Archive for the ‘Physical Activity’ Category

The Best Apps for Keeping Kids Active

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

The Best Apps for Keeping Kids Active

It’s safe to say that the world around us is becoming increasingly mobile and tech-oriented. People of every age are falling in love with their smartphones, tablets, and laptops, which can result in a more lethargic lifestyle and shortened attention spans. Having a healthy approach to life prevents your children from packing on the pounds during adolescence and also gives them the tools they need to set up a life of choices catered to their enhanced wellbeing. According to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, the fate of a child’s weight can be determined by the time they turn five.

We all know that raising a healthy child is important, but that task can become more trying when you can’t pry them away from their smartphones. Perhaps the best way to deal with the issue is to use technology to your advantage.

Although too much screen time can be unhealthy for your children, innovative new concepts are emerging to help parents prompt their kids into physical activity. Health, nutrition, and fitness applications provide an education into how the body works, what makes it run better, and more, while feeding your child’s technology addiction.

Following are some of our favorite apps for keeping kids active.

Super Stretch Yoga HD

Super Stretch Yoga HD is a free application for the Apple iPad that works to teach children fun and easy yoga moves that they can try out themselves. Instead of simply watching cartoons on their iPad, your child can start trying out poses modeled by children of their own age, letting them stretch out their limbs and show off their skills. The application includes a total of twelve different yoga poses for your child to perfect, each with its own description and accompanying video.

Yoga is a great hobby to get your child interested in physical wellbeing and fitness. Not only does it improve strength and flexibility, but it’s also likely to be something that they continue to enjoy as they grow to later life. The videos included with this application offer reassurance to keep beginners trying time and after time, as well as advice on the best time of day to try out certain poses. You can even play the videos on your television with an Apple TV.


Are you the kind of parent that regularly walks their child to school or goes for small adventures on the weekend? Strava is an application that allows you to map your walks, bike rides, and hikes and time each journey, so you can show your children how much they’ve accomplished in a certain scope of time.

Typically, this application doesn’t market directly to children, but it is a great way to make walking to school and traveling to new places more fun. The further you go and the more you do, the more of an excuse your child has to be proud of themselves. You even get little notifications when you create a new personal best in your time, allowing you and your little one to celebrate each milestone together.

Iron Kids

Iron Kids is an application lovingly developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics to help children eight years and up get more exercise as they grow. In 2013, the Iron Kids application won it’s very own Web Health Award for providing young athletes with everything they need to safely and effectively improve their fitness, balance, and strength.

The app centers around nine exercises that involve the lower body, upper body, and core. Videos are included to help your kids understand how they can do the exercises and how those exercises benefit them.

Smash Your Food HD

An interactive and informative game intended to teach your children important real-life skills, such as how to read nutrition labels and what they should be eating, Smash Your Food HD is an impressive application for kids. Your child will enter their age and how much exercise they regularly get so that the app can calculate how much salt, sugar, and oil they should be consuming.

With the nutritional labels given for common fast foods as a guide, your kids will then need to estimate how much oil, sugar and salt is in each item. After they’ve submitted their answers, they’ll be able to find out whether the food they’re looking at is healthy for them. Finally, your young ones will get the opportunity to smash the food to pieces, watching a can of soda rip apart or a jelly donut burst!

Fitness Kids

Fitness Kids is an application designed by experts in the fields of pedagogy, physical education, and health. Packed with interesting exercises for children between the ages of 6 and eight, this app teaches children each movement through the use of colorful, engaging videos.

What makes Fitness Kids a little different from other applications is that it offers funky music and colorful backgrounds for a stimulating experience, and the exercises themselves are fun to do. Your kids will keep coming back for more as they figure out their favorite movements, such as the Conga or the Crab. Your children can also engage in competition with their friends, and their skill levels will improve as they continue to progress.

Keep Moving!

Getting your child to give up on technology might be an impossible task, but using that technology to your advantage could provide a safe and easy way to invest in their health. Think about how much time your child currently spends in front of a computer screen and ask yourself if you’d feel better knowing that they were playing a game designed to get them learning and moving.

The earlier your child starts to get in shape, the more chance they have of reducing their risk of certain illnesses. Kids who are frequently active experience:

  • A lower chance of becoming overweight
  • Stronger bones and muscles
  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Potentially lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels
  • Leaner physiques
  • Improved confidence

On top of this, the more active a child is, the better he or she will sleep, deal with emotional challenges, and manage physical strain.

