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Phoenix shows how to organize games for very young athletes.


Organized athletic events--fun runs, ski races, corporate challenges--give just about everybody who wants to participate a chance to compete. Well, almost everybody. Aren't preschoolers too young for such structured sporting events? Not according to Sue Shindler of the Phoenix Department of Parks and Recreation, who invented Itty Bitty Olympics for ages 3 through 5. These children, she says, are old enough to enjoy the attention but rarely have the nervous butterflies older athletes suffer in such events. Win or lose, they find the games a lark. Using the four events described on pages 174 and 175, you can stage your own games for preschoolers, either on a large, soft lawn or at a nearby park. Each spring (1990 marks the eighth year), more than 600 Phoenix preschoolers join in citywide playoffs. Winners go on to the finals, which open with a procession of youngsters and parents marching onto the playing field to the strains of recorded band music. Children wear official T-shirts emblazoned with the familiar five rings and four stylized athletes. Some young athletes take their roles quite seriously. "Our son has been eating his oatmeal all month because he's in training," grinned one dad.

Let the games begin--at the park or in your own back yard

Start with these four events used in the Phoenix games. Each encourages children to run, throw, hop--in other words, to use and move their bodies. For each child, try to have at least one parent or other adult on hand to cheer; in one event, you need an adult to form a team. You also need adults for timing and measuring. Remember to enthusiastically applaud even the humblest efforts. In Phoenix, all athletes get certificates; winners get medals on neck ribbons (for sources, look in the yellow pages under Trophies). For the first three events, one child performs at a time. For the sprint, try running a group race of same-age children.

Bunny hop. All participants get three chances to see how far they can travel. Children start with toes on a line (mark with a rope or string), then take three consecutive hops. Measure farthest point; no shuffling allowed after feet touch ground. If a child falls, measure from the starting line to the spot closest to where he or she touched down before falling.

Tennis ball toss. Give three chances to throw the ball farthest. Each child stands behind a line (or use home plate if you're near a baseball field), then throws.

Hula-hoop dash. This is the child-adult event (see pictures at bottom of page 170). Lay five hula hoops flat on the ground, spaced 5 feet apart, the first one 5 feet from the starting line. The finish line is 5 feet beyond the last hoop. The adult holds each of the five hoops up, and the child dashes through. Fastest team wins.

Sprint. Use string or rope to mark start and finish lines. Children age 3 dash 20 yards, age 4 run 30 yards, age 5 go 40 yards. To provide incentive, rooters can stand beyond the finish line.

What you need to stage the games

In addition to rope or string, hula hoops, and tennis balls, you need a measuring tape, stopwatch, clipboard, and paper and pen for recording scores. Short wooden garden stakes, marked with a participant's name, help for marking each try in the bunny hop and ball toss. Be as elaborate as you like with uniforms, processions, and medals. You might want to recognize each child's effort. Have plenty of water and fresh fruit on hand for the participants, especially if the weather is warm. And don't forget your camera or video recorder.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Community Action; Itty Bitty Olympics
Date:May 1, 1990
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