Archive for June, 2013

5 Factors of Childhood Obesity

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Our infographic below illustrates the most significant biological, behavioral and environmental contributions to childhood obesity in America and some simple ways to maintain a healthy life.


Presidential Youth Fitness Program Recipients

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Congratulations to the recipients of the inaugural Presidential Youth Fitness Program grants!

As a research-based public health organization, SPARK applauds the hard work and forward thinking that has led to the development of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. SPARK believes strongly in the power of assessment, quality professional development, and motivational recognition and has long been an active President’s Challenge Advocate. Click Here to see SPARK alignment with the Presidential Youth Fitness Program.

We’ve also created an equipment list to help grant recipients implement or enhance their fitness assessment! The list includes items like the ‘Crunchmat’, a mat that becomes an abdominal-crunch platform with raised edges and lightly texture surface to indicate start and finish points of each crunch movement without looking down.  The widths are the national standards for abdominal crunch distances for students grades K-5.

Why is the Presidential Youth Fitness Program Important?

Student participation in quality physical education and regular physical activity leads to improvements in relevant outcomes such as physical fitness.   Although “physical activity”, “exercise”, “physical education” and “physical fitness” are terms that describe very different concepts they are often confused with one another.  Physical fitness is a set of attributes such as aerobic capacity; body composition; and muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility.  Assessment of physical fitness provides an effective way to evaluate overall physical condition.  Quality physical education programming like SPARK has helped schools improve student’s physical fitness and improve health outcomes.

As schools enhance their physical education programs many are adopting new strategies to assess physical fitness such as the Presidential Youth Fitness program.   Launched in September 2012, the mission of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program is to offer tools to assists schools assess physical fitness.  This voluntary program is the result of a partnership between the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Foundation on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Amateur Athletic Union and The Cooper Institute.

2013 Southwest District Convention

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

I hope we’ll see you in Las Vegas June 26-29 for the 2013 Southwest District Convention! This year’s conference features some amazing speakers including a keynote by our very own Dr. James Sallis.

If you attend make sure to visit SPARK in the exhibit hall and say hello to myself, Kymm Ballard or Ryan Schissler. We’ll share the latest and greatest from SPARK and enter you in a raffle to win a SPARK Digital Curriculum Set (iPad ready) for the program of your choice!

And don’t miss these presentations while you’re there:

Let’s Move in Schools — With a SPARK!
Wednesday 10:00-11:30am, Red Rock Ballroom
Paul Rosengard

Enhancing A University Course — Concept to Content to Completion
Friday 9:20-10:00 Veranda D & E
Nicole Smith and Paul Rosengard

Move the World — One Physical Education Class at a Time
Saturday 8:20-8:55 Pavilion Ballroom
Paul Rosengard

How Common Core Can Be Implemented in P.E.

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

The Common Core standards were introduced to schools throughout the nation in 2010 and have quickly been adopted by 45 states. Designed as a robust, nationwide set of school standards, the Common Core program builds off the state standards already in place. The standards prepare students for college and the workforce by providing them with various skills that enforce writing, thinking critically, and solving real-world problems.  common-core1

The program focuses primarily on math and English language arts, which extend to all school subjects, including physical education. Let’s take a look at how you can integrate Common Core standards in your P.E. class.


A prominent focus in the Common Core standards is developing verbal and reading skills. Fortunately, you’ve been doing this the entire time without even knowing it. Simply providing verbal cues and instructions each day is a good starting point, but you can push it further with these simple ideas:

  • Station cards: During an activity that involves moving between several different stations, create station cards that offer in-depth written instructions for what to do next for critical thinking/comprehension practice.
  • Read-alouds: Also known as shared reading, read-alouds give students a chance to hear fluent reading. Provide hand-outs and read out loud while your students follow along. They can then keep the hand-outs to peruse later or to reinforce your verbal instructions.
  • Bulletin boards: Provide a bulletin board that gives your students instructions, tasks that must be accomplished, or provides a lesson that they must apply during class. Create a PE word wall that displays important vocabulary—movement words, health terms, names of muscle groups—that will be used throughout the day’s lesson.
  • Supplemental texts: Post or hand out supplemental materials about the sport or skill you’re currently covering. For instance, if you are on your baseball unit, post a short history of baseball, the basic rules, fun facts, and profiles of athletes.