Let us know if you’ve discovered any great applications tailored to children that get your young ones moving more often.


10 Ways to Promote Safe Biking for National Bike Month

Friday, May 1st, 2015

bike riding

Around the country, bicyclers have been supporting National Bike Month every May since 1956. Sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists, May gives experienced and novice cyclists a chance to participate in bicycling events, try out biking for the first time, and promote safe bicycling practices. Want to participate in the fun? Here are 10 ways you can promote safe biking during National Bike Month.

Know and Follow Bike Safety Rules

Before you start having too much fun, you’ll want to review what safe biking actually entails. shares a list of safety tips and advice on how to maintain your bike. A few tips from their list to keep in mind include:

  • Keep your tires inflated to the pressure listed on your tire.
  • Inspect your brakes frequently to ensure they work properly.
  • In addition to always wearing a helmet, make sure your helmet fits properly.
  • If riding at night, be sure to wear bright and reflective colors.
  • When riding on a trail, stay to the right, pass on the left, and ensure you use a signal—such as a horn or your voice—to let other riders know when you’re about to pass.

Once you’ve reviewed these safety rules, be sure you’re following them at all times. Not only will it set an example for young riders, but it will ensure your safety along with the safety of others around you.

Help Educate Fellow Bikers and Non-Bikers About Rules and Etiquette

Now that you’re aware of common bike safety rules, you can share your knowledge with others. As you gear up for riding this May, make sure anyone else riding with you understands these safety rules. For instance, it might be a no-brainer to wear a helmet, but some riders—especially those who don’t bike often—may not know to call out “On your left” when passing other riders.

It’s also worth discussing these rules and etiquette with non-bicyclers as well. While they may never go riding, they’re likely to encounter other riders, and it’s worth knowing what “On your left” means before a biker passes you.

Print Out Promotional Materials to Share With Friends

If you’re not sure how you can help this National Bike Month, it’s as simple as printing out promotional materials and sharing them with family and friends or on promotional bulletin boards. These materials can cover anything from promoting biking events to sharing infographics covering safe biking practices. If you’re not sure where to get this material, check out’s promotional materials for National Bike Month.

Wear a Helmet

It’s one thing to know you should wear a helmet. It’s another to actually put it on. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute reports that bicycle helmet use can reduce head injury risk by 85 percent. While it may seem like you don’t need one since you don’t reach high speeds while biking, accidents between cars and bicyclists are a real possibility.

As the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute reports, “During the past few years, no more than 17 percent of fatally injured bicyclists were wearing helmets.” This again highlights the importance of helmet use among riders of all ages.

Use Reflectors reports that the most common source of injury for bikers is being hit by a car. On average, 69 percent of biker fatalities are in urban areas where there’s a lot of traffic. One way to add an extra layer of safety to your biking practices is to use reflectors. This will help drivers see you more clearly, especially at times of low visibility.

Most bicycles already come with reflectors, but it’s worth testing them out to ensure they function properly. You can also add reflector tape to your pedals and other areas of your bike to ensure a higher level of visibility. You might also consider an electric flashing reflector that will help drivers see you from a distance at night and in fog.

Keep Your Bike in Shape

Not only do you need to protect your body with a helmet and biking gear, but you’ll also want to protect your bicycle. A worn out bike can lead to faulty brakes, broken chains, and other problems that can cause wipeouts and crashes. A few tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep bolts, bearings, and chains greased.
  • Test your tire pressure frequently, and pump your tires if needed.
  • Before taking off, test your brakes. Replace your pads once there’s about a ¼ of the pad left.
  • Store your bike in a clean, dry place during the off-season to reduce rust and wear.

If all else fails, take your bicycle into a bike mechanic regularly to ensure everything is in working order. Check out more maintenance tips at

Reach Out to Your Government for Better Biking Conditions

If there are a lot of people in your town who bike, it’s important that they’re biking under safe conditions. Oftentimes riders are left to share the road with cars, which can lead to accidents. Other times, sidewalks aren’t wide enough for bikers and pedestrians to share.

If you really want to make a difference this National Bike Month, talk with your local government about creating better biking conditions in your town, such as by adding a bike lane in areas of high traffic. Petitioning for bike lanes close to schools is a good way to encourage students to ride their bikes to school while providing a safe environment to do so.

