Archive for the ‘Physical Education News’ Category

The Importance of Recess

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Is it Recess Yet?

Part 1 of 2

BJ-W-2By 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.

Holiday Pinwheels Recipe from Healthy Kids Challenge

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Our partners at Healthy Kids Challenge have shared one of their favorite healthy holiday recipes with us, so we’re sharing it with you!  Enjoy!

Take the Healthy Holiday Challenge: Help kids set a goal to choose healthy snacks during the holiday season, and join them in meeting the challenge!

How?SPARK Vegetables Dec 2013

1. Refresh your minds…
about why it’s important to choose healthy holiday snacks.

Utilize these printable tips to help get you started:

Curb Impulsive Holiday Snacking and

Explore What Influences Holiday Food Choices

2. Energize your bodies…
with this recipe, which you can make together with the kids.

Holiday Pinwheels (print this)

Serves: 4

4 (6-7”) whole grain tortillas

4 oz. fat free cream cheese

1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp tomato paste

4 oz. finely shredded low fat cheddar cheese

1-2 green peppers (to make 1 cup finely chopped)

knife, spoon, cutting board


  1. Wash hands with soap and water before handling food or utensils.
  2. Rinse the green peppers, then finely chop to fill 1 cup measure.
  3. Blend cream cheese and tomato paste together in small bowl. Set aside.
  4. Place a tortilla on the cutting board and spread 1 Tbsp of the cream cheese mixture on top.
  5. Sprinkle 1/4 cup chopped green peppers and 1 Tbsp shredded cheese on top and roll up.
  6. Cut each wrap into 4 serving pieces. Use spatula to place them on
  7. Have kids clean up work area and utensils with warm soapy water. Rinse with clean water.


Sunday, December 8th, 2013

SPARK Comix December 2013

10 Ways to Get Your Toddler to Eat Healthy

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Toddlers tend to be notoriously finicky eaters. If they do not like the look, smell, or texture of a particular food, they will often turn up their noses and refuse to eat it. This can be especially frustrating to parents who know the value of healthy food in the formative years.

If you are a parent of a food-finicky toddler, don’t fret. You are not alone and there are ways to ensure your child is still getting the right nutrition, even if it seems like he will only be eating cheese sticks and animal crackers into adulthood. Take a look at 10 suggestions for ensuring your toddler is eating right and creating a healthy palate:

Toddler Eating Healthy

  1. Set the example. It sounds so simple but makes such an impact. If you want your children to eat healthy foods, you must do it first. Avoid mentioning foods that you do not like to eat and focus on the healthy options that you most enjoy. If you ask your toddler to eat a piece of broccoli, then you need to have broccoli on your own plate too. The same is true of drinks. While no one would deny a parent that glorious morning cup of coffee, make sure your kids see you drinking plenty of water as well.
  2. Start small. Parents will have better results if they start to think like a child when it comes to portion size. A toddler will eat about one-fourth the amount of an adult in a typical setting, so parents should not expect much more. Small portions are also less intimidating to children and are more likely to elicit a welcoming response upfront.
  3. Limit snacks. A toddler’s metabolism does call for more than three square meals each day, but snacks should have limits. Try to schedule snacks at a specific time each day and stick with it. When your toddler complains five minutes after breakfast that she is already hungry, remind her of when snack time will take place. She cannot read time, of course, but once she realizes that she cannot request food around the clock, she will become more interested in scheduled meal and snack times.
  4. Slow down. Allow toddlers the time that they need to eat enough, and try healthy foods on their plates. If a meal is rushed, there is less of a chance that children will consume the foods you place in front of them. Make meal time a separate entity from the rest of the day by turning off background noise like televisions and keeping cell phones away from the table. Make eating the focus of meal time and allow your toddler the time needed to consume healthy choices.
  5. Plant a garden. Even if you only have a small space for a container garden, take advantage of it by growing a tomato or basil plant. Have your toddler help you plant the seeds, water the plants and harvest the fruit, vegetables, or herbs. When you present the items later on your toddler’s plate, remind him that he helped create them through hard work. This will enhance his connection to the food in front of him and make him more interested in trying it himself.

