Archive for the ‘Physical Activity’ Category


Keep Kids Active With These Healthy Gift Ideas

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that your children are likely to become less active throughout the winter months. From the end of October to the beginning of the New Year, candy, and treats means that unhealthy indulgence increases, while physical activity levels decrease.

Fortunately, with the right stimuli, most children love staying active, and this time of year is the perfect opportunity to introduce gifts that will encourage them to embrace a healthier lifestyle. This holiday season, consider giving your children a gift that facilitates active play. After all, learning to enjoy this kind of gift in the early years provides crucial building blocks for the future, and physical competence is ideal for building self-esteem at any age.

kid playing

Whatever their interests, here are some of our suggestions for healthy holiday gifts that will keep your children’s minds and bodies in action.

1. Interactive Video Games

In general, medical experts have been critical of video games because of their tendency to promote a sedentary lifestyle. However, the world of video games has come a long way over the decades – evolving from stationary hand-held devices, to active and engaging technology that relies upon physical motion and interactivity. Some studies have even suggested that certain video games, such as options for the Wii, or Xbox Kinect, allows individuals to access the same level of moderate-intensity activity that they would get from going to the gym.

Keep in mind that children are more likely to gravitate towards standard video games than physically active options, so if you do purchase a console for your kids, you’ll need to supply them with plenty of active games, and monitor their usage. While active games are better than sedentary options, don’t rely on them exclusively to promote healthier activities for children.

2. Toys Designed To Get Children Outside

One of the best things you can do for your children today is encourage them to spend more time outdoors, and less time cooped up in front of the television. Christmas provides a great opportunity to purchase a few special gifts that focus entirely on your child getting outdoors to make the most of their new toy. For example:

  • A toboggan can be the ideal choice for the winter if you’re in a location that experiences a lot of snow. Not only is it exhilarating, but it’s great for fitness, and a fantastic way for families to bond in a group activity together.

  • Kites can be a great solution for getting kids outdoors, because they work regardless of the season. All you need is a bit of wind, and you’ll be good to go.

  • Bikes and scooters encourage children to engage in a new hobby, and increase the chances that they’ll be happy to take trips using physical activity, rather than relying upon you to take them everywhere in your car.

  • Kids love to jump, so if you want to keep your little ones bouncing their way to a healthier lifestyle, a miniature trampoline for the backyard could be the perfect solution

Don’t forget, even if your children aren’t on a sports team yet, having sports equipment available such as a basketball and hoop, or a goal for soccer, could encourage them to practice their skills and create their own games. The right sports not only keep children active, but help them to develop their coordination skills, and self-confidence.

3. Personalized Sports Equipment

One great way to get your children interested in a more active lifestyle this holiday season, is to personalize the gifts you give them, to ensure that each item resonates with your child on a deeper level. For instance, if your child loves the idea of riding his bike, but complains about it being boring or scary, you could enhance the fun with cool helmet covers or light decals.

If your child has expressed interest in a certain sport or activity in the past, you can sign them up for lessons with a professional tutor or coach, and make sure that you also give them all of the equipment that they need to pursue their interest. For example, if your child wants to join a football team, get them personalized equipment with their name written on the shirt, or a signed ball from their favorite player. If they’ve shown interest in karate, buy them their first belt and karategi.

Encouraging your children’s interest in a particular sport not only helps them improve their health, but offers them the opportunity to build greater confidence and self-discipline.

4. Traditional Solutions for Younger Kids

If you think your child is too young to fully grasp the rules of sports, remember the benefits of art, dance, puzzles, and traditional toys. For instance, art and dance are great for helping children to express themselves, increase their focus, and develop hand-eye co-ordination. Similarly, though building blocks and puzzles don’t involve a great deal of physical activity, they do help children to enhance their fine motor skills and develop their minds.

Remember that encouraging your children to adopt a healthier lifestyle isn’t just about physical activity, it also means advancing their minds, evolving their understanding of the world, and helping them to pursue healthy goals.

Conclusion

As a parent your goal should be to encourage your children into remaining as active and engaged as possible – no matter the weather. Healthy, physically active kids are more likely to develop life-long healthy habits, as well as being more academically motivated, successful, and alert.

The Best Apps for Keeping Kids Active

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

apps

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.

Strava

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.

Resources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brad-spirrison/kids-health-fitness-apps_b_3580013.html
http://www.parents.com/fun/sports/exercise/10-benefits-of-physical-activity/
http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features/digital-home/3520917/how-much-screen-time-is-healthy-for-children/
http://www.naturalnews.com/043761_weight_fate_childhood_obesity_healthy_eating.html
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/super-stretch-yoga-hd/id456108738?mt=8
http://www.parents.com/fun/sports/exercise/the-benefits-of-yoga-for-kids/
http://www.strava.com/
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/iron-kids/id552037626?mt=8
http://www.foodnme.com/smash-your-food/
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fitnesskids/id534467673?mt=8

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. BikeLeague.org 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 BikeLeague.org’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

PedBikeInfo.org 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 REI.com.

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! BikeLeague.org 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 BikeLeague.org’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?

Sources:

http://bikeleague.org/bikemonth

http://www.helmets.org/stats.htm

http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/data/factsheet_crash.cfm

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/bike-maintenance.html

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

[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:

Infants/babies

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.

Toddlers

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.

Preschoolers

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. exercise

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!

Unplug

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 rafting

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.

Soccer

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.

Tennis

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.

Swimming

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.

Golf

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).

Surfing

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:

http://activelivingresearch.org/physical-activity-school-score-pass

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

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10 Tips for Teaching Dance

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

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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 SPARKfamily.org 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 SPARKfamily.org. 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.

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