These days children don’t need to go outside to play games and they don’t need to pick up a phone to talk to their friends. In fact, there isn’t much that can’t be done on a computer or through video games these days. Heck, want to learn how to play the guitar? Go buy Guitar Hero, the popular video game, plug in your Sony Playstation and rock out.
A group of parents at Our Lady of Mercy School got to thinking about all of this and decided to do something about it.
“Kids are too computer-centric,” said Kristie Haley, a Mercy parent and a member of the Mercy Parent Teacher Organization. “If you tell them to turn off the TV, they say ‘Can I get on the computer? Can I get on my [Nintendo] Wii?’”
So Haley and other Mercy parents organized the first annual Our Lady of Mercy Get Moving Expo as a means of engaging their students in alternative activities that they can pursue throughout their lives.
On Friday, Nov. 2, the gymnasium at Mercy was filled with all manner of students trying their hands at games and crafts that were largely new to them. Badminton shuttlecocks flew through the air, rowing machines whirred, foosball defensemen twirled furiously. Basic chords were strummed on a guitar, scrap book decorations were handled, air hockey pucks clicked back and forth and cameras pointed at one another in photographic duels.
“We really want to expose these kids to some out-of-the-box activities,” said Haley.
Computers are useful tools and vital to learning and living in a modern world, said Joan Hosmer, the principal at Mercy, “but you don’t want to lose everything of interest and value outside of the computer.”
When it comes to life beyond computers, team sports may not be for everyone and they’ll only go so far.
“You know what? Not everybody is going to play field hockey or lacrosse in high school,” said Haley.
“So many times they’re taught to play one sport and after they stop [playing] they just sit around,” said Joan McCabe, the school nurse at Mercy. The goal of the Expo was to show kids that they have unlimited options to keep their wits keen and their bodies fit, said McCabe.
“There’s so many sports and hobbies out there — try it,” said McCabe.
Alexis Runco, a Mercy parent and amateur photographer, operated possibly the most-visited booth at the expo, where she showed students the basics of operating digital cameras.
Fifth-grader Paolo Tranquill weaved his way through the crowd of students and sports with a camera in hand taking pictures of students, including pictures of other students taking pictures — of him.
“I’m going to be a photographer when I grow up,” Paolo said.
Most of the exhibitors were Mercy parents or teachers, and they all made their pitches.
“Real athletes row,” said Karin Ryan, a Mercy parent and former college rower. “Other athletes play games.”
Brian Ligon, Mercy’s gym teacher, brought in his collection of trading cards to spark an interest in card collecting.
“Growing up we were able to go outdoors a lot more than I think kids can these days,” said Ligon. The sports and hobbies on display at the expo were things that adults may be familiar with, but that children may not know very well, Ligon said.
Fifth-grader Noah Monnig was only vaguely familiar with foosball before Friday.
“I’ve seen it before, but it’s sort of new,” Noah said.
“I think it’s great for kids to see adults that are into activities,” said McCabe.
It was important to show students that they can take part in activities that don’t require computers or remote controls, Haley said. It was equally important to provide them with alternate ways to blow off steam during their increasingly demanding lives.
“We’re trying to de-stress these kids and teach them something different,” said Haley.
Hosmer said that response from the students was enthusiastic, and Haley said that she planned to organize an even bigger expo next year.
“This is our first year, so we’ll build on it,” Haley said.