Archive for the ‘Physical Activity’ Category


My favorite principal in Malaysia

Friday, April 4th, 2014

by Dr. Jim Sallis

I recently had an opportunity to visit Malaysia, to speak at the International Conference on Obesity and have meetings with collaborators. As part of tours of potential neighborhoods for an IPEN Adolescent study (www.ipenproject.org), we visited a high school in Kuala Lumpur. The school was buzzing with activity due to a girls’ handball tournament after school. Handball is like soccer except you use the hands. Unexpectedly we were invited to meet the principal. While meeting with the principal we told her we were interested in physical activity. She immediately launched into a passionate endorsement of the importance of physical activity in school. She said it was essential to have a balance of movement and academics. She also said that physical activity helps students with their academic studies.

It was such a treat to hear this kind of enthusiasm for physical activity from a principal. I wish I heard this point of view more often in the US. She understood that children need to move and the brain and body are connected.

-  Jim Sallis

Here’s a picture of our group:

My favorite principal in Malaysia

Recess Implementation Ideas & Resources

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Part 2 of 2

BRecess Implementation Ideas & Resources y BJ Williston

SPARK K-12 Trainer & Curriculum Developer

Click Here to read Part 1 of this article.

After assessing your current recess program with the School Recess Report Card in the SPARK Recess Handbook (included in the SPARKabc’s program), prioritize the components targeted for improvement.  Priority goes to the components with the lowest scores on the report card.

It is then time to implement!

The SPARK Recess Program includes all sorts of components to improve your school’s recess.

Activity Areas

Divide your recess environment into 4 main activity areas:

  1. Playground Structure for unstructured free-play
  2. Group Games Area
  3. Individual and Partner Games/Activities Area
  4. A perimeter area for students to walk/jog around

There should also be space and resources for those students who aren’t able to participate due to illness/injury/etc.

Supervision

It is suggested that adults be the Recess Supervisors responsible for the overall procedures, set-up, and safety.   Student Game Leaders work with the Supervisors to distribute and collect equipment, set up activity areas, and serve as a liaison to communicate student concerns.  Once the program is up and running, students arrive at recess, choose from a variety of activities and follow recess expectations.

Both Supervisors and Game Leaders promote Character Matters, a social skills development program designed to identify, reinforce, and assess character education concepts in physical activity settings like PE and recess.  Concepts such as cooperation, respect, concern, leadership, and fair play are introduced at the beginning of the school year in all SPARK PE programs (K-12) and SPARK After School.

Activities

SPARK’s Recess Program offers a variety of activities for students to choose from. Individual/Partner activities include 2 and 4-Square, Hoop Stations, Jump Rope Stations, and Flying Disc Golf. Group games include 3-Catch and All-Run Kickball.

Maintenance

Recess Supervisors keep the program going by completing monthly Recess Action Plans, maintaining equipment, encouraging enthusiasm among the Student Game Leaders, and staying on top of the needs of the program.  Details for this maintenance are laid out in the Recess Handbook.

SPARKabc’s Recess Program can help your school get it all together to achieve all the benefits a fabulous recess program can bring!

Advocate for Recess

Want to advocate for better recess policies at your school? Take these 5 steps:

  1. Refine your own viewpoint about how children learn best.
  2. Spread the word: share proof about the significance of recess (see attachment for citations).
  3. Lobby for safe and properly maintained play areas in your school, neighborhood, and community.
  4. Get connected to local organizations that support recess.
  5. Stay informed with action alerts from local and national organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

For more information on the SPARKabc’s Program and the SPARK Recess Program, go to www.sparkpe.org/abc or contact SPARK at 1-800-SPARK PE (772-7573).

The Importance of Recess

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Is it Recess Yet?

Part 1 of 2

The Importance of Recess By BJ Williston

SPARK K-12 Trainer & Curriculum Developer

Remember when you were little and someone asked you what your favorite class was?  If you were like me, you emphatically said “Recess!” It’s not that I didn’t like my “real” classes, it’s just that the freedom I got when that bell rang was so sweet I could taste it.

The choices seemed endless.  Sometimes I’d play kickball with a big group and other times I’d play marbles or jacks with a friend or I’d jump rope.  I remember there were several months when I was obsessed with mastering a few tricks on the bars, so that is all I did.  I grew up in Hawaii, and I remember needing help getting down whenever my muumuu got twisted around the bar.  After it rained real hard, we couldn’t wait to chase baby frogs across the field.  It was a smorgasbord of outdoor fun and I got to choose depending on my mood not once but twice a day. It was heaven.