Volunteer at a National Bike Month Event

National Bike Month is packed with fun events for bikers of all ages. May 15, for instance, is National Bike to Work Day this year, and May 6 is National Bike to School Day. Even if you can’t find a National Bike Month event in your area, you can always plan one yourself! shares a guide to helping you plan an event in your neighborhood. Some ideas include bike safety workshops, training classes, and bike races.

Host a Safety Assembly at Your Local School

Whether you’re a student looking to spread the word of safe bicycling or a concerned parent or teacher, you can reach a lot of potential cyclers by hosting a bicycling safety assembly at your school. See if you can get your local district to agree to a presentation. Share statistics, videos, and stories with students, and try to get both teachers and students actively involved.

Participate in a Ride Smart Class

The League of American Bicyclists has been focused on education since the 70s. Their Ride Smart class teaches bikers more about riding, and it helps connect them with other cyclists in their area. Take a look at’s map to find a Ride Smart class in your area.

We’re avid cyclists at SPARK PE and believe that safety is a priority for any physical activity. While bikers should be promoting safety practices all year round, National Bike Month helps raise awareness of these issues, and you can leverage this nationwide event to get the word out. What will you do this May to promote safe cycling practices?


Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

[INFOGRAPHIC] Youth & Yoga

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

Yoga isn’t just for grown ups anymore. It serves as another fun, physical activity for kids and it has mental and physical benefits. Check out some of these yoga poses in this infographic!

Youth & Yoga - Kids Yoga Poses

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Start Them While They’re Young: Introducing Kids to Exercise Routines

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

It is no secret that children today lead more sedentary lives than their parents and grandparents did. Childhood obesity has more than doubled over the past three decades and screen time is at a record high between television, computers, tablets, video games, and smartphones. While it seems that the days of playing outside and simply “being a kid” are fading away, it’s not too late to turn the ship around. By introducing your kids to exercise routines and showing them how fun being active is, you can make a big difference.

What Is a Healthy Amount of Exercise For Kids?

The Centers for Disease Control recommends at least 1 hour per day of physical activity for children and adolescents. That time frame should include mainly aerobic activity, but muscle and bone strengthening exercise is also very important for growing bodies.

Sixty minutes per day is not difficult to achieve if you look for smaller time frames to incorporate activities, like walking to school or participating in organized sports a few days per week. The key is to pick age-appropriate activities that interest your kids so that they will look forward to the activity and form a positive opinion of healthy fitness pursuits.

Kids exercise

Exercise by Age

Not all exercise is appropriate for all ages and some is more beneficial to certain age groups than others. Take a look at what should be the focus of an exercise routine for kids by age:


Working with the smallest of kids to develop motor skills, like crawling, walking, and pulling up to a standing position is enough activity. This is also an important bonding time for parents and babies, so getting down on the floor and playing with infants is beneficial in physical and psychological ways.


A good 90 minutes of daily physical activity is not only helpful for a toddler’s health but benefits parents by providing a release for all of that extra energy. Toddlers learn most in play environments, so structuring just 30 minutes per day of planned physical activity is enough, as long as you provide active outlets for free, creative exploration on the part of the toddler.


This group of kids requires the most amount of physical activity of all the age groups, at 2 hours. They still need an hour of unstructured, creative play but are physically able to handle another hour of planned activity too. Most preschools do have some built-in physical activity, but parents should still find ways to incorporate the difference at home.

School-age kids

As recess times at school decline, it is important that parents find at least 1 hour per day for their kids to exercise. Ideally this exercise should last at least 15 minutes at a time to have full effect. As children grow, they are also capable of doing some independent fitness activities that parents should encourage. Pay attention and listen to your children’s interests, and support whatever physical activity they love the most. Whether they want to play sports, take dance classes, or just jog around the neighborhood every day, as kids get older they need some independence when it comes to staying fit.

Every child will want to sit down and watch television from time to time or play a computer or tablet game. This is fine as long as it does not occur in excess. The CDC recommends that children under the age of 5 never remain inactive for less than an hour and that school age kids never remain inactive for more than 2 hours at a time—apart from nap and bedtime, of course.

The best way to get your kids excited about exercise is to set the example. Find family activities that you can all do together and cheer each other on at individual events, too.

