that they often have sit-down discussions on how to deal with the ups and downs of competitive games. If a child is crying, Gates first determines why the child is crying and, if it is not because of an injury, she says a few light-hearted kind words, as she tries to defuse the situation and put the fun back into dodge ball.
“Sometimes when parents do not play sports themselves, the message to children about being competitive is unclear,” says Gates. “City children have organized sports activities that always involve adults,” she adds describing how different it was growing up outside of Rochester, where kids had endless hours of playing games together with a minimum of adult intervention. She notes that young children who are 4 and 5 years old in New York City have very little experience playing games in big groups. She has to start with the basics where they learn about spatial relationships through a game commonly known as duck duck goose, which is a running tagging game.
Beanbags are a big part of the program and are used to develop balance. The children balance the bags on their heads while they walk around the auditorium, trying not to bump into 20 to 25 classmates. The older children use the beanbags for relay races, lining up in groups of five as a runner from each group races the length of the auditorium, and then passes the beanbag to their teammate like a baton.
Children who happen to be in group number four have to watch out for the padded poles that dot the path of running. “Games,” or physical education, has been conducted at P.S. 3 for years in the make-do setting of the auditorium or the ground floor of the building. For more than 20 years, Alan Tung, the legendary grades 4 and 5 teacher, ran the after-school basketball program in which the players learned the game while having padded columns obstructing the court and clear shots to the hoops. In spite of playing basketball on a linoleum floor with massive columns on the court, this was the most popular after-school program for decades because the resourceful and patient Tung imparted the love of the game to his students. He had a gift for teaching everyone the basics of basketball and he was known for bringing out the best in every player.
Any teacher can tell you that a healthy body is essential for a healthy mind and that physical activity during school hours is vital, especially for city children. Even though there is only one designated class a week for physical education, many teachers at P.S. 3 make up the deficit by taking their classes to swim at the nearby Tony Dapolito Recreation Center.
Part of the regular curriculum also includes movement, a creative dance program initiated by teacher Jenny Miller, who is also a school parent. Third grade teacher Katie Kaufmann who used to teach in the games program says, “We need our own gym desperately! Why, one winter, when the floors of the auditorium were being redone, I had to teach games on that little stage of the auditorium for three months!”
The student population of P.S. 3 hovers around 530 and the building also includes the Greenwich Village Middle School, which has another 210 students. P.S. 3 Principal Lisa Siegman is encouraged that a parent architect drew up elaborate plans for building a gym on the building’s roof, with elevator access for the handicapped. A feasibility study was even done, and the only question that remains is where can the money be found to pay for it? The children are hoping that in the next year or so a good fairy will appear from the business community and donate the money for a much-needed gym. And if that doesn’t work, they hope the city will stop playing duck duck goose after 20 years, and instead will play, plan, plan, build it.