Archive for November, 2017


Why Your Lesson Plans Should Include Non-Traditional Sports

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

two high school students throw a disc back and forth

Many schools across the country have relied on the same sporting activities for their PE classes for decades. But, while traditional lesson plans get children moving, they might not be keeping them interested in sports and fitness in the long-run.

By incorporating non-traditional sports into your PE classes, students are exposed to a whole new world of physical activity. This can help them stay engaged in class, become more interested in their health, and even find the sport they want to practice for the rest of their lives.

If you’re a physical educator looking to shake up your lesson plans with non-traditional sports, here are just some of the advantages for your students, plus some great tips for your next class.

Benefits of Breaking from Tradition

Even the most active kids in the class can grow tired of the same old PE classes.

An injection of non-traditional sports might be just what you need to keep your students on their toes. Not only will a new activity guarantee a more varied and exciting lesson, but it will also broaden children’s knowledge of sports (and even cultures if you try an activity from a far-flung country).

In fact, non-traditional sports are more than just another way to keep your students physically active – they also train different parts of their bodies. While classic games such as kickball and capture the flag boost cardiovascular strength, more unusual activities like yoga can teach children balance, breath control, and how to engage muscles that aren’t always trained. There is also an opportunity for students to develop their minds with non-traditional sports like geocaching and team juggling, because of the aspect of problem-solving and teamwork involved. The huge variety of sports you can try ensures something for every student – regardless of their capabilities – which is key to keeping your PE classes inclusive and fun for all.

Another benefit of introducing a range of activities into your PE lessons is that students have a better chance of becoming acquainted with their perfect sport. If a child finds an activity they really connect with, they will want to practice it regularly, and even into adulthood. That’s good news for their health at school and in the years to come.

Non-traditional sports can do more than just change up your PE lesson plans – they can change children’s whole approach to fitness and their appreciation of physical activity. Besides a bit of research, they’re not even very difficult to implement. So how can you set this kind of change in motion?

Non-Traditional Sports to Try in Class

There are a number of routes you can take to incorporate non-traditional activities into your PE lessons – it all depends on the skills you want to help your students develop.

World Sports for Cultural Awareness

World sports aren’t just fun to play, they’re a great way to learn about the culture of other countries. As well as discovering a new sport and working on new skills, you can also introduce the country of origin and a few fun facts for added geographical education. Your students will love the challenge of Sepak Takraw and the concept of Kin-Ball.

Problem-Solving and Teamwork Activities

Get kids thinking while they exercise with problem-solving and teamworking opportunities. Working with others is an important life skill to learn and traditional sports often pit students against one another instead of fostering collaboration and communication. What’s more, the gentler nature of this kind of physical activity is ideal for all students.

Creative Sports for Self-Expression

Dancing is an excellent way to keep kids active. Try playing school-appropriate hit songs – or even take requests – and teach your students the dance routine. Learning the moves is excellent brain-training, and you can even add an opportunity for freestyling to allow children to individually express themselves. The best part of this activity is that you only need speakers and a playlist.

Popular Fitness Movements

Let children safely practice non-traditional sports they’ve probably seen outside of school. Stunts and tumbling and ultimate flying disk are exciting activities that are sure to make your PE lesson a hit. It also provides students with a chance to try a sport they’re really interested in, which boosts in-class engagement.

Technology-Based Activities

Although students can get bored of the same PE routine, they still enjoy elements of the familiar. Gaming is a common hobby among many children today, so why not integrate technology into your PE class? Active gaming allows your class to apply their tech skills to a wide variety of interactive sports. It’s also the ideal PE activity for a rainy day.

Check out SPARK’s PE lesson plans today for more inspired PE activities to improve the long-term health and well-being of your students.

Is PE Class a Good Time to Teach About Nutrition?

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

A red apple sits on a teachers desk

Good nutrition is the bedrock of a child’s health and well-being, and ensures they are physically and mentally able to learn and concentrate at school. Whether a student is hungry, hopped up on sugar, or living with patterns of disordered eating, research has shown that poor nutrition will limit their capacity for academic growth.

