Archive for February, 2010

Remember This Date.

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

February 9, 2010. Write this down; make a mental note; consider it significant. This is the date that First Lady Michelle Obama announced her “Let’s Move” initiative to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation. It was all over the news. But you may have missed another announcement that is even more significant. The President appointed a Task Force on Childhood Obesity consisting of leaders of multiple federal departments and agencies. 2/9/10 is the day that all of our efforts to get kids active, fit, and healthy got a name, some celebrity, and some power.

This is a one-two punch of focus and power. The spotlight will now be strong. This is our best chance in a long time to make great progress on our shared vision of active healthy kids.

If, like me, you have been working for a long time to help children be active and healthy, we have been waiting for our concerns to be at the top of the national agenda. We can be proud that we have been on the right path and pursued a noble cause. But movement and change have been too slow. That is likely to change now. People in power want to listen to us now. They have joined our quest.

But progress will not be easy. Many Americans don’t think the country needs to change to provide more opportunities for kids to be active and to remove barriers to safe physical activity. Many people have a “just do it” mentality—it is a parent’s job to serve good food and tell the child to be active. But when good food is not in your neighborhood, no parks are in your neighborhood, traffic is too fast, and PE has been cut from the school day, what is a parent going to do? All Americans face barriers to being active, and it should be our goal to make it more convenient, safer, and more enjoyable to be active every day.

But the place to start is PE. This is the one program that can affect every child every day. PE needs to be active, and it needs to be taught by well-trained teachers. We know this works, and we can improve PE quickly. SPARK has been helping schools deliver activity-promoting PE for over 15 years. SPARK is ready and able to do more. Today, it was announced that the state of Florida received about $2 million to provide SPARK PE to every middle school in the state! One of the four goals of Let’s Move is to provide more opportunities for physical activity, and SPARK will help achieve it.

Our jobs are not finished. We cannot sit back and think the President and First Lady will make sure excellent PE is in every school; they will not eliminate childhood obesity on their own. We need to work harder, but our work is likely to have more of an effect now. It is up to us as educators, experts in PE and physical activity, parents, and members of our communities to support Let’s Move. We need to speak up. We need to keep information, good ideas, success stories, and good news about PE, physical activity, and solutions to childhood obesity visible in every communication channel all around the country. Please do your part. Sign on at and send your thoughts to the First Lady.

Make 2/9/10 the day that you became a more vocal advocate for active healthy kids.

Jim Sallis

Q&A with Healthy Kids Challenge- Part 3

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

The U.S. Surgeon General and First Lady are challenging our nation to eat healthy and get more physical activity. With all of this talk about physical activity, our partner organization Healthy Kids Challenge had a few questions for us, and we thought we’d post the answers here for our SPARK family as well.

(This is part three in a three part series)

Q: What are some safety guidelines when an obese or poorly fit child is participating in PE class?

A: Before starting on any exercise program obese and poorly fit children should first be seen by a doctor. They can inform you of any limitations that may be required. Once they have the OK, students should begin in the light to moderate intensity levels, moving to moderate to vigorous levels as they gain fitness. Walking, for many obese children, is quite enough to increase their heart rate into their target heart rate zone. It is not only unnecessary, but unsafe, to require them to run any distance.

It is important for all children to participate at a level that is right for them. Start by teaching students how to take their heart rates to gauge intensity. Use their resting heart rate and age to compute their target heart rate zone between 60 and 70% of max. Train them to take their heart rate during activity to keep them from overexerting themselves. This gives them the tools they need to monitor their activity level and stay in a safe but beneficial zone.

Aside from walking, other activities they may enjoy include roller-blading, bike riding, dancing, swimming, and many more. It all depends on the student. It is important that all students, not just the obese, find activities they enjoy so they are more likely to continue them on their own. Being positive and supportive to the obese and reluctant exercisers is key to helping them get and stay motivated to be physically active.

Q: What are some fun activities that can be done for core strengthening in PE class?

