recess radio program

3/29/04
Sidewalk Chalk
    by Julie Sinn

When my friend Angela needed some free time to clean up her apartment, wash a few loads of laundry, or plan a surprise birthday party, I would round up her daughter Alex and a well-used bucket of sidewalk chalk for an afternoon in their apartment complex's courtyard. All we needed was a little bit of concrete in order to create masterpieces that kept Alex -- and me -- busy for hours.

One day when we played house with the sidewalk chalk, Alex drew her three-story dream house in one section of the courtyard while I drew my comparatively smaller tree house in another section of the courtyard. Mine came complete with a monkey swinging from a branch and a sandy beach nearby. Alex had elephant-shaped bushes on her property and a slide from the third floor into an indoor/ outdoor pool. Once we completed our houses, Alex called me up by making a ringing sound across the courtyard and invited me over for tea and cookies. After cookies, we started filling in the space between the houses so that we would have something to look at and talk about on our walks from my neighborhood to hers. In a single afternoon, we created an entire community.

But sidewalk chalk can be used for more than just playing house. My friend Kirsten often tells a story from her childhood about a time when all the children in her entire neighborhood drew individual mazes up and down the street--mazes that an untrained eye could never find a way through. Each creator had to guide the rest of the neighborhood through the twists and turns of the mazes, jumping over alligators lurking in the rivers and carefully crossing precariously high bridges -- all made possible by sidewalk chalk on cement.

Along with prompting creativity, sidewalk chalk can also be used in a sneaky educational way. By suggesting to Alex that we christen our houses and name the pathways between them, Alex inadvertently practiced her spelling . By the end of the day, every animal, plant, and building was expertly labeled. And that's how a list of spelling words can turn a mundane task into an afternoon of pleasure.

Since the fat pieces of chalk are designed for little hands to grasp and are relatively inexpensive -- costing anywhere from $0.75 for six sticks of chalk to 6$ for a 52-count bucket -- any amount of chalk is enough for multiple days of sidewalk chalking. Besides, clean up is super easy: All you need is a rainy day to wash the sidewalk clean.

Copyright 2004 Julie Sinn

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."