Sadly, today’s elementary school kids don’t have it so good.  Recess has been on the proverbial chopping block in the past decade due to budget cuts and the pinhole focus on academic standardized test scores. The powers that be have decided recess just isn’t important enough to keep.  Well, I for one hope to shout that it is extremely valuable and worth fighting for. I’m not the only one, and more and more folks are causing a fuss to reverse this alarming trend.

Here are just a few of the issues in a nutshell:

  • School-aged children need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day for myriad reasons, including heart health, decreasing risk of overweight/obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and various types of cancer to name just a few.
  • Kids can get this 60 minutes of PA in a multitude of ways including before and after school activities, physical education class, activity during their classroom time, and recess.
  • Only 6 states require PE in all grades K-12.  Almost half of US students don’t receive any PE in an average week.
  • All students don’t have the resources to be involved in before and after school structured physical activity, and many kids don’t live in an environment conducive to unstructured physical activity during their free time.  Neighborhoods are unwalkable, and parks are too few and far between.  For these kids, recess is even more important to get them to the 60 minute goal.
  • Only 9 states require recess be given to elementary school students. Yikes!

We all instinctively know that recess is not just fun, but important for all kids to have on a daily basis. Knowing is one thing, however it sure helps recess’s case that The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with a strong opinion promoting recess.  They consider recess a necessary break from the demands of school and in their policy statement in January 2013, they concluded that “minimizing or eliminating recess can negatively affect academic achievement, as growing evidence links recess to improved physical health, social skills and cognitive development.” So, there you have it: Recess is important for everyone.

Research conducted on recess and its benefits has found that students with at least 15 minutes of recess daily behaved better than their peers who did not have recess (Baros, Silver, & Stein, 2009).  So, clearly taking it away from children with poor behavior in class is not what the doctor ordered.  The benefits of recess range from increased physical activity to help children reach 60 minutes each day to the social and emotional learning they get from play.

Children learn teamwork, cooperation, empathy, fair play, and how to make adaptations to include all students.  What do they do when they disagree?  Do they need an adult there to help them clear it up? Most of the time, no.  They learn conflict resolution skills to work things out on their own. Skills they can take with them and use in their life outside of school.  Oh, and then there’s the benefit that the powers that be seem to be most interested in: improvements in academic scores.  There are myriad studies correlating fitness and physical activity with higher academic scores.  That’s always a nice feather in the benefits cap.

So, if everyone is saying recess is important, let’s be sure to keep it in schools and to make it the best it can be.  How do you do that?  SPARK can help. SPARK now has a Recess Component as part of the SPARKabc’s Program.  It was written to help school staff get and stay organized, promote health-enhancing PA, and promote positive social interaction in a semi-structured environment.  It’s got the whole package from an evaluation of your ho-hum or worse yet, dangerous and chaotic recess to all the tools you need to make it a recess your school is proud of.

The first step is to assess your current program.  SPARKabc’s Program offers a School Recess Report Card designed to provide you and your committee a starting point for assessing the quantity and quality of your present recess.

The 5 components measured are:

  • Time and Frequency
  • Effectiveness
  • Supervisors
  • Facilities and Equipment
  • Formal Policies

After measuring these (with a committee including representatives from recess supervisors, PE staff, administration, parents, and classroom teachers) prioritize the components targeted for improvement. Priority goes to the components with the lowest scores on the report card.  It is then time to implement!

See Part 2 of this blog for implementation ideas & resources.

Advocating for Physical Education and Student Health

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much these days, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of people from going on “The Hill” to advocate for quality physical education.  And, it seems to be working!  Advocacy has helped provide federal funding for physical education and other important public health initiatives.

Two major organizations advocating for physical education are the Sport and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) and AAHPERD (soon to be called SHAPE America).

The SFIA National Health through Fitness Day brings together approximately 150 leaders and 15-20 sports celebrities such as Herschel Walker, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Peyton Manning, and Tim Brown, to fight for the Carol M. White Physical Education Act (PEP).  Many physical educators and sporting goods companies have no idea how hard this group works to provide the only federal funding for physical education.  Until you have been in a back room with Gary Player and hear the level of conversations with a Speaker of the House, it is hard to imagine all of the work, money and time that goes into keeping PEP grants funded and safe.

Last week, SPARK was on the Hill with SFIA and the celebrities showcasing quality physical education with local DC Public School (a SPARK district) students.  We are proud to be sponsors and participants of this important advocacy day.  And, if you haven’t seen the video of Herschel Walker doing a SPARK dance with the students yet, click here. This video has had over 1,600 views on Facebook! You can view more photos of the event on the SPARK Facebook page.