8 Ways to Keep Your Kids Active Indoors

Friday, January 9th, 2015

There’s nothing quite as fun and rewarding as getting outside as a family to be active. But in geographic areas that experience harsh winters, getting out can be difficult for many months of the year. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of TV watching and video game playing, but these and other sedentary habits can be harmful in physical and developmental ways. By getting creative, you can come up with fun activities to try out under the protection of your roof.

Here are just a few ideas:

Cook with your kids. What better way to be active, learn together, and encourage healthy eating? Pick out recipes that feature plenty of wholesome ingredients, like vegetables and chicken, and let your kids help you put the meal together. Clean up afterwards as a family and you will have even more opportunity to be active as a unit.

Plan a scavenger hunt. Leave clues throughout the house that lead to a prize at the end. If the weather allows it, make a few of the clues lead outdoors too. The prize can be something as simple as cozy new socks to something as exciting as a note that outlines a planned special outing.

Throw a dance party. This is easy enough. Turn on the radio and crank up the tunes. Let your kids take turns picking their own playlists. Who knows? They may even teach you a move or two.

Set up an indoor obstacle course. Use chairs, tables, boxes and anything else that makes a good cliff or tunnel and turn your home into a temporary challenge course. Make it competitive by timing each other, or working together on relay teams. If your kids are old enough, let them create some of the obstacle course too. Note: Look out for safety and make sure there aren’t any hazardous areas.

Piece together a puzzle. You may not work up a sweat, but working together on a puzzle is great for team-building, bonding, and critical thinking skills. The great thing is that you can pick out a puzzle that has significance to your family as well—perhaps a favorite sports team or even a family photo that has been made into a puzzle. The time you spend together will be much better spent than if you’d just sat in front of a screen.

Redecorate. Roll up your sleeves and transform a room or two in your house with the help of your kids. Rearrange furniture, organize drawers and cupboards, and rehang wall art in new locations. Let your kids have insight into the creative process, too. It will give your kids an enhanced sense of ownership of their own home and keep the entire family active in the process.

Put on a play. Pull out your favorite family storybooks and reenact them or come up with your own original script. Incorporate whatever your family likes the best—singing, dancing, or just being silly. The best part of this idea is that you can repeat it over and over, and no two performances are ever the same.

Watch a workout video. Pop in a workout DVD or pull up content online that will get your family moving in sync. You can even look up specific exercises that you want to learn and then give it a try together. No matter what the weather is like outside, you can find ways to break a sweat with the right workout video.

Being stuck inside does not have to mean a death sentence for your active lifestyle. Instead, look for creative ways to utilize what you have inside to stay fit and involved, even if the weather outside is frightful.

How does your family stay active in the colder months of the year?

10 Fit Family New Year’s Resolutions

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Millions of people will make resolutions when the New Year rolls around, and millions of those resolutions will have to do with living a healthier, more active lifestyle. Keeping those resolutions is challenging, but by making resolutions as a family, you have a built-in support group that encourages each other to reach fitness goals throughout the year.

Take a look at a few ways your family can resolve to be more fit in the coming year and beyond. 10 Fit Family New Year’s Resolutions

Train Together

Sign up for an upcoming event, like a short road race or obstacle course challenge as a family unit. Schedule training sessions together, set individual goals, and cheer each other on in the process.

Park with a Purpose

Every time you’re out and about, reconsider the urge to find the closest possible parking spot. Deliberately park your car further away than normal. Over the course of a year, all of those additional steps will really add up. Plus, your heart will appreciate a reduction in stress that comes with navigating crowded areas and battling with other drivers for parking spots.

Try Something New

Pick a new sport or activity to try out as a family or resolve to try something new each month of the year. For extra family fun and participation, rotate who gets to choose each new month’s activity.

Get Outside

Resolve to spend more time in nature. Take family walks after dinner or frequent a neighborhood park once per week. Check out your city’s Department of Parks and Recreation website to find parks and open spaces that are open to the public. You’ll probably find a lot more than you knew existed, including a few family favorites to visit regularly. There’s no denying the benefits nature has on our well-being!


Set limits on electronic device use, including watching television. Schedule times to put all phones, computers, and tablets away and fill that space with active pursuits—even cleaning the house—instead.

