“Learning to Tumble”


My first formal exercise came in elementary school with a beloved teacher Mr. Graven. We had gym every day and had a little basket to keep our gym clothes and tennis shoes. Since all girls wore dresses we needed to change into shorts and blouses. We never knew what we would be doing  and waited to hear if he said we needed to “dress down” or not.

Mr. Graven was incredibly supportive to me, a tiny, underweight, not all that coordinated kid. In fact at our eighth grade graduation he awarded me a school letter purely for my unfailing effort. But in the early grades he spent a lot of time helping me learn to do a somersault and then, to my amazement, a backward somersault. I never mastered cartwheels, hesitant to take both of my feet off solid ground. Standing on my head seemed a similarly pointless exercise.

But gym class had days where we learned folk dances and square dances. I loved all the variety of music and dances, especially when we whirled around. We also got to dance to the Hokey-Pokey putting first a right foot in then out. Even the Farmer in the Dell delighted us, not yet cynical about “children’s ” music.

My primary advantage came when we formed a pyramid with four girls on the bottom row, then three on the next, then two on the next. As the littlest, I always got to be lifted high onto the top of the pyramid. Then when he signaled us to collapse, I never got squashed as we fell.

So exercise was fun, not that different from regular play at recess and after school. No one had to encourage us to do it, and we all trooped happily to the gym.

8 thoughts on ““Learning to Tumble”

  1. We didn’t have a proper gym at school, until I went to senior school aged 11. When we were younger, we played organised games on the tarmac playground, had running races, and high jump with an old mattress to fall on. I could never do cartwheels either, and used to watch in amazement as some girls did one after the other. We didn’t have proper gym clothes until I was 11. Before that, the girls used to tuck their skirts into their underpants, and the boys wore short trousers for school anyway. We had to bring plimsolls (early trainers) to school on those days. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.


    1. At my first elementary school letting my underwear show was normal and never commented on, much as at your school. When we transferred to a “tonier” school I was humiliated for letting my underwear show and told that girls needed to wear shorts under their dresses if they were to hang upside down on the monkey bars. I like the idea of falling on an old mattress. We had dirt.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bringing attention to the underwear was a bad idea, and happened after I moved to ‘big school’. It encouraged ‘peeping’, and also sexualised children who were too young to deal with the implications of that.


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