SPARK is in DC again this week for National Speak Out! Day hosted by AAHPERD. National Speak Out! Day provides a venue that encourages all of its members to be strong advocates for the profession and for children.  AAHPERD members, sponsors, and associates storm the Hill to meet with their district or state representatives and share with them firsthand what is going on in their home towns.  They share personal experiences, unintended consequences, successes, and possible solutions.  Members advocate for PEP funding and other critical educational issues like educating the whole child.  Educating legislators on quality physical education is essential to making an impact on the national policy landscape.

We all have to do our part to help policy makers understand the benefits of quality, daily physical education taught by credentialed specialists.  We need YOU (teachers, administrators, parents, wellness professionals, etc.) to advocate on the Hill and/or your local governing bodies (School Board and State Legislators). Won’t you join us?

Here are some helpful hints:

  • Make them smart, before you make them mad: Share the full truth, even if some of it is bad.  You can advocate year-round by sharing issues on student health (obesity) in your district.  Share the facts and results from your testing, especially now with student growth evaluations.  You don’t always have to ask for something to advocate, as a matter of fact, true advocacy is not asking, but educating! We want decision makers to know the facts about your program and school district to help them make decisions.  This gains their trust.
  • Make friends before you need them: Provide success stories from your school and share them with your representatives.  Send letters about your school that showcase the positive things you are doing with students.  SPARK salutes all of these organizations and others who work hard on behalf of quality physical education programs and their teachers.
  • Support your friends: Help friends who are advocating on your behalf.  Especially AAHPERD and SFIA in their efforts on the national level, however, there are many others including state and local supporters you have and may not know.  Seek them out and support them.  Visit their websites and send letters.

SPARK is excited to actively support initiatives that support quality, daily physical education taught by credentialed specialists.  Here are a few relevant examples.

1. Recently, publicity around the First Lady’s Lets Move! initiative has sparked enough interest that Let’s Move! Active Schools was created.  This brought together organizations across sectors to increase physical activity in schools.  SPARK signed on and is a supporting organization for Lets Move! Active Schools. We are excited and motivated to have pledged at least 800 schools to sign up and increase physical activity during school!

2. SPARK attended both SFIA and AAHPERD days on the Hill again this year, and plan to go every year!  We sponsor and assist in demonstrations to showcase quality physical education.  We speak to Legislators about what quality physical education looks like and how important it is.  We provide success stories and call on them throughout the year through sign on letters and other advocacy efforts they provide.

3. SPARK feels so strongly about this, we created an Advocacy section on our website (under Resources).  This page will assist you by providing videos, tools, links, and ideas on how to advocate for physical education and wellness programs.  Please visit our advocacy page at http://www.sparkpe.org/physical-education-resources/advocacy/

SPARK is much more than our researched-based programs.  SPARK is proud to invest money, staff and time to advocate for policies that support quality, daily physical education for all!

So, won’t you join us in advocating for physical education and student health?

Support PEP Button


Schooling, Health and Youth Development – What is Necessary?

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Schooling, Health and Youth Development – What is Necessary?

Provided by ASCD Whole Child Programs · www.ascd.org · www.wholechildeducation.org

Over the past few years, ASCD authors have penned a number of articles about the need for schools, educators and policymakers to focus on the health and well-being of their students. Not just for the sake of their health and well-being (if that shouldn’t be enough on its own) but also to support effective teaching and learning.

Here are just a few selections to read and share:

Physical Activity

Integrating Movement Roundup

Ensuring a high-quality physical education program is important. Equally important is ensuring that students are active across the school day and not just in PE class. Research shows that kids who are physically active are not only healthier, but also likely to perform better academically; and short activity breaks during the school day can improve concentration and behavior and enhance learning

Play and Recess

Playing a Game Is the Voluntary Attempt to Overcome Unnecessary Obstacles

Last month we ran the theme of integrating movement throughout the school day (and outside of physical education classes). Obviously one place where this should be a no-brainer is recess. But it’s been scary seeing how many schools and districts have been cutting back on recess time to either provide enrichment classes or add additional academic study time into the school day.

Investing in Healthy Recess to Nurture the Whole Child

A healthy, positive school environment transcends what goes on in the classroom. In fact, what happens at recess holds a crucial key to developing the whole child. A school that provides time and space for students to run, talk, and play helps ensure every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Experience and research tell us that active students learn better, and daily recess is proven to help students focus in the classroom.

Does Better Recess Equal a Better School Day?

In a new study released Tuesday, Mathematica Policy Research and the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University rigorously evaluated the Playworks program and found that it improved outcomes in the areas of school climate, conflict resolution and aggression, physical activity, and learning and academic performance.