SPARK is a research-based organization that provides award-winning, evidence-based programs for Physical Education (K-12), After School, Early Childhood, and Coordinated School Health. Since 1989, SPARK has provided curriculum, training, and consultation to over 100,000 teachers and youth leaders worldwide. Visit to download sample lesson plans, find grant opportunities, and register for free educational webinars and monthly eNewsletters.

10 Active Weekend Ideas for Families

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Children learn their most impactful lessons at home. The examples parents present have a greater effect on the choices children later make than any other outside force. With a rising childhood obesity epidemic, parents are on the forefront of fighting health decline in their kids due to poor eating and exercise habits. Parents can teach healthy cooking, eating, and fitness lessons through conversation, but it is better understood through practice.

The school week is busy, especially if parents work outside the home. When the weekend rolls around, though, there are plenty of opportunities for families to get out of the house and work up a healthy sweat. Take a look at 10 ideas for making active weekend family plans:Active Toddler - SPARK PE

  1. Visit a park. Enjoy being outside while providing an active place for your kids to roam freely. Set a good example by pushing your kids on the swings, climbing with them on the jungle gym and racing them from tree to tree. If you visit a park with no playground equipment, bring along a ball or Frisbee or simply let your children’s imagination create the fun. The sunshine and fresh air will enhance mood and the open space provides limitless opportunities for play.
  2. Plan a play date. Reach out to other families in your neighborhood, church, office, or children’s schools and plan weekend get-togethers. You can take turns hosting each other at your homes, or come up with a fun spot to meet. This provides your kids with the excitement of a playmate while giving you an outlet for adult interaction. This is also a great way to form strong bonds with other families in your social circles.
  3. Go for a walk. You do not have to seek out a specific walking or hiking trail to have a good time strolling. Simply take a walk around your neighborhood with your kids. Point out fun features on other homes, or create a game where your children have to count how many animals they spot on the adventure. If you have kids that are too young to walk, consider baby wearing to add a workout element for yourself.
  4. Spruce up your yard. Make landscaping chores fun by getting your kids involved in the action. Weed flowerbeds, pick up branches, and rearrange patio furniture (safely!) with your little ones. It will improve the curb appeal of your home and give the entire family a good reason to work up a good sweat too.
  5. Head to a farmers’ market. This is a smart way to get a little exercise while teaching lessons about locally grown food. Most kids are only familiar with putting food in a cart from a grocery store shelf; going to a farmers’ market provides another perspective on how food makes its way to the plate and teaches children the importance of fresh and healthy food, community support, and responsible agriculture. Many farmers’ markets even have live music, and the atmosphere always makes for a fun shopping excursion for even the littlest members of the family.
  6. Jump in the water. If you live near a beach, pack up your gear for a good time in the waves. If you are far from any significant body of water, visit a local pool. Kids of all ages love swimming and it is a great way to exercise while having fun. There are so many outlets for imaginative play in the water, providing a collaborative opportunity for parents and kids. Whether learning how to dive, fetching items from the bottom of the pool, or pretending to be a mermaid, swimming is always a good time.
  7. Stop by the library. Believe it or not, visiting your local library can be a very active experience. On the weekends, many libraries have special events that are designed to get families involved and active. Libraries are also frontrunners in the children’s fitness movement and often provide free or low-cost group exercise classes designed for kids. Take a look online at the offerings of your local library and then make it a weekend activity staple.
  8. Shop. Ditch the stroller and keep your kids out of the shopping cart when you pay a visit to your neighborhood grocery, home improvement, or department store. Remember that these stores are not always designed to be kid-friendly, so you will have to keep an extra eye on your children. It’ll take a bit longer, but giving your kids a taste of independence and getting those little legs moving is great for them now and in the long term as well.
  9. Outdoor concerts and events. Find out if there will be any local music events, festivals, or fairs appropriate for children. Often, admission to these events is inexpensive or free and it provides a fun setting for kids. Pack some healthy snacks and water to take along so you can avoid that sugar-and-fat-filled concession stand.
  10. Just dance. If your weekend plans get rained on, crank up your favorite tunes and declare a family dance party in the living room. Let everyone have a turn picking out the music and then dance until everyone is out of breath and sweating. Tell your kids how old you were when you liked a particular song that plays and ask them for their favorites. This simple form of family bonding can be planned at a moment’s notice and is sure to stand out in your children’s memories.

