Students enjoy ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

January 12, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

the Wild Things Are’ obstacle course that physical education teacher Polly Vaughn designed as part of the final day of their gymnastics unit. By Chantelle Lusebrink

the Wild Things Are’ obstacle course that physical education teacher Polly Vaughn designed as part of the final day of their gymnastics unit. By Chantelle Lusebrink

Tumbling through the jungle, flying through houses and hoops and spying on wild things were just a few of the things Maple Hills Elementary School students did before winter break Dec. 17.

For a few precious days, students celebrated the end of their gymnastics unit in their physical education class with teacher Polly Vaughn, by participating in an elaborate obstacle course designed to take students to another world — “Where the Wild Things Are.”

“It’s fun for students. They see the movies, they read the books and I use that to connect with them,” Vaughn said. “This gives them something special to look forward to here and something they can pretend with. Here, they’re Max, pretending to go through the land of the Wild Things.”A popular children’s book since 1963, “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak, is a story of a young boy named Max, whose mother sends him to bed without supper for being mischievous at home while wearing his wolf costume. Longing to be anywhere but home, a wild forest and sea grows from his imagination.

Suddenly, Max finds himself in a new world surrounded by great monsters that he stares down and later, their king. Along the way, Max has many adventures, including sailing in the foreign sea, tumbling through the jungle, swinging from the trees and balancing from heights to spy on the monsters.

Carefully, Vaughn took the scenes from the book and the recently released movie and crafted a giant gymnastics obstacle course in the gym for students to run through.

The obstacle course featured the tumbling mats, balance beam, bars and the vault students used throughout their gymnastic unit, but arranged them in ways similar to the movie.

Students used the uneven bar to swing from a rope and onto tumbling mats, used scooters to pull themselves through the sea Max sails on, wove themselves through a jungle of upright tumbling mats with monsters and vaulted over a countertop, like Max does at his house in the book.

“I really like the forest,” fourth-grader Emily Collins said. “There’s a bunch of mats and animals.”

“Kind of like a maze,” her friend Rachel King, another fourth-grader, added.

It isn’t the first year Vaughn has done the obstacle course, though, said Principal Monique Beane.

In prior years, Vaughn has constructed obstacle courses to replicate movies like “Ratatouille,” “Stewart Little” and “Harry Potter.”

“It’s really cool,” Beane said of the latest obstacle course. “I did it myself yesterday and I was tired.”

“It’s keeps them moving and it’s more motivating to pretend to jump over a counter top or dive through a hoop, like Max does when he flies through houses, than telling them to do a pike jump or balance on the beam,” Vaughn said. “If we make it fun here, they may be more likely to do it at home.

“If they don’t like P.E., then they won’t realize how important exercise is as an adult.”

To participate in the obstacle course at the end of the unit, students have to earn a certain number of points as a class throughout the six-week unit. The points are accumulated by how well students listen, behave and perform in class.

Classes who earn enough points participated in the obstacle course and found hidden figures from the movie throughout to earn additional points, which lead to a prize for their class after they come back from winter break.

Vaughn also started a running club for students during recesses.

“I really like to run,” fourth-grader Max Kelsey said. “We do a ton of running with Ms. Vaughn in P.E. and I really like that. She’s cool.”

“For Polly, it’s the kids first, always,” Beane said. “She is always thinking of ways to engage her students and how best to teach.

“She is a rarity,” she added. “I know we all really appreciate her here and what she brings to our Maple Hills community.”

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment at

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