Nutrition

Reducing the Effects of Child Poverty

In today’s global economic state, many families and children face reduced circumstances. The 2008 economic crisis became a “household crisis” (PDF) when higher costs for basic goods, fewer jobs and reduced wages, diminished assets and reduced access to credit, and reduced access to public goods and services affected families who coped, in part, by eating fewer and less nutritious meals, spending less on education and health care, and pulling children out of school to work or help with younger siblings. These “new poor” join those who were vulnerable prior to the financial shocks and economic downturn.

No Child Should Grow Up Hungry

We are proud to welcome Share Our Strength as a whole child partner. Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign aims to end childhood hunger in the United States. It connects kids in need with nutritious food and teaches their families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. The campaign also engages the public to make ending childhood hunger a national priority.

Mental Health

Best Questions: Mental Health

More than 20 years ago, I spent one school year as the full-time school counselor in an early childhood center in Washington, D.C. Our enrollment was 250 full-day preK and kindergarten students in an old, huge brick building with 20-foot high ceilings and massive center courtyard-like hallways. I spent the year in easily washable clothes and with my hair in a ponytail at all times because, as anyone who has ever worked in early childhood can tell you, fancy clothes and fancy hair don’t mix well with peanut butter and finger paint.

A Health Iceberg

I use these slides often when discussing health. It starts with the tenets, becomes a pyramid, and then ends with what I call a “health iceberg.” Let me show you what I mean.

The common thread through all of these articles is that health and well-being matter and they determine how well we learn, grow and achieve. Health and education are symbiotic. What affects one affects the other. The healthy child learns better just as the educated child leads a healthier life. Similarly, a healthier environment—physically as well as socially-emotionally—provides for more effective teaching and learning.

To learn more about ASCD and Whole Child Education, visit the links below.

www.ascd.org

www.wholechildeducation.org

How to Use SPARK Integrations

Friday, February 7th, 2014

If you are a SPARK physical activity or physical education program user, you’ve most likely heard about our fabulous, but not-yet-famous SPARK Integrations on the back side of each activity plan. Found next to the Extensions and just above the Tips and Pointers, these little nuggets are a not-so-hidden gem that can be used to help integrate other subject areas into your PA/PE program, or to infuse some wellness messages or physical activity elsewhere throughout the day. Each program has their own unique topics appropriate for the participants of that program.

  • Early Childhood integrations are all of the Academic persuasion and include Art, Literacy, Mathematics, Music, Nutrition, and Science.
  • After School integrations reinforce learning from the activity, increase MVPA (Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity) at home, and coincide with the Think Abouts used at the end of the activity. They are all Home Plays, meaning they give information to kids to use in their home life and include Move More, Character Matters, Fitness Focus, and Food Facts integrations.
  • K-2 Physical Education features Academic, Home, and Wellness integrations.
  • 3-6 Physical Education includes Academic, Home, Wellness, and Fun Fact integrations.
  • Middle School Physical Education has Home, Wellness, Global, and Multicultural integrations.
  • High Schools Physical Education includes Home, Wellness, Global/Multicultural, and Sport Literacy integrations.

Please explain these!

Academic integrations link PE to the classroom and back. These range in subject matter from literacy to math to science. These are one of the many ways SPARK helps to address the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics (Examples: 3-6 Flying Disc: Corner to Corner Give and Go and EC Super Stunts: Animal Movements 1)

Home and Move More integrations promote physical activity at home with friends or family members. (Example: AS Cool Cooperatives: Kin-Ball Cooperative Golf)

Wellness integrations provide tips on nutrition, safety, health, etc. (Example: K-2 Catching and Throwing: Switcheroo)

Fun Facts are only found in the 3-6, but these are some doozies! They include an interesting short story or tall tale that you and your students will get a kick out of and share with others. They are connected to the activity by name or theme, but not necessarily by a straight line. (Example: 3-6 Soccer: Soccer Golf)

Multicultural connect activities to diverse cultures found locally and regionally. (Example: MS Dance: Create a Poco Loco)

Global connect activities and/or units to history, customs, and practices of countries around the world. (Example: MS Golf: Bocce Golf)

Sport Literacy integrations provide useful skill, strategy, or game regulation specifics that pertain to each unit. (Example: HS Badminton: Win the Point)

Character Matters help develop social skills and positive character traits like fair play, initiative, trust, etc. (Example: AS Cool Cooperatives: Hog Call)

Fitness Focus and Food Facts: I don’t think I need to describe these other than to let you know they are great! (Examples: link to AS Great Games: Builders/Bulldozers and AS Super Sports: Mini-Basketball

 

Sounds cool, but how am I going to use them?