A: Again, it’s important to note that not all students in your class will start (or end) at the same fitness level. For some of your students, completing a single curl-up seems a Herculean task where others may be able to do 75 full sit-ups with only minor discomfort. Be sure to provide several levels of difficulty for any activity you ask students to do. They can choose the level that is right for them. To promote greater improvements, encourage students to choose the level that is just beyond their comfort zone in order to overload their core.

The key here is to take your students’ minds off any discomfort by distracting them with bells and whistles. Below are a few activities to strengthen abdominals, obliques, and back muscles all wrapped up in a bundle of fun!

Sit-up Ball Exchange

Students are in pairs (of similar core fitness level) with 1 tossable. Partners in sit-up position facing each other, feet just touching; 1 partner holding the tossable. Both start in down position. Both come up at the same time and the tossable is tossed to the other partner. Both go down. Repeat.

Challenge: How many catches can you and your partner make in 1 minute?

Push-up Hockey

Students are in pairs (of similar core fitness level) with a hockey puck (or small tossable). Partners in push-up position (or modified) facing each other, hands 3’ from partner’s hands; 1 partner with the puck. Partner with puck tries to shoot puck between partner’s hands to score a goal. Defending partner may use 1 hand to block the puck. Alternate roles as shooter and defender.

Sit-up Hand-Off

Students are in groups of 5-8 (of mixed core fitness level) sitting in file lines, each in sit-up position (down position) with feet just beyond the head of the student in front of them. Lines radiate out from a hoop placed in the center. Place 5 tossables per group in the hoop. On signal, student closest to the hoop completes a sit-up and grabs a tossable from the hoop, then moves to the down position to hand it off to the next in line. Next in line must sit up to receive the tossable, then move to the down position to hand it off to the next in line. The tossable continues down the line until it reaches the last student who places it behind them when they are in the down position. First in line repeats the cycle directly after they have handed off the first tossable so there is very little rest before the next tossable needs to be handed back. Continue until all tossables are out of the hoop and at the end of the line, then reverse the hand-off so they are now moving forward and back to the hoop. When they are all back in the hoop a round is complete. To change it up for round 2, shift your 1st student 1 line clockwise and move them to the end of the line.

Challenges: How quickly can we all get the beanbags out of the hoop and back in again? Can we beat our time?

Boxer Kicks

Students are in pairs (of equal or mixed core fitness level). Partner A stands and Partner B lies supine, head near A’s feet, holding A’s ankles. Both A and B face the same direction. Partner B lifts both legs to 90° and A pushes them back down while B resists allowing their legs to touch the ground. Repeat until signal (30 seconds, then more as they get more fit), with Partner A pushing B’s feet off to R and L as well as straight down in random order. Reverse roles and repeat.

Challenge: How many times can you bring your feet up to your partner’s hands?


Students are in pairs (of equal or mixed core fitness level). Partner B lies in push-up position and Partner A stands near Partner B’s head, A’s hands hanging above B’s shoulders. Partner B twists from the hips up and raises R hand up to clap A’s hands, then back to push-up position. Repeat to L side, again clapping A’s hands. Continue until signal (30 seconds, then more as they get more fit). Reverse roles and repeat.

Challenges: How many claps can you give your partner before the signal? Can you complete a push-up between each “clap” you make with your partner?

Q: When kids say their legs hurt after an active day, should I be concerned?

A: It all depends on what kind of “hurt” it is. If students are getting injured due to exercise that is too intense or contraindicated for them, you should be concerned and should make adjustments in activities. Remember, all students will come to you at different fitness levels and should therefore not all be required to participate at the same level. Try doing the exercises yourself! See how it makes your body feel. So many teachers ask students to do things they haven’t tried lately or ever. Being a good role model and participating in some fitness activities serves many purposes.

If, however, many of your students are slightly sore in the muscle groups that were used in a muscular strengthening activity the day or 2 before, that is more likely due to overloading those muscle groups and will result in gains in strength when those muscles heal and rebuild. This kind of sore is OK and completely normal. It should go away in a few days.

