First Graders on Hills: Exercise Science 101

Yesterday, I went to Henry’s class as a “mystery reader.” His teacher had me hide in the hallway and when I walked in, all the kids yelled, “Henry’s mom!” I only have one kid, and his attitude toward me is speeding towards an adolescent “Meh,” so hearing 15 other kids seem excited to see me sent a little surge through my maternal instincts. Eleanor said she liked my skirt, so of course, she was my instant favorite.

I told all the kids that I like to run a lot and brought a few medals from Boston and Disney. Unlike my own kid, they seemed interested. Then I showed them The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, an unlikely 1939 feminist endorsement of mother-runners by way of a rabbit with 21 babies. I asked for special permission to read it because it centers on Easter. Since it’s a nut-free book and wasn’t printed in a facility that also processes tree nuts, I was allowed to bring it into school.

The kids were actually riveted by this gentle book, which I think stands starkly against the loud children’s fare that I often suffer through–Walter the Farting Dog and other icktastic junk like that.  Even though Henry often resents what we call “the running thing,” he seemed happy I was there to read the bunny story and see the book he’s been writing about Captain Weed Killer and Dr. Dandylion [sic]. There’s no running in that one, for what it’s worth.

Henry’s willingness to tolerate his mom talking to the class about running is progress. At his last dentist appointment, I got into a chat about marathoning with his hygienist and he nearly spit fluoride across the room when he fumed, “No more running talk, Mom!” So the Bunny book is major progress.

“The running thing” is getting more acceptable around here, which I attribute to Henry’s cognitive behavioral therapy: running timed laps around the outside of the house and racing me up and down the hall. That’s the behavioral part. The cognitive part is that I let him talk smack to me when we race. His favorite line is, “I thought you were a coach.” Nice.

Last week, Henry came home with a brochure about the school science fair. His first idea was trying to find lights that are cold in the house. I think he just wanted to open the freezer so he could check on the ice cream selection.

We gave the project some more thought.

I suggested something with running. It was a risky move, but I felt we’d made enough progress in our CBT that he might be ready for it.

“What if we see who can run farther: kids or adults?” he asked.

I said we might have a sampling problem with that project and he probably wouldn’t like the results. That would have led to a major backslide in our progress with the running thing, so I suggested we study the difference in speeds running uphill and down. It was an elegant project, in my opinion.

Being that first graders aren’t all that into empirical elegance, my mom upped the silly factor by suggesting Henry also study the difference in speeds running forward and backward. That he loved, especially when I said he might need a helmet. We would have him run the driveway up and down, forward and backward, partnering up with his pal Justin to increase the sample size and robustness of his research. Being a stats zealot, it was all I could do not to break out a spreadsheet.

On research day, Henry went to Justin’s birthday party of bouncy inflatable craziness, which I thought was a great way to keep consistent conditions for my–er, I mean, his–study. Both subjects were equally fueled by pizza and cupcakes and equally tuckered by pre-research energy use (i.e., bouncing and wackiness).

After the party, Justin came over with his mom to conduct the study. The boys ran up and down the 158-foot, 20-degree incline of my driveway. We timed their trials as they discovered running as fast you can up a hill is tiring.

Those 2 minutes pretty much consumed their enthusiasm for what was to be a 3-hour report process.

We bribed them with popcorn, marshmallows, and fruit (because we’re good moms) to participate in making a bar graph. They wanted to go shoot arrows in the backyard, which sounded like a lot more fun than making a tri-fold poster of the results, but we needed to maintain the illusion that this was their project by keeping them in the house.

The report writing went something like this:

“Henry and Justin, we need to make a materials list. What did you use?”


“Henry and Justin, what was the procedure of your project?”


“Henry and Justin, what was your hypothesis?”

“Running downhill forward would be fastest.”


“I have a butt.”

It was a long 3 hours. But we made it. They finished their poster without too much trauma, and no one glued any graph paper to a cat, so I call it a success. It reminded me that I’m very happy I don’t have 21 children and will only be involved in one science project each year.

I can’t say Henry is all that keen on hill repeats at this point, but he might have found his calling with backwards running. Next year, he wants to invent something instead of doing an experiment. I suspect it might have something to do with butts and nothing to do with running.

And for those who are interested, my–er, I mean, his–research results indicated that running downhill forward is fastest.

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4 responses

  1. When you mention wearing a skirt, I assume it was a lululemon skirt or some other kind of running apparel right? Do you wear “non-running” clothing?

  2. I used to love being the “mystery” reader, and yes the other kids were always happier to see me than any of my children. Glad to now know that the notion that running downhill is faster is now evidence-based.

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