It’s important for children to understand nutrition, so they can become aware of their health and motivated to incorporate healthy habits into their own daily lives. But just what is the best way to integrate a nutrition program into the school curriculum? At SPARK, we believe that physical education (PE) classes are the ideal opportunity for teaching students about nutrition. Read on to discover why PE is a great time for nutrition talk, and how you can effectively introduce this topic into your lesson plans.

PE Encourages Healthful Habits

With school-age children becoming increasingly sedentary and the consumption of sugars and unhealthy fats continuing to rise, it’s clear that healthy eating and physical activity go hand in hand among younger generations.

PE provides an excellent opportunity for students to make the connection between the food they eat and how they feel and move within their bodies. One of the main goals of a nutrition program is to help students understand that food is fuel for the body. The better the fuel, the better they can function – not just in PE class, but throughout the school day, and outside of school too.

Your PE classes may already encourage students to incorporate more physical activity into their free time, and nutrition can be approached in exactly the same way. Easy-to-follow tips and interesting information on healthy eating can allow students to become more aware of their nutrition and make some simple changes at school and at home. Even the smallest change is a step in the right direction – especially when exercise and healthy eating are combined.

PE Is a Time for Positive Empowerment

When students are empowered to understand how healthy portions, food choices, and hydration shape their development, mental clarity, and physical abilities, the power to live healthily is placed directly in their hands.

The habits children form in their developmental years have a lot of sticking power, and positive experiences are key to this. For many adults, PE lessons bring back bad memories of being picked last for a team or being punished with laps and pushups.

One of the reasons these memories are so difficult is because they are moments of disempowerment, rejection, or some sense of not “having what it takes.” As a result, some people have become discouraged from taking part in physical activity all together.

Fortunately, PE classes are becoming a more empowering and positive period at school for healthy living. A nutrition program is another way to empower students to look at their progress and the difference healthy changes can make to their lives, both now and in the future.

Help Your Students Get Healthy

In order to create an effective nutrition program at your school, it’s essential to set attainable goals, especially within the context of the students’ socioeconomic environment.

If you’re aware that your students aren’t receiving much nutritional education at home, you could start with a more introductory approach to food by explaining the food groups, the benefits of eating certain foods, and the foods to try to eat less of. You can then advance to having the students evaluate their own diets and coming up with healthy meal plans. By following a clear nutritional curriculum, you can ensure a framework that’s easy for students to understand and progress through, no matter how much they already know about nutrition.

For more ideas and support for your nutrition program, check out SPARK’s new Healthy Kids Challenge today. Healthy children become healthy adults, so let’s help them get there.

How to Encourage Students to Try Team and Solo Sports

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

A youth soccer team huddles together on the field

Team and solo sports can be a fantastic supplement to physical education (PE) classes, promoting healthy habits and valuable life skills such as teamwork, discipline, and good sportsmanship. Not only that, but these activities can become beloved hobbies that children continue into adulthood and greatly benefit their later lives.

As a physical educator, you may find that, despite the many advantages of team and solo sports, some students still lack any interest in them. With that in mind, let’s look at how you can boost sports participation in your PE lessons and nurture the skills that students start to develop from trying them.

Set the Right Tone

Motivating reluctant students to try a new activity can be one of your greatest challenges in PE lessons. The first question you need to answer is whether or not a child actually wants to participate in the sport – after all, it’s no fun doing something if you don’t enjoy it, even if you’re good at it. More often than not, students are discouraged from an activity because they don’t think they will excel in it, which is why it’s essential to communicate to your class that being the best is not key to practicing sports.

Create a PE environment where all of your students respect and support each other, regardless of individual skill. Some students may be reluctant to participate because they are afraid of being judged or bullied. You must not allow bullying under any circumstances. Instead, celebrate the effort it takes to try something new, as well as the opportunity to learn different skills from one another.

When a child tries a new activity, especially one that is outside their comfort zone, acknowledge their courage and emphasize that every student has something to contribute to the team. This attitude puts a positive spin on the whole experience of trying new team or solo sports.