While weekends are a time for relaxation and rejuvenation, they also provide the perfect opportunity for lessons in physical fitness. Setting the standard for physical activity early in their lives will benefit your children into adulthood. By incorporating active plans into your weekends, your kids will have the advantage of heightened fitness—and so will you!

SPARK is a research-based organization that provides award-winning, evidence-based programs for Physical Education (K-12), After School, Early Childhood, and Coordinated School Health. Since 1989, SPARK has provided curriculum, training, and consultation to over 100,000 teachers and youth leaders worldwide. Visit to download sample lesson plans, find grant opportunities, and register for free educational webinars and monthly eNewsletters.

Department of Defense Adopts New Physical Education Program for Schools Worldwide

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Don’t let the name fool you: the Department of Defense is taking the Offense in the fight against childhood obesity.  During the past two years, Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) has been vetting quality Physical Education (PE) programs for potential adoption. The DoDEA issued a solicitation in June 2012 for curriculum materials for four PE courses – Comprehensive PE Grade Level K-8, Grades 9 – 12 Lifetime Sports, Personal Fitness Grade Level 9 – 12, and Grades 9 – 12 Physical Activity and Nutrition.  After a lengthy research and review process, DoDEA recently announced that SPARK, provider of the world’s most researched and field-tested PE programs, was awarded the four contracts.

SPARK’s Executive Director Paul Rosengard comments, “It was wonderful news to learn DoDEA chose SPARK for all four PE adoptions. We’re honored and excited for the opportunity to work with hundreds of physical educators who serve tens of thousands of students and their parents around the world.”

SPARK, a public-health organization that began at San Diego State University, will be providing their research-based instructional materials for teachers, as well as online learning modules and webinars. SPARK will also provide layers of follow up support to ensure the program is effectively implemented and sustained in a variety of environments.

Katie Fenton, one of SPARK’s leads on the project adds, “SPARK has been shown in over 50 peer-reviewed articles to improve a variety of student health-related outcomes.  Some of which include activity levels, fitness, motor and sport skills, and enjoyment of the PE experience.  Additionally, students that spend more minutes in SPARK PE did as well or better on their standardized tests than students in control groups.  The data show healthy students are better prepared to learn, and SPARK PE makes every minute impactful on a child’s health.”

Aaron Hart, who wrote much of the SPARK High School program added, “We’re particularly anxious to work with DoDEA physical educators on our latest innovations and technologies.  For example, they can download all SPARK program components to an iPad, tablet, or smart phone.  SPARK lesson plans, videos, assessment tools, bilingual skill and content cards, even our music, will all be on a website each teacher can access 24/7.  They’ll be able to save SPARK to their computers and from there, download the content to any mobile device.”

What Makes Quality Physical Education?

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Our friends at Kaiser Permanente’s “Thriving Schools” initiative recently interviewed our own Paul Rosengard, Executive Director of SPARK in a three-part series on Quality Physical Education. We’ve combined all three sections and posted them below. The original articles are posted HERE.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: What role does physical education play in the fight against childhood obesity?

Paul Rosengard: An important one!  The Centers for Disease Control summarized existing data and research and school-based Physical Education (PE) received a “Strongly Recommended” rating as an intervention. Quality PE programs have been proven effective in increasing physical activity levels of students, and teaching important fitness and motor skills. Terrific PE programs also teach behavioral skills so students learn to be responsible for their own health and wellness in a variety of environments — and for a lifetime. Now is PE THE solution to the overweight and obesity crisis – no. There are so many other important factors that contribute to the problem. However, a lot of young people have some PE during the week giving us a “captive audience” to assess, prescribe, and evaluate.