Proficient writing has become one of the most important skills in the modern day. Some ways you can integrate writing into your P.E. curriculum:

  • Setting goals: Have students write down their goals before an activity or at the start of the week. At the end of the activity or the week, have kids provide a post-assessment of what they accomplished and what they could have done better.
  • Health and fitness journals: An extension of the above, you can have each student compile an in-depth journal that records their fitness goals for the entire year and includes a daily breakdown of the foods they ate and the physical activities they performed.
  • Create a new game: Split kids into groups and have them write out the rules and directions for a new game. They can then provide a quick demonstration of the new game, and you can choose from the best to play during the next class period.
  • Educational brochures: Kids can create informational brochures on various subjects, like the importance of physical activity, nutrition, or how to maintain a healthy heart. You can then make copies and distribute them or post them on your bulletin board.
  • Home fitness projects: These projects extend the lessons kids learn in class to their lives at home. Have them write out ideas for living healthy outside of school.
  • Create a class website or blog: Put kids in charge of certain elements of the blog or website and encourage students to contribute to the blog by writing short posts and comments. This is also a great way to build students’ technological proficiency.


Math comprises a whole range of skills that go far beyond solving equations on a chalkboard.

  • Graphs: Students should create graphs and charts that show their results for a given activity. For example, when students run timed laps, you can have them chart out their times and see their progress over the course of a month.
  • Skip counting: Normally, when your students warm up or do stretches, they count by ones. Switch things up by having kids skip count progressively. For example, they can do ten jumping jacks counting by ones (1, 2, 3, 4…), then do toe touches for ten seconds but counting by twos (2, 4, 6, 8…). This is a great way to combine physical activity with multiples.
  • Pedometers: Pedometers can be used for all kinds of fun math-related activities. Kids can wear pedometers during class to see how many steps they’ve taken and then challenge themselves to take more steps during the next class. They can add the numbers together to see how many total steps they took.

While the mere mention of standards can bring on the snores, there are tons of ways to integrate the Common Core standards into your physical education curriculum. Check out this webinar recording for more ideas for different grade levels. Get creative and have fun!

Benefits of Music and Dance in PE Class

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Music is a timeless element that has been around since humans first created rhythms from the beating of sticks and stones. It is powerful, drawing deep emotions and memories buried in the thick of things, but most of all, music is a stimulant for the mind, body, and soul. Once the music starts, you don’t even realize that your body is moving and reacting to the melody and beat.

Physical education teachers have implemented music and dance into their curricula in a number of creative, fun ways to get kids moving and active. Let’s take a look at a few benefits of music and dance in P.E. class.

1. Dance comes in numerous styles/

When you teach your kids to play basketball, there’s only one way to play. Same goes for football, soccer, and almost any other sport or activity. Dance comes in countless genres and styles, from ballroom to modern and beyond. With such a variegated collection of genres, it’s easy for each student to find something he or she enjoys, whether it’s stomp, ballet, waltz, hip-hop, or tap.

Even better, you can easily combine styles. Teach your kids several genres and, at the end, have groups put together unique routines that combine elements from all the dances they have learned. Consider recording the routines and using them to promote dance and activity to other kids. This not only gives them that extra bit of motivation but gives them an end result to strive for and look forward to.

2. Music motivates movement.

Music naturally stimulates parts of the brain responsible for unconscious movement, which explains the head bobbing, shoulder shrugging, and toe tapping that you don’t even think about when you hear your favorite tune on the radio. Younger students should have no problem getting down on the dance floor, but even the most self-conscious of teens should have no problem moving with the groove. Even without formal instruction on any specific dance style, you should notice a distinct change in the mood and atmosphere that encourages students to continue moving.

This comes in handy when you feel that students are straying off task. Just crank up the tunes to get their attention back to the activity at hand. For an even greater motivator, you can have the kids recommend songs—school appropriate, of course.

3. Music is a great timer.

Music is a great way to keep time when you don’t have a clock. As suggested in this trainer tip video, when students are using weight machines, you can create minute-long chunks of music followed by fifteen to twenty seconds of silence to give students a chance to reset the equipment and move to the next station, doing away with clocks, alarms, or a stopwatch and whistle. You can apply the same idea to running laps, warming up, or stretching.

4. Music enhances performance.

Music naturally blocks the voice in your head that tells you to quit when you get tired. This dissociation effect has been shown to reduce perceived effort and increase endurance, essentially tricking people into performing intense exercises for longer periods of time.

As mentioned above, music has a positive affect on mood. Music makes students happier by presenting a more welcoming, positive atmosphere that motivates students to push themselves and work harder.

5. Dance is a lifetime sport.

The great thing about dance, as noted in this trainer tip video, is that it is a lifetime sport. It’s a timeless activity that is perfect for all age groups, from kindergarteners to octogenarians. It works out your coordination, rhythm, flexibility, and various muscle groups throughout the body. Unlike contact sports and many other activities, dancing is low impact if you do it right, so it’s easy on the joints. It’s also easy to vary the difficulty or intensity of any dance to fit students’ skill levels and preferences.

Even if students don’t pursue a career in dance, it’s something that carries over throughout various social functions—weddings, proms, nights on the town—so it doesn’t hurt to learn a few basic dance steps.
Dance and music are deeply ingrained in society. Find some fun, creative ways to incorporate both into your PE classes.

