Every spring, the students at Dublin Elementary and many other Harford schools mark the coming of summer vacation with a day of sack races and relays, balloon tosses, fitness activities and outdoor fun.
The events -- often called Field Days -- are usually in late May and early June as the culmination of a year of skill-building by students in physical education classes.
"Their physical development really shows," said Carol Vail, physical education teacher at Dublin Elementary and Hall's Cross Roads Elementary in Aberdeen. "Each grade level participates in different events, and the students in each grade look forward to the next."
On a comfortable, sunny day at Dublin Elementary this month, fourth-graders cheered for kindergartners who were participating in their first Field Day.
"I think that it helps them along because they know we're rooting for them, and they'll try extra hard," Brad Gilley, 10, said. "I like the way people are making teamwork and effort and making fun out of the game."
Chad Downer, 10, agreed. "It's fun, and it helps you with exercise," he said.
"It helps you with good sportsmanship," added Justin Hanna, also 10.
The kindergarten students raced to gather the most balls for their own team, hurled a ball for distance and ran a race while carefully balancing a golf ball in a spoon.
"I like to play this game a lot because it's fun," said Leroy Gill, 5.
Parents like Liz Buecker turned out to watch and to help keep score for the school's four teams.
"It's a lot of fun for these guys," said Mrs. Buecker, whose 6-year-old son, Zachary, is in the first grade. "There's a team spirit, and there's the spirit of the school. The kids are rooting the school on."
At many schools, the competitive nature of the events is played down, and the emphasis is on teamwork instead of individual scoring.
"The children have so much competition in sports teams," said Nancy Longnecker, principal of Dublin. "School doesn't need to be a place of competition."
At Forest Hill Elementary's Field Day, students are encouraged to "try hard and have fun," said school secretary Janice Agro.
Deerfield Elementary Principal Rachael Reid said her school likes "to emphasize the cooperative spirit of the relay."
"Some children are naturally athletic, and some are not," she said.
Jarrettsville Elementary holds a theme-oriented field day each year.
This year, its 16 events were based on favorite books of the children. Teachers participated in several events.
Students raced around the bases in a relay to bring cookies to a crab and participated in activities related to the story of "The Lion King" and the sinking of the Titanic.
"We find that this makes it more interesting to the children and less of a competitive event," said Gerry Mack, principal at Jarrettsville Elementary.
"We want to stress participation, fitness and lots of skills. Everybody gets a ribbon."