Plan an Active Vacation 10 Fit Family New Year’s Resolutions

When you are trying to decide where your next family getaway should be, take a look at what recreational opportunities you can fit in. Are there trails to hike? Canoeing options? Downhill skiing or water sport activities? Let these activities guide the planning process and build them into your itinerary.

Just Walk

Whenever possible, walk to your destination. When you get there, find ways to add even more steps to the experience. This can include everyday activities, like going to school or work, and can also mean taking walks for the sole purpose of fitness. Buy everyone a pedometer or activity tracker and keep track of your steps together on a family chart.

Plant a Garden

Not only will you have fresh, healthy foods to place on your dinner table, but you will be active in the garden through the building, planting, and harvesting process. Teach your kids that not all foods come prepackaged at the grocery store and that some of the tastiest ingredients can be grown right at home.

Pencil It In

Don’t just say you will be more active; actually write it on the schedule alongside other family obligations. Having it in print will make you more accountable to uphold your New Year’s resolutions to keep moving as a family.

Being more active as a family is the best New Year’s resolution you can make any year. Make this year one that brings your family better health and fitness outcomes, and resolve to reach your goals together.

6 Sports Your Kids Should Try this Summer

Monday, July 28th, 2014

With time off of school, the summer months are a great time for kids to try something new. If you are looking for a way to get your kids excited and create an anything-but-sedentary summer, check out the 5 suggestions below.


Perfect as a follow-up to the fun and excitement of the World Cup, sign your kids up to learn more about the world’s most popular sport. Not only does soccer improve balance and agility, but plenty of running means great cardiovascular exercise and conditioning for other sports. For parents who are nervous about the aggressive physical contact in sports like American football, soccer is a great alternative.


Register your kids for a few tennis lessons and watch their coordination, balance, and flexibility improve, along with their determination to hit the ball. The resistance portion of playing tennis is also an exercise in strength training, leading to better bone health. Tennis has also been proven to improve tactical thinking and boost creative brain power.


Did you know that water is 12 times denser than air? The density of water forces the body to work harder than on land, even though it feels like less work and is actually easier on the joints. For kids who struggle with asthma, swimming has been shown to help deter attacks by increasing lung volume and encouraging proper breathing.


If you think that hitting the links is just for the old and out of shape, think again. For kids who are able to walk the three to five miles of a typical 18-hole golf course, it provides a great aerobic workout, on top of improved strength (especially if kids are carrying a 30+ pound golf bag).


If you are close enough to a coast, take advantage of summer surfing lessons. Surfing combines the resistance and cardio of swimming with the balance and agility in tennis. Surfing works every muscle in the body and provides a fun adrenaline rush too.

Outdoor Volleyball

What says summer like beach volleyball? Even if there’s no beach around, outdoor volleyball is a great way to spend summer afternoons. Kids learn hand-eye coordination, build strong muscles and bones, and burn plenty of calories while soaking in some summertime sunshine.

Take advantage of school being out for the summer and encourage your kids to try out a new sport. Even if it’s in the backyard with friends or family, finding ways to keep your kids active during the summertime months not only keeps them off the couch but enables them to truly enjoy the essence of the season—and their childhood. Enjoy!

Physical Activity School Score: PASS it on!

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Physical Activity School Score (PASS)

Why it’s Important that School Programs Provide and Promote Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is extremely important for children’s growth, motor skill and physical fitness development, and current and future health. Being physically active in childhood also provides a solid base for continuing to be physically active in adulthood. The 2008 National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend children engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate and vigorous physical activity daily, with at least three days per week providing muscle and bone strengthening activities. Unfortunately many children do not meet these national physical activity recommendations–especially on school days.

Physical education and recess (at elementary schools) typically provide some opportunities for physical activity at school, but they are often not scheduled frequently enough or facilitated in ways that fully engage all children. Many elementary schools in the USA do not have certified instructors to teach PE, and sometimes schools offer no structured physical education at all. Even in classes taught by PE specialists, research shows that children are sometimes active only about one-third of PE lesson time. As well, not all schools provide recess daily and sometimes children are kept from recess periods for academic or disciplinary reasons. Thus, in addition to the need for quality physical education and recess, other opportunities for physical activity should be made available throughout the day (e.g., classroom activity breaks, before and after school programs, and opportunities to walk, bike, and skate to and from school)

PASS: A Tool to Assess Physical Activity Opportunities at School

Many parents, School Board and PTA members, and school administrators have never been educated about the need for children to engage in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and they are frequently unaware what quality physical activity programs at schools look like. Meanwhile, numerous research studies have identified specific evidence-based practices that are more likely engage children in physical activity at schools. To help advocate for physical activity programs at schools and provide information about these evidence-based practices to elementary school administrators, teachers and parents, Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored us to create an on-line, interactive educational tool. To do so, we developed the Physical Activity School Score (PASS).