SPARK is Partnering with Motion Fitness to Get America’s Youth Moving

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

The childhood obesity statistics in America are startling: over the past three decades, obesity rates among youth have tripled, and nearly one third of children in America are now overweight or obese. While there are many different culprits, reduced physical activity is one of the main causes of this national epidemic. At SPARK we’re building on our mission to provide effective solutions to combat this trend by partnering with Motion Fitness, a national leader in Exergaming solutions for youth.

“Motion Fitness is an established leader in exergaming and they align well with SPARK’s focus on utilizing technology to improve student health.  We view this partnership as another positive step in our efforts in our mission to fight childhood obesity.” said Paul Rosengard, SPARK Executive Director.

Motion Fitness was started in 1998 with a simple goal: “give people the ability and power to move”. The company continues to stand as a leading industry expert in products, solutions and partnerships through fitness, exergaming and active Game Play. We hope that by collaborating with Motion Fitness we’ll be able to bring our respective strengths together in a way that will allow us to impact more schools, teachers and children across the country.

As partners, SPARK and Motion Fitness look to inspire physical activity through cutting-edge exergame game experience and the world’s most researched and field-tested physical education program. Keep an eye out for good things to come!

For more information about our new partner Motion Fitness, visit

The Benefits of Structured Physical Activity for Early Childhood Programs

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Structured physical activities are usually led by a qualified adult and include organized sports, guided play, and school PE programs. Structured activities are important throughout a person’s life, but they play an essential role in early childhood—from birth to about five years of age. These are very tender years for a child. What they learn at this early age lays the groundwork for their future cognitive, social, emotional, and physical skills. Let’s take a look at how structured physical activity benefits early childhood programs.

1. Structured activities encourage healthy behaviors to dispel childhood obesity.

Aside from our own research into the value physical activity plays in the lives of children under the age of 5, many other resources are coming up with similar findings. According to the CDC, over a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010. Obesity puts kids at an immediate risk for cardiovascular disease, prediabetes, and bone and joint problems. In the long term, obese children are much more likely to be obese as adults, putting them at risk for a number of severe issues, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and various forms of

Structured activities go a long way to prevent excess weight and obesity. Studies show that obesity prevention programs in preschool are highly effective, particularly in areas of poverty. Participating in guided, controlled activities for just an hour a day burns calories, builds muscle, and encourages kids to maintain an active life.

While it may seem overboard, especially for toddlers, we can assure you it isn’t. Instilling healthy behaviors through structured activities at such an early age lays the foundation for a healthier society as a whole.

2. Structured physical activities develop motor skills, coordination, and movement at a young age.

Infants and toddlers are little balls of energy. They crawl, roll, kneel, creep up stairs, and eventually find themselves upright, taking their first tiny, stumbling steps. It’s no easy feat for an young child, but structured physical activity encourages movement and helps a child learn how his limbs and muscles can move in unison; in other words, the basics of coordination.

As their physical abilities develop, kids learn to use their hands more. Around the age of two, kids particularly enjoy finger play activities, like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” which assist in developing dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Other finger play exercises, like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” allow children to touch and identify different body parts.

Even the most basic exercises and activities—throwing, catching, bouncing, or kicking a ball, for instance—help kids coordinate their movements.

Furthermore, structured activities pull developing babies away from products that inhibit free movement. According to Aid to Life, bouncers, walkers, and playpens significantly limit movement and force infants to move before they’re ready. As the saying goes, you have to crawl before you can walk.

To accommodate a toddler’s coordination, movement, and growing interest in navigating his space, try to accumulate at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity a day, which could involve simple games, going for a walk, or participating in a parent-child tumbling or dance class.

Examples of how our Early Childhood lesson plans help improve these skills include: Hoop It Up, Super Stunts and Have a Ball. Feel free to review our other sample lessons plans from our Early Childhood instructional unit.

3. Structured activity improves mood and self-esteem.

You know how great you feel after a run, thanks mainly to the production of endorphins, the good-feeling chemical that floods your body. The same happens to kids, but it’s not something they entirely need to understand. What they do understand is the fun and good times that come from engaging activities.

Structured physical activities reduce anxiety and depression and give children a healthy outlet for managing everyday stress. These ideas extend beyond childhood, well into adult life.

During structured activity, parents and adults also have the opportunity to address body image. We live in a world filled with false perceptions of body image, which builds an unhealthy ideal perfectionism and an overly critical sense of self, both of which are linked to depression and anxiety. Structured activities provide kids with a positive body image—personal and otherwise—which provides a greater sense of self, builds self-confidence,  and gives them the emotional and social skills they need to cope with restrictive, highly skewed societal norms that define how a person “should look” in a healthy, positive manner.

As evidenced by this report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, playing with kids also reinforces the strong bonds they have with their parents and teachers, bonds that offer unwavering love and support. This supportive foundation helps kids develop resiliency, optimism, and the ability to bounce back from adversity, traits that are important for facing future challenges.