Break Down Barriers

Boredom is another major factor in a student’s lack of interest in sports. Keeping your lesson plans fresh helps maintain variety and lets your class sample more activities, increasing the chance that they find their preferred sport.

If noncompetitive solo activities appeal more strongly to some students, give them a chance to try activities where you “win” by achieving a personal goal, such as maintaining your target heart rate for a given amount of time. Tracking personal progress can be very rewarding for many children, and even if they don’t like traditional sports, they can still get a great workout from a more unusual PE activity like dancing.

Remember that your students may experience any number of other barriers, including socio-economic and cultural factors, which discourage them from wanting to participate in sports. Some of these factors are beyond your control, but being aware of them may let you find ways to make team and solo sports more accessible to your entire PE class.

Nurture Students’ Skills

When a student demonstrates some level of skill at an activity, they should be encouraged to develop it without being pressured. If a child is pushed too hard, an activity they once enjoyed may stop being fun and start feeling like a chore. Learning self-discipline is important, but those lessons are lost if a sport begins to feel like a punishment.

The skills your students may discover are not just the athletic kind. Some students may show a knack for creating strategies, motivating others, facilitating communication between team members, leadership, or organization. When you notice that one of your students shows promise in a particular area, let them know. This gives them a sense of achievement that is as important as any athletic endeavor, and still lets them associate success with sports participation.

Sports as a Learning Opportunity

Children can benefit from learning that effort and practice are needed to develop valuable personal skills, regardless of any “natural talent.” Solo and team sports are an excellent way to train these skills, while keeping kids active and healthy, which is why it’s so important to keep your PE students engaged.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your PE classes, download SPARK’s free lesson plans with simple instructions for a range of solo and team sports today.

How to Encourage Parent Involvement in PE

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

father and son smile as they play a game of basketball

After a long week of school, you’d think kids would look forward to a weekend of energetic activity and adventures, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, research suggests that children’s physical activity levels are lower on the weekends than on weekdays.

The good news is, there seems to be a way to get kids moving on the weekends: get their parents in on it.

That same research showed that kids whose parents cared about and encouraged physical activity were more likely to be active outside of school hours. As an educator, it’s obvious that you can make a difference in the physical education kids receive at school (and how active they are) — but there are ways you can get parents more involved in kids’ health and fitness at home, too.

Assign Homework for Kids and Parents To Do Together

One of the best ways to get parents involved in PE is to get them actively participating in the teaching themselves. This leading by example approach is especially effective for younger learners who look up to and frequently copy their parents.

To accomplish this, try assigning “home fun.” While it may not be common to have homework for PE classes, there’s no reason your class should be different than other subjects. If you design the assigned activities for a household setting, parents can be engaged and involved in their children’s fitness and health.

Educate Parents About Opportunities for Their Kids

While older students may not emulate their parents to the same degree as young children, parents can still influence the physical activity levels of their middle school and high school children. That is, as long as parents are aware of accessible opportunities to get their kids more physically active. Between long work days, caring for the family, and myriad other commitments, parents may not be able to learn about all the options out there for their kids — perhaps they had their daughter try basketball, but she didn’t enjoy it, so they turned away from sports in general.

As a PE professional, you have access to a plethora of local resources and activities. Connecting parents to opportunities for physical activity will, in turn, open them up to your students. Maybe that student who dislikes softball just hasn’t found the right activity yet —  whether it’s karate, swimming, or ballet!

Get Parents Involved in Healthy Eating

While it’s important to get parents involved in the active aspect of PE, it’s equally important to get them involved in the nutrition aspect of PE. Did you know that only one third of parents feel they’re doing a good job promoting healthy eating for their kids?

Nutritional awareness is lacking in many households. As schools continue to introduce healthier options and get rid of junk food in cafeterias, encouraging parents to do the same at home can have a big impact on children’s health.

Beyond teaching your students about healthy food choices in class, send some information home to parents. Consider assigning light homework activities related to food and nutrition, to get your students working with their parents to eat healthier and have discussions about good food.