To learn more about physical education as a solution to childhood obesity, click here to view a short video.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: Do all students have access to physical education?

If we examine PE requirements in different states, counties, cities and rural areas, the short answer is no. Even within the same K-12 school district the frequency and duration of PE classes can vary greatly in elementary, middle and high schools. Many elementary students around the country have PE only once or twice a week. This is insufficient dosage to improve the health of children and adolescents. Oftentimes PE is not taught by a PE Specialist – someone with a degree in the subject that has successfully completed teaching preparation coursework and earned a credential or similar certification.

It’s important that students in grades K-12 have PE every day, instructed by a credentialed physical education specialist. The data show that the PE specialist is the best provider of instructional quantity and quality.

To learn more about access to physical education and what you can do to help, click here to view a short video.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: Aren’t all physical education programs basically the same?

Not by a longshot.  Studies of physical education show that content and instruction can vary greatly from class to class, teacher to teacher. There are many outstanding PE programs across the country taught by dedicated and hardworking subject matter experts. And, like all subjects, there are PE programs that fall far short. As a result, students may not accumulate enough minutes in moderate to vigorous activity. While there are National and often State Standards for PE — what children should know and be able to do at grade level — they are rarely adhered to or reinforced. While we believe physical education is a core subject, it is rarely viewed that way and administrators don’t always hold their PE teachers accountable for effective and efficacious instruction.

To learn more about National Standards and Guidelines for physical education, click here to visit the National Association for Sport and Physical Education website.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: What is Quality Physical Education?

If you ask 10 different professionals in our field, you’ll likely receive 10 different answers! Since you asked me, I’ll share our philosophy which was developed by one of our SPARK Principals, Dr. Thom McKenzie. It’s HOPE:  Health Optimizing Physical Education.  This is a positive learning environment where students learn fitness and motor skills via a sequential and progressive path towards becoming physically educated people.  Participation is individualized, yet there are opportunities to accumulate movement experiences with partners and groups. The emphasis is more on cooperation than competition, and developing competencies in lifelong activities rather than traditional team sports.  For example, high school physical education looks more like a health club than an 11 on 11 soccer game with 1 ball being touched more by the most fit and skilled students. HOPE advocates for all students to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 50% of class time and to promote physical activity during and outside of the PE class.

To learn more about HOPE:  Health Optimizing Physical Education, click here to view a short video.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: How can I tell if my school provides quality physical education?

Here are 3 suggested steps:

1. Speak with your school’s PE teacher(s).  Ask her/him to:

  • Tell you how often students have PE – frequency and duration
  • See their Yearly Plan (what they teach and when).
  • Show you how their program aligns with their District, State or National Standards.
  • Explain how they demonstrate student learning to those standards via assessment and evaluation.

2. Speak with your school’s Principal. Let her/him know you support:

  • Quality, daily PE for every student taught by a credentialed specialist.
  • Curriculum that has been proven to work and last – evidence-based.
  • A budget that allows teachers to replenish equipment so students have plenty for PE, recess, after school — activity throughout the day on campus.
  • Ongoing professional development and new resource acquisition for the school’s PE teachers.
  • Grades for physical education that are factored into a student’s grade point average.

3. Attend school-board meetings and express your support for quality, daily physical education taught by credentialed specialists for all students in all grades.

Click here to download the suggested next steps to see if your school provides quality physical education.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: How can I to help improve the physical education program in my school?

Here are 3 things every parent can do:

1. ADVOCATE for daily physical education in all grades — delivered by a credentialed physical educator.

2. ENSURE teachers are aligning content and instruction to achieve a goal of 50% or better MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity) in every class and that they are promoting staying physical activity away from class.

3. INSIST teachers have access to current resources and professional development opportunities so they can learn new, innovative content and teaching strategies.

