Archive for January, 2017


Do Young Children Need Physical Education?

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Children Playing

As a parent, sometimes the things you hear experts say about children’s health, and the things you observe in your own kid(s), can seem conflicting. You’ve likely heard about initiatives to increase physical education programs in elementary schools. Yet, when you witness your own elementary-age kids speeding around the kitchen in a game of tag with the family cat, it certainly seems like they have limitless energy — at this age, do they really need a program at school to get them to be active?

Here’s the thing about physical education: yes, these programs encourage physical activity, but it’s the second part of the phrase — the “education” portion — that’s the key factor, and the reason all young kids should have access to formal physical education classes.

Your kids may not need any help being active (your exhausted pet can likely attest to this); but they won’t learn about nutrition, fitness, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle on their own. Here’s why it’s so important to offer physical education classes to children, especially when they’re young.

Promoting Lifelong Fitness

For years, studies on childhood obesity and the importance of health and wellness on development have painted a clear picture of the ways children can benefit from physical education.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for both preschool children (ages 2-5) and adolescents (ages 12-19). For children between the ages of six and eleven, the rate has tripled. Obese adolescents are also more likely to develop prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes, as well as bone and joint problems.

While encouraging physical activity is the first step to combatting childhood obesity, educating our children about fitness is the step that will carry them into healthy adulthood. Curriculum-based physical education programs teach kids how to exercise, using safe and proper techniques, and how to keep their muscles and hearts strong.

When we teach our kids about health and wellness at a young age, and build a positive association around being active, they are much more likely to develop healthy habits that continue throughout their lives.

Boosting the Brain

There’s more to physical education than just keeping your body fit — it also keeps your brain fit. Scientists have discovered a link between physical fitness and brain functionality in children. Researchers found that the brains of children who are more fit have a bigger hippocampus (the region of the brain connected to memory). These kids performed better on memory tests and activities than their less-fit peers.

The cognitive benefits of PE extend into classroom learning — multiple studies have found an association between physical activity and increased concentration in school. Several studies have researched the link between physical education and cooperative learning — a teaching strategy in which groups of students work together to improve their understanding of a particular subject. Children learn the importance of team-building and collaboration through physical group activities.

While many physical education programs face the risk of being cut from academic curriculum in favor of increasing class time, the reality is that active children tend to perform better in subjects like reading and mathematics.

Eating Right

A big part of physical education is teaching kids how to make healthy choices for their bodies — and that includes food choices. A comprehensive physical education curriculum includes lessons about nutrition and diet, teaching children (at levels they can understand) why certain foods are good for their bodies.

We know that a nutritious diet is important for growth and development; but it’s easy to forget the true impact that poor nutrition can have on a growing child. Young kids who lack nutrients in their diets are often more susceptible to illness, have trouble focusing, and sometimes show emotional side effects.

Physical education classes teach kids about the importance of various food groups, and how they interact with the body — in every area from your bones and heart, to your brain and even your mood. Learning how to make smart food choices will help your children as they get older and need to make more choices on their own.

Building Social Skills

Formal physical education can also help facilitate healthy social interactions. Early on in life, children develop their sense of identity and social cues by engaging in various group dynamics.

Physical activity — like running around on the playground — builds muscles and improves cardiovascular health, while physical education — structured classes in which kids have to complete physical activities — also exercises a child’s self control and develops cooperative skills and consideration for others. Playing team games and activities in a supervised environment allows opportunities for children to learn social skills, like how to lose — and win — graciously.

Participating in group activities and team sports encourages leadership, community engagement, and even altruism. For very young kids, basic and essential lessons like sharing and speaking kindly to others are encompassed in a physical education setting.

Physical education plays a substantial role in shaping children’s health and development, teaching them valuable life skills in fitness, focus, nutrition, and social interactions. A good understanding of these topics can make the difference between your child growing into a healthy adult, or falling into lifelong unhealthy habits.

Physical Education vs. Physical Activity [INFOGRAPHIC]

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing! Although they work together like peanut butter and jelly, Physical Education and Physical Activity are two separate things — and it’s important for teachers and parents to understand the difference.

physical activity vs physical education

 

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Physical Activity

— any bodily movement that involves physical exertion

  • A physical activity program gets you up and moving, in some form. This can include recreational sports, fitness classes, after-school programs, and recess.
  • Physical activity is unstructured
    • Kids can make their own choices and create their own rules
    • Helpful for learning social skills and problem solving techniques
  • Just some of the things that count as physical activity…
    • Dancing
    • Walking the dog
    • Doing push-ups
    • Throwing a baseball
    • Playing tag at recess
    • And much more!
  • Physical activity is one part of a physical education program — but physical activity can be found in many areas outside of physical education.
  • Physical activity should be incorporated throughout the day: before and after school, and during recess

Physical Education

— curriculum-based program that teaches students the benefits of physical activity, builds techniques for leading an active lifestyle, and promotes lifelong healthy habits.