Let us know what you think of these question and answers! If your school needs to develop a healthier environment, together, SPARK and HKC offer an “Ignite a Healthy Environment” Program (Click here for more info).

Q & A with Healthy Kids Challenge- Part 2

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

The U.S. Surgeon General and First Lady are challenging our nation to eat healthy and get more physical activity. With all of this talk about physical activity, our partner organization Healthy Kids Challenge had a few questions for us, and we thought we’d post the answers here for our SPARK family as well.

Q: I hear about physical education and physical activity during the school day, are they the same?

A: No, they are not synonymous. “Physical Education” (PE) refers to a structured class taught by a Physical Education Specialist or Classroom Teacher (in instances where there are few or no PE Specialists) designed to address specific physical education standards (see below). Daily Physical education is recommended by many organizations, but is not required. There are minimum amounts of PE required by law in most states. “Physical activity” (PA) during the school day can include any structured or unstructured activities involving physical movement. This may include Physical Education class, recess, before and after-school programs, activity breaks in the classroom, jog-a-thons, dances, field events, etc. that take place at school before, during, and after the school day. SPARK encourages a combination of both quality physical education and physical activity opportunities through out the school day and week. We also have seen the importance of having a certified physical education specialist work as the champion for both PE and PA within their school community.

National Physical Education Standards from the National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE)

  • Standard 1: Demonstrates competency in motor skills and movement patterns needed to perform a variety of physical activities.
  • Standard 2: Demonstrates understanding of movement concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics as they apply to the learning and performance of physical activities.
  • Standard 3: Participates regularly in physical activity.
  • Standard 4: Achieves and maintains a health-enhancing level of physical fitness.
  • Standard 5: Exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others in physical activity settings.
  • Standard 6: Values physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and/or social interaction.

Q: I would like to incorporate some physical activity into my classroom during breaks or free time, but I am at a loss! Could you give me a few ideas to use for my 5th graders?

A: Sure! There are so many things you could do with 5th graders to get them moving in the classroom throughout the day! SPARK divides these types of limited space activities into 3 categories – SPARK Space Savers, SPARK Plugs, and SPARK Anchors.

“SPARK Space Savers” are activities from the SPARK PE curriculum that can be adapted for limited space to keep students active during inclement weather or when the usual activity area is unavailable.

SPARK Space Saver Sample #1: Centipede Bucket Brigade (Click Here)

SPARK Space Saver Sample #2: Limited Space Circuit (Click Here)

SPARK Space Saver Sample #3: Grab the Apple (Click Here)

“SPARK Plugs” are used to quickly energize your students throughout the day. When students are not engaged, their brains will likely tune out within 10 minutes. Use these to promote readiness for learning, create excitement and overcome the effects of fatigue.

SPARK Plug Sample #1: Around the World (Click Here)

SPARK Plug Sample #2: Hand Pat Relay (Click Here)

SPARK Plug Sample #3: Odds and Evens (Click Here)

“SPARK Anchors” use movement to help “anchor” learning. Integrating other subjects with movement can be accomplished with minimal effort and maximum benefit. Use these samples as a guide to assist in creating additional support teaching the whole child, mind and body.

SPARK Anchor Sample #1: Odd Hops and Even Jumps (Click Here)

SPARK Anchor Sample #2: Sentence Detectives (Click Here)

Q: My child isn’t really very athletic. What is a good way to help him enjoy being active?

A: It is important to acknowledge that athletics and physical activity are not the same thing. Athletes are usually gifted with traits such as speed, agility, endurance, etc. needed to succeed in a specific sport or sports and choose to pursue that sport in a competitive forum. The rest of us non-athletes enjoy participating in all sorts of physical activities suited toward our tastes and physical attributes. These are usually done for reasons other than competition such as health, making friends, feeling good, losing weight, or just pure enjoyment among many. First thing to do is find out what your son enjoys. Is it hiking? Swimming? Dancing? Jumping on a trampoline? Bike riding? Jumping rope? Whatever it is, that is what he should be doing. To increase enjoyment during any activity, have your son play his favorite music or invite a friend to join him. Providing your son with support and encouragement will go a long way to promoting a lifetime of physical activity.