Teachers of physical education and physical activity (PE Specialists, Classroom Teachers, Activity Leaders, Early Childhood Leaders, etc.) use the integrations in a variety of ways. Here are a few ideas:

Read during Warm-ups: As students/participants are warming up (e.g. during Perimeter Move) read the Integration aloud to set the stage for the activity to follow. This works best with the types of integrations that give information about that activity, like the Wellness, Multicultural and Global, Fun Fact, and Character Matters integrations.

As an Extension of the Activity: Many of the integrations are actually hidden extensions in that they change the way the activity is played and the focus has now been placed on something math, literacy, or science-related. These Academic Integrations (found in EC, K-2, and 3-6) can be used during the middle of the lesson as an extension to integrate these academic subjects INTO Physical Education. These vary from a quick science fact about aerobic capacity to a math extension that changes the focus of the game to utilize mathematical skills. (E.g. 3-6 Jump Rope: Jumping Color Tag)  When using any of these, it’s wise to check with the classroom teacher to see if the level of academics is appropriate for his/her class and to prepare for teaching the extension instead of the activity as written on the front page.

Read during Cool-down:  While students are cooling down (e.g. stretching) read the integration and discuss using pair/share. For example, after playing Durango Boot (AS Flying Disc) read the Character Matters integration and ask students to discuss the how competition motivated them in the game with a partner. Call upon 3 pairs to share what was discussed. This tends to work best with Home Plays, Move Mores (in AS), Character Matters (as a reflection on behavior during class) and Sport Literacy (to review rules/concepts learned during the lesson.)

Put on Bulletin Boards: Print copies of the integrations. (For MS they can be found on SPARKfamily.org under each unit’s instructional media in the Planning section, just below Unit Plans but all other programs they are on each activity’s backside.) Post the integrations for each week’s lessons so students can read throughout the week as they pass by. This use works best with all types of integrations except those providing an extension to the activity by changing the focus to something academic. Ask students questions about them during roll-call or warm-up to assess their learning. Reinforce students who respond appropriately.

Share with Classroom Teachers: It’s all great to integrate other topics into PE to help address Common Core State Standards, but what about a little reciprocity? To help integrate PE concepts into academic classes, share integrations with your classroom teachers. If you are a classroom teacher, they could be used as short physical activity breaks and an infusion of wellness facts throughout the day. The types of integrations that work best here are those pertaining to Wellness and any Home Play activities.

Use with the Little Ones: If you are a leader of a pre-school/early childhood program, there are a variety of ways you can use the integrations. They serve as academic enrichment tools for before, during and after a SPARK lesson. Use the Music integrations during circle time and the Art integrations during center time. E.g. “We made an umbrella with our parachute today. Can you draw an umbrella?”  (Example: EC Parachute Play: Umbrella)

An example of a Science integration is a discussion about baby animals in a SPARK activity called Guppies. Math integrations may include the concepts of shapes, counting, and grouping. Many of the Literacy integrations suggested in SPARK can be easily added to circle time because they prompt children to act out a story using a skill learned during movement time. All of the books suggested in the Literacy Integrations coordinate with the lessons and relate to one or more of the following themes: colors, language arts, mathematics, movement skills and knowledge, nutrition, personal development, science, self-image, and social development. (Example: EC Building Blocks: Creative Words and Movements)

The Early Childhood program also includes Family Fun activities (in the bottom left corner on the backside of activity plans) which serve as a type of Home Play to promote physical activity at home with their families.

 

Please share how you use them!

Have you been using integrations in these or other ways? If so, please share with us at SPARK. Email your ideas at spark@sparkpe.org. We’d love to share your best practices with the SPARK family!

8 Ways to Improve Your Health by the End of the Year

Friday, December 6th, 2013

When January 1 rolls around, we are often more determined than ever to get fit and feel great. Research shows that only 8 percent of us actually achieve New Year’s resolutions, however. The main reason? We make dreamy resolutions but fail to follow up with the planning and work needed to achieve them.

Instead of waiting to make a New Year’s resolution when it comes to your health, get ahead of the game. Decide that instead of letting the holiday season get the best of you, you are going to get a jump start on a healthier 2014.