  • A physical education program not only gets children moving, but also teaches them why that activity is important, what types of activity benefit your body, and how you can stay active throughout your life.
  • Physical education is structured
    • Students are taught how to play and skills needed to play
    • Students learn the rules for how to play games and participate
    • There is a structured warm-up and cool down
  • Physical education teaches children the importance of being physically active and about the human body and body systems
  • Physical education programs include:
    • A written curriculum, with clear objectives
    • Some form of grading or assessment
    • Standards and Grade-Level Outcomes
    • Physical activity for most of the class time
    • Lessons in ways to lead a healthy lifestyle through physical activity, nutrition, fitness, and social responsibility
  • Physical education incorporates physical activity, along with many other things, to form a complete program.

Do You Need Both?

Yes, you do!

According to SHAPE America, physical activity should make up at least 50% of a physical education program.

Benefits of Physical Activity:

  • Releases endorphins
    • Children who get at least 15 minutes of recess a day behave better in class than students who get less than 15 minutes a day.
  • Strengthens muscles / bone density
    • Children ages 6-17 should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
  • Reduces risk for diabetes, obesity, depression, and heart disease
  • Enhances cognition
    • Children respond to cognitive tasks faster and with greater accuracy after a session of physical activity.

Benefits of Physical Education:

  • Teaches safe and correct exercise techniques
  • Promotes good nutrition and understanding of the body
  • Encourages lifelong health habits, decreases chances of unhealthy adult lifestyle
    • Overweight teens have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.
  • Enhances academic performance
    • Endurance exercise increases oxygen to the brain, strengthens neurotransmitters, and stimulates brain growth — improving your ability to think, learn, and retain information.
    • In physically fit children, the hippocampus (region of the brain affecting learning and memory) is roughly 12% larger than less fit children.
    • In a study of D.C. schools, students received higher standardized math scores when schools provided at least 90 minutes of physical education per week.
  • Builds skills in setting and achieving goals

New Year, New PE Lesson Plans

Monday, January 9th, 2017

shutterstock_210167686

The New Year is a great time to try new things. With people taking the time to reflect and set new personal and professional goals, why not also refresh your physical education lesson plans in order to keep kids engaged in the curriculum?

Luckily for physical education teachers, it’s often a bit easier to get students engaged in PE class than it is in a math or science classroom. Physical education already has a distinctive advantage: kids are moving, which makes them better learners. Research from leading institutions across America has found that when kids move, their cognitive skills increase and attitudes improve, which leads to better performance in PE class and in their academics overall.

Still, there’s always room for improvement — and here at SPARK, we’ve got you covered!

Re-Assess Your Lesson Plans

Any physical education teacher knows that a class requires more planning than simply tossing kids a ball and having them kick it around. Just as with other subject lesson plans, it’s important to take stock of what you’re trying to accomplish with an activity, and during the setup you need to do that.

Take a game of basketball. A classic PE activity, a teacher needs a number of class materials, such as a certain sized gymnasium with activity lines on the floor, and the right type of ball. A physical educator also needs to know the rules of play and a game time limit.

Perhaps the guidelines and materials listed above are all that’s currently written in your PE lesson plan. That’s a great start, but it’s not all you should include. This New Year, take the time to do a “content analysis” of your PE lesson plan where you consider the learning outcomes you want to accomplish from each activity.

Basketball has a number of learning outcomes for students: improved hand eye coordination; increased locomotor skills from movements such as running and jumping; and expanded teamwork and cooperation as they plan with their teammates and work together to win the game.

By determining the specific physical, social, and intellectual learning outcomes for each class, you’ll be better able to guide students towards meeting those goals. Not only that, but at a time when physical education classes are being cut across the country, it will be beneficial for you to provide very specific learning outcomes to administration so they’re sure to see the inherent value of PE class.

Introducing New Games

As well as determining learning outcomes for your existing activities, the New Year is also a good time to add completely new games to your lesson plan roster.

