Last Monday, a group of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade girls were learning about inner beauty. While running laps.
These girls are part of a team for Girls on the Run.
Girls on the Run is a non profit organization founded in 1996. The organization’s mission is to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” Over the course of ten weeks, girls and their volunteer coaches meet twice a week to run, play games, and prepare for life. The proven curriculum covers topics like peer pressure, making and maintaining healthy friendships, expressing emotions, dealing with bullies, staying healthy, and making a difference. At the end of the ten weeks, the girls, with an adult running buddy (a parent, teacher, neighbor, etc) participate in a 5k just for them. Last Spring’s Girls on the Run Twin Cities 5k had over 3,000 runners.
One of the girls, a very squirrely one, had sprained her ankle at soccer over the weekend and was not able to run laps. This was a bit worrisome to her coaches, as running laps was usually 100% necessary for this girl to burn off enough energy to listen to instructions and not distract her teammates.
The lesson that week began with all of the girls being given a piece of paper with a list of adjectives and some blank space to write. The girls were asked to take a few minutes and write down the qualities that helped to make up their inner beauty. They wrote down words like “kind,” “funny,” “smart,” and brave.” The team then talked about which was more important, inner or outer beauty. They talked about which was easier to change and control. The girls decided that inner beauty was easier to control because you can’t always change the way you look, but you can change how you choose to act. Pretty good for a bunch of 10-year-olds.
Girls on the Run Coaches go through thorough training every year on the curriculum, how to build relationships with the girls and how to encourage friendships among the team.
After the initial activity, the team went outside to the soccer field and warmed up. The warm-up consisted of out and back sprints. After the first sprint, the girls shared with one teammate what some of the qualities were that they had written down. After the second sprint, they shared their qualities with two teammates. After the third sprint, they shouted what gave them inner beauty to the world.
Each lesson in Girls on the Run consists of an introductory activity, followed by a warm-up that builds on the day’s theme. The girls then stretch, choose their lap goals for the day, and begin to run their laps. After up to 45 minutes of running, the girls cool down and wrap up the lesson.
For this lesson, the girls were given the name of one of their teammates to think about as they ran their lap. At the end of each lap, they would take a moment to write down on notecard with that teammate’s name a quality they felt that teammate expressed. Then they would receive a new name to think about for their next lap. As the girls chose their lap goals, the coaches checked in with the injured girl. On her own, she came up with a creative way to still participate in the lesson and support her teammates. She would spend the lap time writing down qualities for each of her teammates on a poster along with their names. She also volunteered to help the coaches and girls keep track of laps for the day. As the team ran their laps, the coaches watched the notecards fills up with the beautiful qualities these girls saw in each other. The injured girl filled an entire poster with these qualities, then cheered her teammates on as they ran, telling each of them how amazing they were and that she knew they could keep going!
At the close of each practice, the girls and coaches give each other “Energy Awards.” A girl nominates one of her teammates, who stands in the middle of a circle formed by the team. The nominator tells why she thinks the girl deserves an energy award. The reasons range from “She ran my laps with me” to “She kept going even when she was tired” to “She encouraged me to keep going.” The team then does a cheer just for that girl.
As the girls finished their laps and prepared to head inside, holding their new notecards filled with the beautiful qualities their teammates saw in them, the coaches noticed something. The girls were being kinder to each other. They were offering to help each other with bags and water bottles. They congratulated each other on laps. They thanked each other. They held doors for each other. They listened to each other during the wrap up. This was different. This was a change even from the beginning of practice that day. And all it took to create this change was forty minutes of focusing on the inner beauty they saw in themselves and in their teammates. The energy awards were flying that practice. All the girls wanted to thank or recognize someone else on their team. As parents came to pick up their girls, the kindness continued. The girls hugged and said goodbye for the day. The coaches just stood there and smiled.
Imagine what a world full of Girls on the Run could look like.
For more information on Girls on the Run, including how to become a volunteer coach, a donor, or a Solemate Charity Runner, how to sign up your girl, and more, visit www.girlsontherun.org/
Photo credit: Kathleen Cannon