Miles for smiles
There are going to be plenty of red socks on display in schools this summer. The campaign for Sport Relief, the version of Comic Relief that encourages young people to do something considerably more active than watching television, concludes with a noisy, cheerful and super-active flourish on Saturday, July 15.
In the approach to the big day, pupils are invited to raise funds in a great variety of ways, all of which involve travelling a mile while wearing, carrying or brandishing red socks, one inscribed Doing It, the other Done It. The Starter Kit (free DVD, events and story posters, fundraising ideas and assembly plan) also offers suggestions for keeping dynamism going. These focus on two main themes: the slogan of making the world "miles better"; and the projects for children in Guatemala City, Hyderabad and Glasgow which have been chosen to exemplify the ways in which Sport Relief can help make the slogan come true.
For example, there's a script for an assembly in which teachers and pupils confront one another in a quiz about mile-race records, cities located a mile above sea level and miles of pennies (and also featuring five pairs of socks), before going on to hear about two Guatemalan children who have managed to attend school after overcoming extraordinary difficulties.
The DVD has a lot of rather frothy footage of "yoof-TV" presenters, celebs and sports stars doing their usual ingratiating stuff, but there is a solid body of real information in there too. The website is an excellent source of ideas, some of which are also outlined on charts and mini-folders inside the pack. Learning how to convert miles into kilometres and back again is a useful if unexciting ability; finding out what happens to the changes in our heartbeat as we travel a mile is a good way of inserting maths into a scientific investigation.
Art and languages also have their place. Designing start and finish line markers for a school mile race, using Guatemalan or Indian visual styles, or competing to recognise words for distances in French or Spanish should provide children with a pleasant but purposeful distraction from the usual schemes of work. Nor are teachers forgotten; there's a large wallchart with everything needed to run a staffroom sweepstake on the results of the World Cup, with extra pounds going in the pot every time one of your colleagues swears at the referee.
Where the money goes Designed to promote discussion, understanding, imagination, admiration and curiosity, the Starter Kit, DVD and website contain plenty on the children whose lives have benefited from Sport Relief's activities.
They have been chosen carefully - their stories are compelling and representative of larger patterns of hardship and the courage and resourcefulness that overcomes it. Yet children between the ages of 8 and 14, the main participants in Sport Relief, should find much about them inspiring rather than daunting.
Take 12-year-old Mayra Kelita from Guatemala City, for example. By the age of nine, she was out at work in the fields and earning extra money as a child-minder, yet three years later she manages to attend a centre where she learns to read and write in the evenings and has become president of its children's committee. The centre is supported by Sport Relief.
Raheem is eight and lives in Hyderabad. He dropped out of school aged six to work in a clothes store to support his family. A local project now enables him to attend classes in the mornings and helps pay for his books and uniform. Other initiatives happen much nearer home. Kelly (12) and Scott (13) are growing up on an estate in Glasgow that is plagued by gang warfare. They have joined an organisation that brings young people together to work towards reducing tension and hostility. They found out that "everyone's really nice, wherever they're from".
An interactive section of the website invites us to visit these and other children in their homes and neighbourhoods, to watch film extracts of them at work and play, and to find out more about their families, ambitions and likes and dislikes. They cease to be mere objects of charity and become part of a believable international chain.
There are many small lessons to derive from the stories of Mayra Kelita and the others, whether it's researching work in Guatemala City or cooking the pan de banano that its inhabitants might be eating even as British students are reading about them.
The larger lesson, however, is about taking responsibility. Raheem has had to discover how to balance his wish to attend school and the need to contribute to his family's income. Kelly and Scott decided that they had to help make their community safer. They haven't left it all to adults.
Pupils who get to grips with the serious side of Sport Relief will want to take their own initiatives for making the world "miles better" - as long as someone remembers to order the red socks.
* The starter kit is ordered from: www.sportrelief.comschools
The Starter Kit and the website contain several dozen ideas for activities that ought to raise laughs and funds in equal measure. The Red Sock Relay is a simple matter of children running back and forth with socks on their arms, handing them on to the next participant until the class has covered a mile: the Ruthless version has them running a mile each, with a proportionate increase in sponsorship; the Soggy version takes place in a swimming pool with children moving between the letters M, I, L and E.
Then there are variants on other traditional races and relays. The Red Sock Slalom needs a curvy course suitable for skateboards or wheelchairs. Pigeon Walking uses the smallest possible steps, heel to toe over the entire mile, while Crocodile Running needs teams of six to jog the distance with the back member continually replacing the one at the front.
Classes can combine their miles in Travel Abroad, aiming to cover collectively the entire distance to a foreign city; they can pass socks from class to class on different days like an Olympic torch; or try Milienteering, a form of obstacle course with challenges such as hurdles at intermediate stages.
As the organisers say: "As long as you travel a mile distance, you can do it anywhere, anytime". Liberally interpreted, this means that a ball or a bean bag, as well as a person, can make the journey. Throlf is the offspring of a mixed marriage between golf and throwing, with objects being tossed into far away targets. Red Sock Rackets brings in maths; players need to measure the length of their court or table and then engage in rallies that add up to set numbers of miles.
Sock It Soccer (four goalkeepers on each side of a square simultaneously shooting and defending their own goal) sounds fun, as does Boccia, a kind of boules for wheelchair users. School planners can find all the rules for these and other games on the website, together with a database of fundraising ideas, advice on composing a press release to ensure media coverage, a model letter to parents, sponsorship forms, a miles chart for the classroom and an order form for the socks.
There is also a list of legal do's and don'ts, reminding organisers to think about essential topics such as event insurance and adult supervision.
That done, you can devise a programme and enter a competition to have the event shown on BBC TV or win a visit from someone such as Sir Steve Redgrave.