Ask Parents to Help Track Their Kids’ Fitness Goals

Have your students track aspects of their health and fitness at home, and encourage parents to get involved in helping them monitor and meet goals.

While you may be able to use wearable activity trackers in class, these may not be accessible to every student at home, unless your PE budget can accommodate sending every child home with one. Instead of tech-based monitors, consider cost-efficient tracking solutions like journals or diaries. Students and their parents can use these to jot down the activities they do outside of school, how long they do them, and even how hard they were. This can help your students and their parents visualize how they measure up to the recommended 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Educators and Parents Must Work Together to Raise Healthy Kids

It’s simple: when kids are more active, they’re healthier — both in body and mind. Not only is low physical activity one of the greatest risk factors for being overweight or obese, but there’s also evidence that healthier kids perform better in school.

While educators can make a difference at school, children spend more time out of school than in — and at least some of that time should be spent engaging in physical activity and cultivating healthy habits.

Since parents are typically the ones making the schedules and planning the activities for time spent outside of school (especially for younger children), making sure parents are educated, supportive, and involved can have an immense impact on children’s success. By combining your efforts with parent influence, educators have a good chance of making students’ weekends — and their holiday breaks — just a little bit more active, healthy, and fit.

Of course, there’s always the added benefit that by encouraging parent involvement in PE, there’s a good chance they’ll practice their own healthy habits, too!

Guidelines for Enjoying a Healthy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

young girl smiles while waiting to eat thanksgiving meal

With scrumptious side dishes, tantalizing turkey, and a decadent dessert table, the Thanksgiving holiday can put a major dent in you and your children’s healthy diet. But with a few tips from our past blog posts, you can change up your turkey day tactics with food swaps and fun games. It’s the perfect recipe for keeping festive, fit, and out of that food coma!

Thanksgiving Dinner Healthy Swaps

Thanksgiving dinner is designed to be deliciously indulgent, but with a few simple replacements you can create an equally delectable meal that your body will also appreciate – as we found out for our Thanksgiving post in 2011.

Protein

Although turkey skin isn’t all bad, it’s worth choosing your cuts carefully. With half the fat of dark meat, white turkey meat contains all the healthful body-nourishing unsaturated fat you need. Foregoing the deep fryer also ensures a healthier way of digging into Thanksgiving’s featured fowl.

Gravy is another high-fat, meat-based gotcha on Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate a topping altogether. For a healthy kick with some tang, try swapping out your gravy with a healthier homemade cranberry sauce.

Sides

Many thanksgiving sides start with healthy vegetables, and you can choose how you’d like to prepare them. As their name might suggest, sweet potatoes are naturally sweet – simply roast them to bring out their natural sugars. Green beans are also low in calories at a meager 35 calories per cup. Try them au-natural with a touch of olive oil and lemon or garlic.

If a casserole is a must-have menu item, experiment with a version that is ‘souped up’ with healthy alternatives to the traditional canned soup ingredient. Not only that, but you can shake up your stuffing by using whole wheat bread, whole grains, and even more veggies.

Dessert

The dessert table is often where we get into trouble, particularly when it comes to pie selections. In fact, pecan pie can contain 500 calories per slice! Try reducing the sugar and butter, and adding a whole grain crust to your homemade pie instead.

Another tip from one of our past holiday posts is to avoid buffet-style meals and dessert selections, because this encourages overeating. Even if you’ve made healthier options, it’s important to take a break from Thanksgiving indulgence.

Thanksgiving Themed PE Class Games

It may be hard to keep kids focused in the lead up to Thanksgiving, but we have the perfect lesson plans to keep them on track. Use these fun alternative lessons to keep your class in shape, as we recommended last Thanksgiving.

Turkey Tag

Turkey tag is ideal for all ages. Designate two players as turkeys, and send them running after other players to tag them. Once tagged, other players are transformed into turkeys and must stay in place and flap their wings until another non-tagged team member taps them to release them.

