On Monday I went to my first 運動会 (undoukai). For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a sports festival of sorts. My 2 1/2 year old nephew was participating in the "pull a donut off a string" event. The rules theoretically require you to use your mouth and teeth only - not your hands, but can you imagine a bunch of 2-year-olds doing this? Hysterics ensued. Actually, the hysterics started before the kids even made it to the donuts because they had to run the length of an admittedly small gym just to get to the bar with the suspended donuts. My nephew took about 3 steps before deciding he had no interest in going any further. This meant that my brother-in-law had to pick up my nephew and carry him, kicking and screaming, to the other end of the gym, whereupon he was then enticed by yummy donut-ness into trying to obtain a donut (hands and all).
We didn't stay for all of the events and festivities, but I did get to see the 3-year-olds singing a little song and holding hands in a circle. And then the 4-years-olds busted out all over the place with bells on their wrists and a piece of choreography that was so lengthy I couldn't believe they could all remember it. They were like a precision dance team AND they even included spirit fingers!!
As I watched the day's events, and recalled my husband's fond descriptions of all his own childhood undoukai experiences, I started to believe we need something like this in the U.S. In a country fighting obesity and a lack of physical activity, wouldn't this be a great solution? OK, sans the donuts. But still. I was never the most *ahem* athletic kid. I was more of the klutzy and bookish kid. I didn't care for organized sports like soccer or basketball or floor hockey. But I loved gymnastics days and dancing (not the square dancing we had to do in elementary school - who thought that was a good idea when kids that age are worried about cooties?) and I loved games. We often played some version of tag in elementary school. Our gym teacher had all kids of variations on the theme but it generally involved all of us running around and screaming like banshees and although I never much cared for physical activity per se, I always loved the games we played in gym class. Fifth grade was the last time I remember really enjoying a lot of "sports" and activity. But if you had given me music, choreography, bells, games, different kinds of activities? I'm sure I would have loved it.
I don't know why gym class in the U.S. has often been so focused on organized sports. I don't think gym class ever taught me much. I'm much more active now than I ever was in middle or high school. But I choose to do the things I enjoy. I dance (I've taken hip hop classes and line dancing too), I walk (sometimes in the woods and often in the city), I do yoga, Pilate's, and all kinds of aerobics - whatever inspires me. I'm never going to be mistaken for a jock, but I do manage to get pretty close to the recommended amount of physical activity each week. And I bet I'd kick a*$ at an undoukai now.