Q: Is warm-up and cool-down really necessary with exercise?

A: The safe answer is “Yes.” However, if your students have just come from recess or some other type of physical activity, your warm-up has probably been taken care of. The purpose of a warm-up is to increase blood flow to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments so they are ready for vigorous activity. This blood flow helps the body by making it more “elastic” and less likely to tear when overstretched or pushed too far too fast. If you don’t have much time for PE, have your students walk/jog to your activity area to warm them up during transition. As far as cool-down, it is not so much necessary as it is a great opportunity. During this time students can work on increasing flexibility through stretching exercises as well as bringing the body back to pre-activity levels to move back into the classroom. It is also the perfect time to have students demonstrate understanding of movement concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics as they apply to the performance of physical activities done in the lesson (NASPE Standard 2).

Q: What are some good motivational tools to help fit physical activity into each day?

A: Everyone has different motivations for staying physically active, although we hope that most of those motivations are centered on personal wellness. In a school setting it is important to know that research has shown a number of benefits for including more physical activity and physical education into students’ schedules. At a minimum – more minutes for PE & PA has not been shown to decrease testing performance, and many studies suggest that students are better prepared for testing and learning after physical activity. Further, new brain research shows that aerobic conditioning is very beneficial to brain development and performance. Both California and Texas have shown a direct relationship between performance on fitness tests and academic achievement test. We’re not suggesting that Test Scores should be the primary motivation for keeping children active throughout the day. However, in most schools where we have worked – academic achievement is the still the primary indicator of a school’s success. Our core belief is that staying active and physically fit can keep students mentally and emotionally balanced as well. We strive to educate the entire child for a life of success, productivity and happiness. A life free from many of the burdens brought about by diseases caused by sedentary lifestyles.

Let us know what you think of these question and answers! If your school needs to develop a healthier environment, together, SPARK and HKC offer an “Ignite a Healthy Environment” Program (Click here for more info).

A New Role for the First Lady

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Did you watch the recent State of the Union address? During his talk, the President made a point of introducing the First Lady and announcing her as a leader in a new national campaign to combat childhood obesity. Perfect fit for Michelle, with her great arms and all!

While George W. Bush was one of the most fit President’s ever (did you know his vital signs were similar to that of an Olympic athlete?) the First Couple stays consistent with their workouts (or so we’re told). Kudos to them. You have to think they have pretty busy schedules — so the old, “I don’t have the time to exercise” excuse is disproven once again.

A recent article in the San Diego Union alluded to the fact that Michelle is taking her newfound commitment to countering childhood obesity seriously, and for her, it’s personal. She said their family pediatrician warned her to monitor Sacha and Malia’s activity levels and what they’re eating. In reaction to this Michelle commented, “In my eyes, I thought my children were perfect. I didn’t see the changes.”

She said her physician kept a close eye on African-American children and “warned that he was concerned something could be off-balance.” Obama admitted that parents often recognize that kids in general don’t eat right and aren’t exercising enough, but “we always think that only happens to someone else’s kids, and I was in that position.”

Let’s hope in the weeks and months ahead, we see a genuine effort to support the dissemination of evidence-based physical education and physical activity programs, proper nutrition/healthy eating, behavior and environmental change strategies, and certainly if you want to bring your arms around the entire issue and galvanize the stakeholders — Coordinated School Health can do that.

Won’t you consider writing a letter to the White House and the First Lady, congratulating and thanking her for taking up this worthy cause? And if you do, please encourage her to support programs that have been proven to work and last. In these days of tight budgets, it’s especially important that every penny is invested wisely.

Every journey begins with a first step. Thanks to the President and First Lady, we’re on our way!

-Paul Rosengard