Capture the Turkey

Similar to capture the flag, this game is great for large classes that can be split up into 2 or more large teams. Each team needs a large outdoor space (or ‘turkey farm’), along with a small ‘turkey jail’ area. The teams get a rubber chicken or paper turkey that must be captured by the opposing team and brought back to their farm. If you get tagged, you have to go to ‘turkey jail’ and squawk loudly to be freed by your team!

Turkey Trot

For this game, divide your class into two groups and use a turkey mascot (rubber chicken or football) to throw back and forth between opposing teams while music plays. When the music stops, the team member holding the ‘turkey’ must run to avoid being tagged. If they’re tagged, they must surrender the turkey, flap their wings, and gobble three times before trying to recapture the bird. When the music restarts, the turkey is tossed back and forth again.

Whether feasting or frolicking, keep these Thanksgiving Day tips in mind to help you and your students enjoy a fun and healthy holiday this year. To learn more about how you can encourage healthy eating all year round, visit SPARK’s Nutrition Services page today.

Maximize Your Equipment Budget with These 6 Tips

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Gym class sports equipment

Having the right equipment in your PE classroom is essential. When your budget for equipment is limited, it’s difficult to successfully offer the full extent of activities and learning opportunities you want to give your students. While you can advocate for a budget increase, those conversations take time, and your school won’t always be able to fully grant your request.

One of the challenges of being a physical educator is learning how to make the most of the budget you do have at your disposal. Even if your budget has left you wanting, you can still optimize the use of your existing assets and find innovative ways to raise more funds.

Here are six tips for maximizing your equipment budget, so you can set your students up for success and physical fitness:

1. Apply for Grants

Writing grants used to require career expertise, but the process has become more user-friendly over the years. While it doesn’t hurt to have someone on your side with experience in organizing and submitting grant applications, you shouldn’t be intimidated to attempt it yourself as a PE teacher or administrator. SPARK offers resources to help physical educators find relevant grants and submit proposals. With a specified grant, you may be able to add new equipment to your program sooner than you thought.

2. Share Your Facilities

If you have on-site facilities — such as a swimming pool or football field — that could be used by other organizations, consider renting them out on the weekends, or on the nights that your school’s team plays away games. Additional funds from facilities rentals can supplement your budget and help you achieve that higher quality equipment on your PE department’s wish list.

3. Increase Your Athletic Marketing Efforts

Some of your equipment budget likely comes from ticket sales to school games and events. Take advantage of this source of budget by getting more people in the seats at your school’s football, softball, and basketball games. Use social media to promote upcoming games. Reach out to a local radio station to advertise the upcoming events. Make use of flyers, the school website, and in-school announcements to encourage ticket sales. If your school sends out a regular newsletter to parents, ask to have upcoming games and events featured prominently in each newsletter.

4. Focus on Equipment Maintenance

Some pieces of equipment are more essential than others, and that means when something crucial breaks or wears down, replacing it may shoot to the top of the priority list — squeezing out other goals that were next in line. The fewer items you absolutely need to buy, the more you can spend on new items and activities you want to add to your PE classes. Putting a focus on maintenance of your current equipment can help it live longer, putting off the need to spend budget funds replacing it. Encourage students and staff to properly store all equipment at night to keep it protected from the elements and theft. Even minor efforts for proper maintenance will make a difference.

5. Find a Trusted Vendor — and Build a Relationship

You already know that when it comes to price and quality, not all equipment vendors are the same. Having a good relationship with a high quality vendor can help you get the most bang for your buck and make an impact on your annual spending. Shopping around until you find the right place to buy PE equipment can take time. Start your search for new vendors well in advance, so you can compare product prices and shipping costs. Consider working with a partner who specializes in school equipment — you may be able to get your hands on equipment at a discount.

6. Buy in Bulk

Vendors who specialize in PE equipment make it easy for you to buy in bulk. As with paper products and other school supplies, buying more at once is often cheaper than buying each piece of equipment one at a time. Buying in bulk can also save you on shipping costs. You can get everything from playground balls to hockey sticks in multiples to save some cash.

Through creative fundraising and savvy buying, you can explore every avenue to make the most of your funds, and create the best experience for your students with the budget given to you.