PASS is an 8-item questionnaire that allows respondents to assess various aspects of the main sources of physical activity at an elementary school. PASS increases awareness of evidence-based practices by providing feedback immediately after a response is made to each item. Following the last item, respondents are provided with an overall school score, and an opportunity to see how their school compares to other schools on each item and overall. PASS also provides easy links to online information to evidence-based school physical activity practices.

How Well Does Your School Score?

PASS takes about five minutes to complete. We hope that you get in the PASSing zone and try it out to see how well your school scores compared to the research-based criteria. Additionally, we hope you will deliver information about PASS to your friends, school board members, the PTA, and the parents of all he kids you want to help become active.

To learn more about PASS and to evaluate an elementary school near you go to:

Here you can:

- See how PASS works

- Use PASS to assess an individual elementary school

- Download the “Pass  Background and Technical Manual”

Thom McKenzie, PHD, Professor Emeritus, School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, San Diego State University

Monica Lounsbery, PHD, Associate-Vice Provost, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

10 Tips for Teaching Dance

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

10 Tips for Teaching Dance

By BJ Williston

SPARK K-12 Trainer & Curriculum Developer

I was lucky to have been exposed to a wide variety of types of dance as a kid. Living in Hawaii, my first experience was taking hula lessons with my older sisters. I may have been the only redhead in the halau (or hula school) but I loved the feeling of moving to the beat and changing as much as my more native-looking friends. In school, our PE teacher taught us square dance, Polynesian cultural dances, and later dances to the hit songs of the day. I am certainly dating myself when I say we danced to Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” and The Jackson Five’s rendition of “Rockin’ Robin”.

In middle school we choreographed our own routines and performed in front of the class. The groups were teacher-assigned which meant a mixed bag of students cooperating to complete the task. I have great memories of that assignment. By high school I was taking jazz and modern dance classes outside of school and joined a dance company which performed around the island. We rehearsed several nights a week and the experience helped build my confidence and gave me a greater insight into the life of a dancer.

At the time I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to have been given such a well-rounded dance education. Looking back on it, I owe a lot to my PE teachers who cared enough to expose me to dance at such an early age.

Why teach dance?

My guess is that most teachers inherently know that dance is an important part of every child’s education. Aside from bringing pleasure, dance can increase health-related fitness as well as improve balance, coordination, and balance. Dance brings us more in touch with diverse cultures and may be used as a tool to teach or reinforce cultural awareness. Learning a dance helps memory and sequencing skills. In addition, dance can be a form of self-expression and creativity. Many dances promote social skills like cooperation and teamwork. Dance is typically a non-competitive activity that most students enjoy. So, the real question should be why not teach dance?

As I’m sure you know there are some PE teachers who don’t teach dance. They have all sorts of excuses for leaving dance out of the curriculum. If you are one of these teachers, this blog is for you. Let me put your worries at ease as SPARK can help you overcome just about any barrier you may have for not teaching dance. Below are a few of the barriers and ten tips to help overcome them:

I’m not a “dancer”

No one is expecting you to be an expert in everything. Most PE Specialists are more comfortable teaching certain activities over others. You may be the Invasion Games Expert or the Aquatics Guru or the Racquets and Paddles King/Queen. But just because you are not an “expert” in an area does not mean you can’t teach it. Here are a few ideas for teaching dance when you yourself are just learning:

1. Start small: Look for dances in the SPARK program that have just a few steps like the Conga, The Bunny Hop, The Pata Pata, etc. Get your feet wet with these to build your confidence and see how your students take to dance.

2. Build on that: Each time you teach a dance, use that dance as a warm-up for your next few lessons to reinforce learning. Allow students to add their own twist to dances as they get more comfortable. Revisit your dances throughout the year and keep building their repertoire.