Ways To Improve Health - SPARKTake these 8 suggestions from SPARK to improve the whole family’s health by the New Year:

  • Just move. Our bodies were made for movement. Whether you take a family walk for an hour after dinner each evening, set the mood for the day with a morning yoga session, or even include some of SPARK’s lesson plans during playtime with your kids, just get moving. Park your car away from the crowds and put in a few extra steps when doing holiday shopping. Institute a friendly family football game each Sunday and teach the little ones how to throw a perfect spiral. If the holiday season seems too hectic to fit in a workout, think again! Movement in your everyday life counts.
  • Eat smart. There will be plenty of invitations to parties and gatherings this season, and you should definitely make the most of those and attend. But that doesn’t mean you have to fill your plate with the highest-calorie goodies at the serving table in the name of good cheer. Pack portable, protein-rich snacks for marathon shopping sessions rather than making a stop at the mall’s cafeteria. Gracefully turn down invites to go out to lunch with co-workers or bring your own meal packed from home along with you. There are so many delicious temptations during the holiday season, so save your splurging for the times when it means the most.
  • Buy an activity tracker. Many people track what they eat when they are trying to lose weight—but have you ever thought about keeping an eye on your activity levels? Upgrade your basic pedometer to a device like our very own Polar Active Monitor Watch that tracks all daily activity and progress. Some monitors even track sleep and have calorie-monitoring capability. When you have a high-calorie day, add some time onto your workout or take a long walk in your neighborhood. Don’t assume that your activity level is high enough to counteract what you consume. Have a device that tracks it for you and gives insight into your habits, helping you make healthy changes.
  • Drink more water. Of course, replacing calorie-laden beverages like soda with water is an instant health boost, but there are even more reasons to stay hydrated. People often mistake thirst with hunger and eat when they should really be pouring themselves a nice tall glass of water. Hydration can also boost immunity and energy level, a must during the fall and winter seasons. A good rule of thumb is to drink enough water in ounces to equal half of your weight in pounds. So if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water every day.
  • Replace sedentary habits with active ones. Keep a journal each day that charts how much activity you get in a 24-hour period. Write down the amount of time you spend watching television on the couch, sitting at your office desk, and sleeping. Take a look at your typical habits after you’ve recorded them and look for ways to replace some of the sedentary stuff with an activity. Just four five-minute breaks from your desk for a brief walk add up to an hour and 40 minutes every week. Schedule gym visits during your favorite shows and watch them from a treadmill. You do not need to be on your feet every waking hour, but make minor adjustments to maximize your activity levels.
  • Improve sleep habits. Sleep is an incredibly overlooked but very important component of overall health. The Centers for Disease Control have declared American sleep deprivation a health epidemic because of its prevalence and negative health outcomes. Adults generally need eight hours of sleep to perform their best the next day. If you have trouble nodding off when your body is tired, take a look at what habits may be causing it. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening and be sure to get that physical activity that makes for a good night’s rest. Consistent sleep will improve your entire quality of life so make it a priority going into the New Year.
  • Reduce stress. Stress is a part of life. That means stress management is a part of life. Try to approach every situation with a rational attitude and avoid negative thought patterns. What’s causing your stress? It’s a problem that needs a solution—and the solution is as simple as writing down what needs to be done to make the problem go away, and then following through. Practicing yoga, joining a church group, or simply taking a few minutes every morning to meditate will help keep your stress level low. Exercise, restful sleep, and a healthy diet help you manage stress too—see how it’s all connected?

Maintaining your health is a lifelong process, but there is certainly no reason to wait for January 1st to make some improvements. Instead of letting the holiday season steal your health, decide to make some changes now that will set you up for a successful 2014 and help you enjoy the holidays more.

How do you plan to tackle health goals this holiday season?

Unconventional Physical Education Activities

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Unconventional Physical Education ActivitiesIn the United States, students and teachers are pretty familiar with the old stand-by PE games like tag, tetherball, kickball, dodge ball, and capture the flag. However, in some parts of the U.S., as well as internationally, there are physical education programs that incorporate non-traditional activities into their PE lesson plans. Instead of the typical jumping jacks, push-ups, and laps around the track, these programs are introducing students to a whole new side of physical activity and proper nutrition. Below we’ll take a look at a few of the uncommon PE games and physical activities that are being implemented today.

Yoga

The health benefits of yoga have been receiving increased attention in Western culture over the past several years, with the most recent popularity boom starting in 2001. Heralded for its meditative, relaxation, and strength-building benefits, yoga was first offered in North America for high school PE credit in Nova Scotia. Since then, several schools have begun to offer yoga as part of their standard physical education curriculum, although not everyone has been receptive. In Encinitas, California, concerned parents brought a lawsuit against the Encinitas Union School District with fear that teaching yoga to children might spread the message of Eastern religion. However, students who participate in yoga while in school are finding that the benefits extend to other areas of their academic lives, such as test preparation and focus in the classroom.