Introducing new games doesn’t mean tossing aside your existing lesson plans. Just as in a science class where students may learn about the parts of the body, then cell structure, then cell reproduction, physical education lesson plans should be all about building on existing learning. That means taking a classic game like basketball and mixing it up a bit!

Look at the activities that you currently incorporate into the curriculum and find some way to modify them. Or, do this in reverse: write a list of the learning outcomes you’d like to achieve from your PE curriculum and then develop activities to match those outcomes.

SPARK has various activity plans designed specifically for elementary, middle school, and high school students. Each plan comes with instructions, learning outcomes, assessment tools, and more, so you can focus on what’s most important: creating an engaging physical education class for your students.

6 Ways to Help Students Keep their New Year’s Resolutions

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

New Year

With 2017 just starting, New Year’s Resolutions are a hot topic of discussion. Many people set a resolution, but it usually falls to the wayside after a few weeks. People see it as too difficult, or too time consuming, and give up.

There are many tips and tricks to find success, specifically when it comes to different ways to help students keep their New Year’s Resolutions. These actionable tips will encourage and inspire!

Aim for Reasonable

Everyone has things they want to change in their lives, but it’s important to set realistic goals so that students expect changes to actually stick. For example, instead of them saying, “I want to get stronger,” encourage them to say something more like, “I want to run three miles.” Take this a step further to make sure that all goals you set are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (learn more about SMART Goals). And when they hit their first goal, encourage them to create a new one. This idea is all about creating a series of mini goals on the road to achieving one major goal.

Other great mini goal examples:

  • For a student aiming to eat healthier, have them cut out one junk food from their diet each month.
  • For a student who wants to commit to studying more, have them agree to clock in 30 minutes/day of studying.

Celebrate the “Small” Stuff

It’s okay to have multiple big goals going at the same time, but don’t let students get too caught up in the ultimate end on the way. It’s important to celebrate the small stuff on the way to a goal. A few examples:

  • If your student’s goal is to run further, give them a reward or heap on the praise for every 10 miles ran.
  • If your student’s goal is to get straight A’s, give them credit for raising grades from C’s to B’s.

Even actions as “small” as doing homework before it’s due should be rewarded to reinforce these positive actions that lead to big results for students. Encourage parents to assist with rewards, which may be things that help push students towards their next goal. Depending on the goal, these things might be new workout shoes or new school supplies. A reward doesn’t have to be big or expensive to be effective!

Make it a Friendly Competition

Making a goal with a friend who has a similar goal will help keep students on track. With a competitive aspect added to goal setting, students are more likely to work hard to achieve it. Motivation towards the desire to win or do better than the other person will fuel action, especially with kids.

Activity trackers allow you to track your fitness progress against other friends. The device lets you see how many steps a person has achieved in a day, and how you’re ranking against them. This can push users to be more active so they can “win.” Social activity trackers are a great way to motivate and create accountability between students.

Track Progress

One of the best ways to help students keep their New Year’s Resolution? Make sure that they write it down, and track it! By keeping a record of progress, it will help students see how far they’ve come over time. It will help students visualize their progress, instead of feeling like they’ve gotten nowhere. This is especially important when setting mini goals on the path to major goals.

To make this process easier, encourage students to use an app to track progress. After all, people are already glued to their smartphones – students might as well opt in for record keeping via an app.

One Goal at a Time

Most people’s New Year’s Resolutions are ambitious, and some people try to focus on more than one at a time. Oftentimes, this won’t end up working out, because people get overwhelmed and want to quit.

If a student has a few big goals (like eating less junk food, exercising more, getting better grades, etc.), they should pick one, and work towards that. Some goals will inevitably coincide, and students may achieve two goals while doing one, without realizing it. Also, encourage students to rethink their goals if they become something they hate. It’s okay to change a goal – it’s not failing, just rethinking.

Ask Someone for Help

It is okay to be struggling with a goal/resolution. Tell students that if they need a new way of approaching something, it’s 100% okay to ask for help from a friend, family member, or someone who has accomplished what they’re aiming for. By asking for help, it holds a person accountable to their goal. When someone has gone out of their way to help, it fuels the desire to do better.

It’s okay to slip up, we’re human! Tell students not to let that stop them from achieving their goals, even if they have to make adjustments. Keep at it, and ask for help if needed.

Keeping up with New Year’s Resolutions can be difficult, but not impossible. Helping students set realistic goals is a key to success, and holding them accountable is another. Finally, make sure students know to ask for help and adjust if necessary.

What would you add to this list of ways to help students keep their New Year’s Resolution?