3. Use the Jigsaw Method: Many of SPARK’s dances are broken into 3-4 discernable parts. For example a dance with Verses, Chorus, and Instrumental parts with 3-5 steps in each. Students begin in Jigsaw Groups, then # off according to how many parts there are. They then move to Learning Groups where they are all learn the same steps and become an expert in those steps. When ready, they return to their Jigsaw Group and each student teaches the part they learned. Like a jigsaw puzzle, they put it together to form one full dance. This method encourages students to work cooperatively, promotes reading, and allows students to interpret the dance steps in order to teach them.

4. Get a little help from SPARKfamily: All of the K-12 PE and After School dances are now available on in a new section called SPARKdance.  SPARKdance provides the instructional materials, music, and videos for each dance.  There are two videos per dance – an Instructional and an All Together version. Use the Instructional video to go through each dance step-by-step. Then use the All Together video to help lead the group through the dance with no stops. This frees you to move around the area to help students in need.

5. Turn over the reins: Use PACE dances to allow students to learn at their own pace with a partner or small group. SPARK also has a “Create a Dance” activity in most program levels. These activities should be used after other dances have been taught so students can build on what they have learned.

6. Find an expert: Whether it is another teacher at your school, a parent volunteer, a student teacher, community member, or even one of your students, there are “expert” dancers all around! Invite someone to be a guest teacher a few days each month. Once students learn the dance, get a few students who are comfortable leading, turn on the music, and dance away! Again, this frees you to move throughout and provide feedback to your class.

I don’t have the right music

There are all sorts of resources out there to help you with music. Try some of these:

7. SPARK provides an mp3 version of each of the songs for all of our dances on SPARK also has CDs with all of the music from each program. Click Here to download the order form.

8. iTunes allows you to purchase songs one at a time for $0.99 or $1.29. Be sure to listen to them for content appropriateness!

9. Some companies, such as Kidzbop® put out kid-friendly versions of the most popular songs of the day.

10. Stay tuned for the SPARKdance DVD set (including instructional materials, music, and videos) in September 2014!

We don’t have a dance room

Very few schools do, so don’t let that slow you down. A gym is perfectly fine for dance. If you don’t have a gym, a blacktop or even grass works just fine. Basically, kids can dance anywhere! It certainly helps to have a good sound system so you and the students can hear the music well.

Now, don’t let your students go one more week without getting them moving to music. It’s the right thing to do! Have fun!

Ready to get started? Join the #SPARKdance contest May 27, 2014 – June 30, 2014 for a chance to win an iPad Mini! Click Here to learn more.

10 Tips for Teaching Dance

Q: How Can We Help Students Reach 60-a-day?

Monday, May 5th, 2014
A: Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program!

For National Physical Education Week, we’re taking a deeper look into a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program and resources available to help reach the goal of 60 minutes of MVPA a day.

How much activity and why?
It seems you can’t look through a magazine or watch a news program without hearing about the importance of physical activity (PA) and its role in overall health. There’s nothing better for controlling weight, reducing risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers; not to mention PA’s role in increasing muscle strength and bone density, improving attention in class, and so much more. PA is the “wonder drug” of champions (literally!).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the President’s Council on Fitness, Sport, and Nutrition all recommend 60 minutes of physical activity for children ages 6-17. With that dosage kids will be healthier, happier, leaner, and have a much better chance of living longer. Sixty minutes seems to be the “magic” number and it should consist mostly of aerobic activities in the moderate to vigorous intensity level range (MVPA), such as brisk walking, running, swimming, etc., as well as 3 days/week of muscular strengthening like gymnastics and calisthenics. So, how on earth are today’s busy kids supposed to accumulate 60 minutes of MVPA most days?

Physical Education (PE) is a great start!

Let’s say your school has a fabulous, quality physical education program with daily PE for all students. They have PE for 30+ minutes (for elementary) and 45+ minutes (for MS/HS) each day and they are engaged in MVPA for 50% of class time — always! It’s an ideal program all around. Sounds great, right?  It is – yet it’s also VERY rare.

Are YOUR students reaching the magic dosage of 60 minutes on most days with PE alone? If not, they’ll need to find other physical activity opportunities throughout the day if they’re going to achieve their 60 minute goal.

How might you supplement student Physical Activity (PA)?

Viable options include before and after school programs, recess, activity during other academic classes, on-site intramurals, as well as myriad activities off campus after school. Programs such as these are components of a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP). They include quality PE as the foundation, as well as PA opportunities before, during, and after school, staff involvement, and family and community engagement.* The whole package helps keep our children active and fit. Like SPARK Principal Thom McKenzie likes to say, “It takes a village to raise an active child.”