Tai Chi

Students of all ages, from elementary through college, are reporting increased levels of stress in their daily educational routines. Densely packed academic schedules, increasing workloads, and tougher standardized testing requirements have all added to the pressure that students face. In an attempt to combat these increased stress levels, some PE instructors are incorporating tai chi into their lessons plans. This ancient Chinese martial art has been practiced for centuries for its ability to oppose certain chronic conditions, lower stress levels, and improve one’s overall mental health.

Hiking

In rural and mountainous areas, hiking is being incorporated into the physical education curriculum. In some cases, the physical activity of hiking is included as part of an overarching lesson on wilderness education and outdoor survival. Hiking affords students the chance to explore the outdoors in a way that promotes interaction with nature and benefits their physical health. Hiking may also be combined with other outdoor activities such as kayaking, canoeing, or rock climbing.

Martial Arts

Classroom discipline can be a major issue in schools, particularly with younger students at the elementary level. In an attempt to enhance student’s focus and increase order within the classroom, various martial art disciplines are being taught to physical education students. Styles vary, from wrestling to karate to judo, providing students with basic self-defense skills through physical activity. Additionally, as UCLA Martial Arts Program Directr Paul McCarthy notes, “Martial arts can teach you about culture, history, society, friendship, loyalty, dedication, and so much more.

Dance

From ballroom to hip-hop to ballet, dance has been playing an increased role in physical education programs around the world. The physical health benefits of dance are many: improved coordination, increased cardiovascular capacity, weight loss, and enhanced muscle tone and strength are just a few. In some programs, PE instructors are also teaching cultural and traditional folk dance in order to combine physical activity with historical education.

5 Ways to Get Back into the PE Swing after Winter Break

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Returning to school from winter break can be a tough transition into the second half of the school year. With some schools out for 2 to 3 weeks in December and the first part of January, many students forget what they learned at the end of the semester and teachers are forced to spend valuable class time reviewing material they already covered. 5 Ways to Get Back into the PE Swing after Winter Break

Physical Education (PE) class is no different. The body, like the mind, “remembers” physical movements and exercises from day to day, but when a person stops exercising the body can “forget” what it was capable of and revert back to a lower physical level. This doesn’t mean all ability to run, play basketball, or jump rope will suddenly disappear, but taking a long break can lead to some “rustiness” in physical fitness.

In addition to this physical component, kids are probably a little apprehensive mentally and emotionally to get right back into the swing of things.

Forcing Kids to Make up for Lost Time isn’t the Answer

When I was a schoolchild, the way the PE teachers got us back into the swing of things after the winter, spring, and summer breaks was with the puke drill. The puke drill earned its name from—you guessed it—its ability to actually make students throw up out of sheer physical overexertion.

The puke drill was the same thing as the “suicide” running drill that many PE teachers and sports coaches still use today, but it involved touching every single line on the basketball court floor in order to make it a much longer drill. The theory was that forcing students to work extra hard to make up for lost time would get them back into shape much faster. But guess what? It didn’t work. And a lot of parents called to complain when their child was injured, became physically ill, or simply couldn’t keep up.

We’re trying to promote physical activity as a fulfilling, healthy habit—not something that makes you sick! Don’t overexert your students and turn them into exercise haters.

Fun and Easy Ways to Ease Back into Exercise

Kids can be difficult to engage when they return from school breaks and holidays. Winter break is often the hardest because it’s the longest, it’s filled with candy, treats, and other junk food, and cold weather may keep even the most active students indoors. Here are some simple ideas to help kids of all activity levels get back into the swing of things after winter break.

1. Prevention is the best medicine. One of the best ways to keep students on track is to encourage them to exercise on their own over the break. The week before break begins, have your students set individual goals and a plan to reach them. The overall goal is to get students to maintain the same physical level while on break, but each student will need to use different means to get there. Work with each student to help them set individual exercise goals based on their unique challenges.

2. Play games. It’s a lot easier to get back in shape when exercise is fun (that’s what SPARK is all about!). Plan to play whatever your students’ favorite PE games are as soon as you get back from break, to help make getting back in shape seem more like fun and less like work. You can even let them vote on the games and activities they’ll do.

Click Here for sample games you can choose from

3.  Try low-impact activities. January can be the perfect time to introduce new, low-impact PE activities such as yoga and Pilates. These exercise routines use the body’s own resistance to build strength and flexibility. They’re perfect for students who may be out of shape because the routines themselves are naturally designed to allow students to work at their own level and build up to more challenging movements, both during each session and over time.

Here are some yoga tools you can use:

Yoga Basic Training lesson plan

Yoga Basic Training content card

4. Integrate mental exercises. Ease back into things slowly with the help of some deep breathing and meditation techniques that can help students mentally and physically prepare for both PE class and their academic classes at the same time.

