Piney Ridge Elementary students who want to get the lay of the land need go no farther than the school playground.
Several fourth- and fifth-grade students spent most of the daylight hours yesterday painting a colorful map of the 50 states on the blacktop where they play ball and jump rope.
Spots of green paint trailed out from an isolated picture of Alaska.
"They can be little islands around the state," said Dylan Schwacke, 9. "Alaska has lots of islands."
As he surveyed the distance between Alaska and Washington state, Chris Bennett, 10, said, "I never knew Canada was this big."
Chris and Dylan were unconcerned about the green stains on their hands and shoes.
"We ran out of plastic gloves, but it washes out," said Chris, as he concentrated on covering every inch of his territory. "The hardest part is filling all the dinky little holes in the surface and not getting paint outside the lines."
Sarah Ohnmacht, the physical education teacher at the Freedom Avenue school, said she enlisted the help of students in the Geography Club and parents. The group spent several hours outlining the map in white and then filled in the states.
"It will help the children learn direction and integrate physical education and social studies," said Ms. Ohnmacht as she put the final yellow touches on Nevada. "Don't paint the rest of California yet. You'll paint me in."
She envisions a variety of games on the map. The children will have to get to know the territory by sight.
"There are no state names or physical features except for the Great Lakes," said Bobby Rose, 8. "The kids will have to figure that out for themselves."
Linda Healey, a helping mother, said the project taught motor skills and art techniques.
"Now, when they come out to play, they can run from Maine to California," Ms. Healey said.
Or swim to Hawaii, the hardest to paint with the smallest brushes, said Kimberly Ricker, 10.
Off by themselves, the Alaska painters didn't have to worry about spilling over into the next state. In the lower 48, Andrea Desai, 9, had to kneel in Michigan, while she painted Ohio yellow.
"You have to be careful," she said.
Several children, parents and teachers painted the continental United States alternating with pails of red, blue, green and yellow.
After tidying up Alaska, Dylan had a little green paint left and wondered which state he should cover next.
He checked the color-coded map and headed for Michigan -- occupied by Andrea and those painting Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. Tarrah Glass, 9, knelt in South Dakota, his other option, as she touched up Nebraska. Dylan decided to do lunch.
"This is like our present to our school," said Tressa Mielke, 10. "After we leave, it will still be here for a long time."
"If it doesn't rain tonight," said Kimberly.