Teaming up for PA!

No one person or entity is responsible for our kids’ health. When everyone does their part and students are supported with PA choices in all sorts of environments, they are much more likely to participate and achieve their 60 minutes or more. And every type of activity “counts” towards the 60 (e.g., walking to school, climbing on the jungle gym, having activity breaks during class, dancing in PE, playing tag at recess, running in a running club, playing intramurals after school).You want your kids to have so many opportunities they can’t help but find activities they love to do and to do them often!

What resources are available?

Let’s Move! Active Schools provides free and low-cost resources to help schools incorporate physical activity before, during, and after school for at least 60 minutes a day.  SPARK is an official supporting organization of Let’s Move! Active Schools and encourages schools to sign up to be an Active School.  Learn more here.  

How can SPARK help you and your students reach the 60 minute goal?

Quality Physical Education – Sadly, many PE programs are not active enough – ironic right? Yet studies show students may spend a good chunk of class time waiting their turn for a chance just to touch the equipment (as in relays) or sitting on the sidelines because they got “out” (elimination games) or simply waiting for someone to pass the ball to them (large-group games). PE classes full of these practices often engage students in MVPA for only a short amount of time. SPARK PE (K-2, 3-6, MS, and HS) offers teachers quality PE programs that in turn provide students many opportunities to participate and practice skills. Research shows SPARK PE engages students in MVPA at least 50% of class time, addresses National Standards, aligns assessment with instruction, and regularly promotes out-of-class physical activity. Students become more active and more skilled when they have SPARK PE. When taught daily, students can receive nearly half of their recommended minutes of PA with SPARK PE alone!

During academic classes – Because students often sit for hours at a time during classes, activity breaks are a must! They help not only by adding minutes of PA, but they have been shown to enhance academic performance. The SPARKabc’s program provides numerous activities to be used as breaks during classroom time as well as activities which integrate academic topics to help “anchor” learning and make it more active and fun. SPARK provides sample SPARKabc’s lessons to give you a taste of what our ASAP movement breaks and academically focused activities look like. They’re easy to teach, easy to learn, fun and effective. SPARK PE (K-2 and 3-6) programs also include multiple limited space activities that classroom teachers can use as activity breaks throughout the day.

During Recess – Recess has potential to be either very active or very sedentary. Depending upon students’ preferences, they might choose to play an active soccer or basketball game or to sit and chat with a friend while eating their snacks. Even if they join what appears to be an active game, they may spend most of their time waiting in line for their turn at wall ball, tetherball, kickback, 2-touch, etc. Frankly, they may get most of their activity jumping up and down cheering for the kids who are playing! Both SPARK K-2 and 3-6 PE programs include Recess Activities sections with ideas for inclusive, enjoyable, and ACTIVE games. SPARKabc’s also provides resources for recess staff looking to improve activity opportunities for all elementary age students. Here’s a sample recess activity that can be played as is, or modified to match your students and setting. Try it and tell us what you think!

Before and After School – Students who attend before and/or after school programs can receive a large percentage of their daily MVPA during structured and/or non-structured activities. Again, as in recess, activities need to be structured in such a way to increase activity levels and to have positive effects. There are many issues to consider with running a quality program that addresses a wide range of ages, group-sizes and skill levels, commonly have a lack of equipment and limited space, as well as high staff-to-student ratios. SPARK’s After School program (which actually targets all out-of-school PA programs, not just those done after school) has been found effective in increasing PA for children and adolescents ages 5-14. It has hundreds of suggestions for addressing many of the concerns typically encountered in these types of programs.

At the end of the day, students CAN reach the goal of 60 minutes or more of MVPA. It’s a matter of structuring your environment to encourage PA. By providing safe places to play, programs that promote movement throughout the day, equipment to complement those programs, and trained staff to lead them, your students will have met or exceeded the 60 min. goal for now, as well as learned the skills to continue to do so for a lifetime!

*(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs: A Guide for Schools. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2013)

Learn More:

Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs: A Guide for Schools

Let’s Move! Active Schools

Free SPARK webinar!

Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs

Resources for Integrating Physical Activity Throughout the School Day

May 7, 2014 @ 3pm Pacific (6pm Eastern) – Register Here