Let your voice be heard!  Speak to your school’s PE teacher(s) and Principal about your child’s PE program TODAY.  If your school’s program does not meet these standards, encourage leaders to learn more about evidence-based programs that can provide new resources and training for teachers:

Click here to download the 3 things every parent can do to help improve the physical education in your school.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: Are there any resources available to help advocate for Quality physical education?

Yes, there are many, click here to access them.

Presidential Youth Fitness Program Recipients

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Congratulations to the recipients of the inaugural Presidential Youth Fitness Program grants!

As a research-based public health organization, SPARK applauds the hard work and forward thinking that has led to the development of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. SPARK believes strongly in the power of assessment, quality professional development, and motivational recognition and has long been an active President’s Challenge Advocate. Click Here to see SPARK alignment with the Presidential Youth Fitness Program.

We’ve also created an equipment list to help grant recipients implement or enhance their fitness assessment! The list includes items like the ‘Crunchmat’, a mat that becomes an abdominal-crunch platform with raised edges and lightly texture surface to indicate start and finish points of each crunch movement without looking down.  The widths are the national standards for abdominal crunch distances for students grades K-5.

Why is the Presidential Youth Fitness Program Important?

Student participation in quality physical education and regular physical activity leads to improvements in relevant outcomes such as physical fitness.   Although “physical activity”, “exercise”, “physical education” and “physical fitness” are terms that describe very different concepts they are often confused with one another.  Physical fitness is a set of attributes such as aerobic capacity; body composition; and muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility.  Assessment of physical fitness provides an effective way to evaluate overall physical condition.  Quality physical education programming like SPARK has helped schools improve student’s physical fitness and improve health outcomes.

As schools enhance their physical education programs many are adopting new strategies to assess physical fitness such as the Presidential Youth Fitness program.   Launched in September 2012, the mission of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program is to offer tools to assists schools assess physical fitness.  This voluntary program is the result of a partnership between the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Foundation on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Amateur Athletic Union and The Cooper Institute.

2013 Southwest District Convention

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

I hope we’ll see you in Las Vegas June 26-29 for the 2013 Southwest District Convention! This year’s conference features some amazing speakers including a keynote by our very own Dr. James Sallis.

If you attend make sure to visit SPARK in the exhibit hall and say hello to myself, Kymm Ballard or Ryan Schissler. We’ll share the latest and greatest from SPARK and enter you in a raffle to win a SPARK Digital Curriculum Set (iPad ready) for the program of your choice!

And don’t miss these presentations while you’re there:

Let’s Move in Schools — With a SPARK!
Wednesday 10:00-11:30am, Red Rock Ballroom
Paul Rosengard

Enhancing A University Course — Concept to Content to Completion
Friday 9:20-10:00 Veranda D & E
Nicole Smith and Paul Rosengard

Move the World — One Physical Education Class at a Time
Saturday 8:20-8:55 Pavilion Ballroom
Paul Rosengard

SPARK is Partnering with Motion Fitness to Get America’s Youth Moving

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

The childhood obesity statistics in America are startling: over the past three decades, obesity rates among youth have tripled, and nearly one third of children in America are now overweight or obese. While there are many different culprits, reduced physical activity is one of the main causes of this national epidemic. At SPARK we’re building on our mission to provide effective solutions to combat this trend by partnering with Motion Fitness, a national leader in Exergaming solutions for youth.

“Motion Fitness is an established leader in exergaming and they align well with SPARK’s focus on utilizing technology to improve student health.  We view this partnership as another positive step in our efforts in our mission to fight childhood obesity.” said Paul Rosengard, SPARK Executive Director.

Motion Fitness was started in 1998 with a simple goal: “give people the ability and power to move”. The company continues to stand as a leading industry expert in products, solutions and partnerships through fitness, exergaming and active Game Play. We hope that by collaborating with Motion Fitness we’ll be able to bring our respective strengths together in a way that will allow us to impact more schools, teachers and children across the country.

As partners, SPARK and Motion Fitness look to inspire physical activity through cutting-edge exergame game experience and the world’s most researched and field-tested physical education program. Keep an eye out for good things to come!

For more information about our new partner Motion Fitness, visit