5. Dance, dance, dance. Get kids moving again for the semester with something they love to do. Hip hop, jazz, and R&B music all have great beats that kids like to get down to. Get them involved by asking class members to teach their favorite dance moves to their classmates. Break into small groups and ask each one to choreograph a 2 minute performance. Bring in a boom box, a mix of appropriate music, and let them wear their street clothing during class. It will be like a special treat at the start of the semester.

Here are some Dance lesson plans you can use:

Louisiana Saturday Night Lesson Plan

5-6-7-8 Dance Lesson Plan

California Strut Dance Lesson Plan

10 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for the Whole Family

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Many people make resolutions at the beginning of the New Year, but it’s very difficult to stick to your plans if you don’t have constant support. That’s why making resolutions you can stick to as a family is such an important part of creating lasting changes. You can support each other while everyone works toward becoming a happier, healthier, more united family unit.

1. Eat a Healthy Breakfast10 Healthy New Years Resolutions for the Whole Family
Sometimes having a family breakfast isn’t possible because of conflicting schedules and other commitments, but it should be everyone’s goal to eat a healthy meal every morning. Whether you drink a fresh fruit smoothie or sit down with a bowl of oatmeal, make sure that every member of the family eats something sustaining before leaving the house. Eating before you leave eliminates the temptation to stop at a fast food restaurant or grab a doughnut and coffee before work. Resolve to keep healthy foods and fruit stocked in the kitchen and readily accessible for the mornings to help the entire family stick to this goal.

2. Wash Your Hands
Most people wash their hands after going to the bathroom, but making a point to wash your hands before eating is a great way to get rid of germs and cut down on the number of illnesses each member of your family has to endure each year. There are germs on almost every surface your body comes into contact with and making a concerted, long-term effort to wash your hands helps to keep the germs out of the house.

3. Exercise Together
Spending time with your kids seems like a great excuse for skipping a workout, but you can have quality time and workout at the same time. Playing basketball with your kids, going on a family hike, or racing around a track are great ways to get in your exercise while bonding as a family and enjoying nature. If the weather stops you from exercising outside, try window shopping while walking around the mall or going to an open gym at a local school or a community center.

4. Drink Water or Milk Instead of Soda

Soda is convenient and tastes good, but it adds empty calories and sugar to your diet with zero nutritional value. Water is by far the most natural drink for your family, as your bodies are made of mostly water and it hydrates you without the extra calories. Milk is also an important drink, especially for the children in your home. Their bodies need all the calcium they can get to build strong bones.

5. Relax Together Without Electronics
Most people spend hours in front of screens each day. Many of these hours are spent behind computer screens at work or school. Everyone in the family should give their minds a break from the screen for at least an hour each day. Some families choose story time where members take turns reading from a book or telling a story. Other families have instituted game night where the entire family gathers to play board games one night per week. It’s a good idea to make sure that every member of the family gets an equal opportunity to choose a book or game so that nobody feels left out.

6. Eat Healthy Snacks
It’s easy to reach for a bag of chips or a box of cookies when you’re looking for an afternoon snack, but eating fruits and vegetables for snacks is much better for your body and brain. Washing and slicing vegetables and fruits as soon as you get home from the store is a great way to make them more convenient snacks. This way all you have to do is reach into the refrigerator and pull out a bag of carrot sticks or apple slices that is just as convenient as a bag of chips.

7. Volunteer Together
Almost everyone becomes a happier person when they help other people, and being happier reduces the level of stress in your body. This makes you healthier as well as happier. You can volunteer in any way that makes sense for your family, from collecting donations for your favorite charity to serving the homeless at a local soup kitchen.

8. Take More Steps
Buying each member of your family a pedometer can make getting more exercise a fun family challenge. Buy a small prize for the member of the family who takes the most steps each week, or set a goal to take a certain number of steps as a family and do something fun if you meet the goal.

9. Go to Bed Earlier
One of the biggest health issues that many families face is not getting enough sleep. You can’t force yourself to sleep, but having a set routine at bedtime and going to bed earlier is a great way to encourage your body to rest. Getting enough sleep makes every member of the family more alert and ready to take on the new day.

10. Try New Recipes Together
Even very small members of your family can do something to help out in the kitchen, and kids who pick ingredients and help their parents prepare meals are more likely to try new foods. Cooking dinner together can be an adventure, especially if you make an effort to use exotic ingredients and find new ways to cook your favorite dishes.
Creating common goals can help families bond and really challenge each other. Tackle the New Year as a family and reap the rewards of  built-in teamwork.