Friday, May 9, 2008

Design for Fun -- The Healthiest Kids I Have Ever Seen

Some of the happiest memories of my life are in the kindergartens and elementary schools in Okinawa, Japan. Here, I was introduced to the healthiest kids that I have ever seen in my life.

The children are insane. They are fantastically cute, but they'll swarm and tackle you. Naturally, you counter by picking them up, tossing them sky-high, flipping them over, and spinning them around.

They are always running, and have an incredible amount of energy! I was in pretty good shape at the time, yet I would get outrun and left breathless by seven-year-old children in a game of tag.

The playground design was excellent. You reguarly saw things like 20-foot high slides that were ten feet wide and which were designed to be extremely low friction -- low enough that it wasn't possible to climb up the slide. The kids went down that thing fast! Yes, those are kindergarteners in that picture.

These children had no fear. I recall a playground at another kindergarten which had 15-foot high poles going straight up in the air. Kids of six or seven would climb straight up, hang from the horizontal bar, and laugh.

These kids would really get into the games that we played. Take, for instance, a game of duck duck goose. It was hilarious for all of us everytime a kid slipped and sprawled and skid halfway accross the floor because he was going so fast.

The kids were also sweet and had a good sense of right and wrong. For instance, if you left your wallet full of cash somewhere, then they'd find you and bring it to you. They wouldn't even peek inside.

These kids listened to their teachers. As rowdy as they usually were, when it was time for class, they would sit down and pay attention.

These children were also the nicest childern I have ever met. At the ten kindergartens and two elementary schools I taught at, never once did I see a child treat another child unfairly. Isn't that amazing?

These were also the happiest children I have ever seen. Of the 750+ children who I taught, I recall one time, just once, when I saw a kid not smiling. She wasn't sad, she was just not smiling. In America, her expression would have passed as "normal". However, at the school, I saw during the couple hours I was there, a dozen classmates and several teachers ask her with a concerned look on their faces, "daijobou ka?"

I used to teach at two elementary schools as a high-school student in America. The children there were extremely sweet, but it also had a lot of elements that I found largely absent in Okinawa. For example, in Okinawa, there were far less children acting like they had ADD, there were far less children bullying others, and there were far less children who were overweight and eating fries. What a disparity!

Okinawa has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. This is attributed to, in part, the diet high in goya (bitter melon), seafood, and most deliciously, pork. However, I think it's also because the lifestyle that the children have here is really, really, really healthy.

From Okinawa, I learned that happy is healthy, healthy is fun, and fun is happy. And I also learned (for a fact!) a number of things that are really really fun and happy and healthy:

- constantly running around
- constantly screaming
- constantly horsing around
- constantly being rowdy
- constantly being kids!

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