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How high?

by Kirk Hayles

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To get children thinking about the quality of determination and how it can make a big difference.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a height-measuring ruler – ideally the type with a base and a height-adjustable arm, but a broomstick or a couple of metre rulers joined together with tape plus a strip of card wrapped around it and sticking out in a similar way, which you can move up and down, will suffice as precise measurements are not required. If you have the proper height-measuring ruler, stick a further extension of card to the arm as the children will try to reach (and invariably hit) it and this will save it being damaged.

  • Think through how, in Step 2, you are going to get volunteers to, one at a time, come up and try to jump as high as they can to touch the arm of your measuring device. You may wish to start with younger children and work up to older ones.


  1. Ask the children to think about what ‘determination’ means. Ask them to give their explanations, prompting if necessary by asking, ‘If I say “I am really determined”, what does that mean?’

    Ask the children to think about when they have been determined to do something. What did they do or how did they act when they really wanted to achieve that thing?

  2. Ask for a volunteer who can be very determined and is good at jumping to come up and show what they can do.

    Explain to the child and audience that you want him or her to jump high and try to touch the card part of the height-measuring device. Set it to an easily achievable height.  

    Praise the child’s effort, then set the bar a little higher, saying that it was probably a little too low and you are sure he or she can reach it again. Set it at a height that is a little more challenging, but still achievable, given the last jump.  

    Encourage rounds of applause each time the child is successful. After just a few attempts (not so many as to tire the child), make a big deal about raising it again, but keep it within the child’s possible range. Each time, raise it to what you judge to be a challenging level – one that the child on his or her first attempt may not reach, but, if he or she does, raise it again.  

    When the child has missed for the first time, stop and really gee him or her up, saying, ‘If you are really determined, I think/know you can do it.’ Ask the child if he or she is feeling determined and use lots of motivational language to really get the child ready to go for it.  Usually, the child will achieve it, hopefully to much applause and excitement. Either way, praise the child for being so determined.

    Repeat the exercise with another one or two volunteers. You may also be able to draw out that it is not a matter of how tall you are, determination counts for more, as well as how ‘springy’ or strong your legs are!

  3. You may wish to share with the children something that you are determined to achieve, emphasizing that being determined and having an attitude of not giving up are useful in all kinds of situations.

  4. Tell the following story. 

    Wanda has two sons: Dalano, who is nearly 15, and Anoki, who is 13. 

    When they were small, she didn’t have time to go to a gym to keep fit. Like many busy mums with young children, time was a very precious commodity. So, instead, she’d load the boys into a buggy and take them out with her and, because time was short, she would run. Can you imagine that, a young mum with two young boys running down the street pushing a buggy in front of her?

    Well, as Wanda’s two boys grew up, she began to train more seriously. She became so interested in how the body works and learning how to run long distances without causing injuries that she decided to study for a degree in fitness and personal training.

    Then she signed up for the Marathon des Sables – a 150-mile foot race across the Sahara desert – and finished in a good time.

    Running wasn’t the only sport Wanda enjoyed. She also liked to go paragliding. Paragliding is flying using only a large kite to lift you into the air. She loved the feeling of being free. Also, unlike flying in an aeroplane, when you are paragliding, all you can hear is the sound of the wind. It’s a very peaceful sport.

    Then something terrible happened. One day, just before Christmas in 2008, Wanda had an accident while she was paragliding. She crash-landed, breaking her back. Here’s what happened, in her own words.

    ‘The paraglider stalled and I fell 30 feet to the ground, landing on my coccyx and causing my vertebrae to burst. Surgeons told me the risk of paralysis was high as my spine would crumble if I tried to walk. They said I had a one in a million chance of walking.’

    Wanda was told that her only hope was if she chose to have a serious operation involving inserting metal rods to hold up her spine, but it was a risky operation that could cause Wanda to be paralysed. If it worked, it would mean that the chance of her running again was nil. 

    What a decision to have to make!

    Wanda decided not to have the operation but, instead, spend 12 weeks lying on her back, to see if her broken bones would heal.

    The damage to her spine was so bad that people were afraid to go near her. She was just millimetres away from being paralysed.

    ‘I could see it in their faces, every person who looked at my X-ray had no hope. With every movement I was risking my future.’

    Wanda’s two sons were a great support to her.

    ‘It was their faces. When they asked me if I would ever walk again I never told them, “No”, I just said, “Of course I will”. I didn't want to let my accident hold them back.’

    So, Wanda started to exercise – even though she had to keep her back completely still.

    ‘When I was in hospital I was told not to move my legs, but I put a pedometer on and did mini leg lifts when the curtains were shut. I got dumb-bells smuggled in, too, and used to use them every day. There was a delay when I tried to move my legs. It felt strange.

    I blew into balloons every day to stop fluid on the lungs and got a stepper put on the end of my bed so I could build up my leg muscles.

    After 11 weeks, I sat up, and my spine didn't crumble. So, after 12 weeks, I began taking steps. I'd do 10 one day and then make myself do 20 the next. It was agony.’

    Against all the odds, Wanda began to walk. It was slow and painful, but she forced herself on.

    Before her accident, Wanda had signed up for another ultra-marathon – a 250-km foot race across the Gobi desert in China, where temperatures reach up to 46°C and contestants call it ‘The oven’.

    With her spine in pieces, there was no way she could compete, but Wanda made a promise to herself – she wouldn’t cancel her place, just postpone it for a year.

    ‘I never stopped thinking I would walk again. I kept setting myself challenges. I kept my body moving using the bed, which could bend, and, eventually, at 11 weeks, I sat up. My spine didn't crumble. I lay back down for a week.

    At 12 weeks I shuffled into a wheelchair and I went out. It was sunny and just amazing; the colours and the warmth. On the way back I stood up and took three steps.’

    The following year, Wanda made her dream come true: she competed in the Gobi March. She endured running 66 miles on the first day, sleeping in a tent and carrying all her food and equipment while she ran. Out of over 150 competitors, Wanda came 59th – and first in her age group. Quite an achievement for someone who was told they would never walk again.

  5. Recap the key points in the story, emphasizing what a determined woman Wanda is. Draw parallels with everyday life. How often when we are learning something new do we give up or stop listening when it is a bit tricky?

Time for reflection

Dear God, 
When I am finding something difficult, help me to reach inside and be more determined.
When I can’t do something, help me to think that I can’t do it yet, rather than I will never be able to do it.
Help me to realize that being determined will help me throughout my life. 

Publication date: February 2014   (Vol.16 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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