Posts Tagged ‘exercise’


What the 2016 Shape of the Nation Report Says About Recess

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

four kids playing on recess equipment

The latest Shape of the Nation report included a combination of recess and research. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and SHAPE America have poured vast amounts of time and energy into figuring out how our children can get the most out of recess.

In the U.S., two recesses rarely look the same. Only eight states have policies that require schools to offer recess, and researchers found there were no real guidelines in any part of the country. This despite the recommendations that children engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

With that in mind, there’s no time like the present to reexamine the way your school looks at recess. This summary of the report’s 19 strategies should serve as a good start.

Formalize the Fun

Ever heard of a recess curriculum? One of the broad strategy recommendations of the Shape of the Nation report is to make significant leadership decisions so recess becomes a priority. This doesn’t mean recess should be rigid and regimented, but it does mean your school should have a written physical education plan so all school staff and supervisors understand why daily physical activity benefits their students’ health and focus.

Sit down with teachers, parents, and students and create a set of policies to guide recess. This can involve everything from designating indoor and outdoor play spaces to figuring out how to keep students safe if a freak snowstorm hits during recess. Your strategy should include your school’s philosophy about recess, the goals it will take to get there, and who is responsible for taking on each step.

If you’re not sure where to start, the CDC has a self-assessment tool schools can use to see where they’re doing well and the areas in which they still need improvement.

From Planning to Playground

It’s time to adapt your schoolyard or indoor recess space so students benefit from your planning.

When possible, schools should provide ample play equipment. The types of equipment will vary, based on the age categories of your school. Educators should look beyond soccer balls and jump ropes and ensure their bounty of recess gear includes equipment that is inclusive for children of all ages and abilities. Consider balls of different size, textures, and color, as well as manipulative equipment that can be used by children with gross motor delays.

In addition to equipment, the report recommends creating designated physical activity zones. For example, your schoolyard could be split into three areas: one each for sports, fitness skills, and relaxation. This schoolyard division will make recess more satisfying for students and avoid the accidents that inevitably happen when two sports collide. One of your physical activity zones should also acknowledge that exercise doesn’t just come in the form of traditional sports. Drama productions, mazes, and obstacle courses can be created by more creative staff members and will serve the same positive purpose: getting children on their feet and having fun.

Finally: safety first. The Shape of the Nation report found that just under half of American schools post safety rules and guidelines for equipment, despite almost all schools having this equipment available to students. Creating an accessible list of rules and ensuring play equipment meets safety standards is an excellent preventative measure your school should take.

Activate Your Community

Everyone should be invested and engaged in making recess a success. If you laid out supervisory roles in your written recess plan, now is the time to implement them. While most schools require teachers and parents to be supervisors, less encourage them to be physical activity facilitators. Facilitators guide students through different activities, which helps reduce injury, bullying, and exclusionary behavior. While safety supervisors should be adults, physical activity facilitators can be found within your student body. Allowing older students to organize and facilitate an activity of their choice is essential in positive youth development and can create valuable peer leadership opportunities.

Tweak for Next Year

No strategy is complete without a means to assess it. The report recommends schools gather information about recess: how much intense physical activity is the average child getting, how is this affecting classroom outcomes, discipline rates, etc. Gathering this information will help you constantly refine your recess plan and provide a source of evidence if anyone ever challenges your school’s recess values.

Physical activity time is an essential part of a child’s school day. By incorporating all or some of the Shape of the Nation’s strategies, you can be sure you’re making recess the best it can be.

Are Your Students Meeting the Physical Education Guidelines?

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

teacher marking off checklist with students in the background

By teaching young minds the proper techniques of physical fitness, educators are better able to instill valuable knowledge that will last a lifetime.

But how close are your students coming to an ideal physical education? Read on to discover the Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create the best program for your class this spring.

Emphasize Health-Related Fitness

In the world of physical fitness, two competing practices exist: health-related fitness and performance-related fitness. Performance-related fitness rewards students based on achievement of a specific task; PAG guidelines are not meant to promote this type of competitive education. Instead, a full curriculum based on health-related fitness is endorsed to teach heart-health-conscious kids.

Proper instructions for cardiovascular and muscular fitness allow students to continue to work on their health, regardless of their skill level. While an individual focused on performance-related fitness routines may develop quicker, flashier physical results, they lack proper understanding of what it takes to maintain that level of fitness throughout development.

Choose Individualized Health Goals

Not every student is at the same level of physical fitness, and they aren’t in the same developmental stages at the same time, either. That’s why instead of setting arbitrary goals, like a certain time to run a mile or a certain number of sit-ups in a row, physical education teachers should focus on customized fitness goals.

Educators can promote individualized results for each student by tailoring physical education parameters to their specific wishes and health needs. Not everybody functions the same under the same circumstances. Through proper education, teachers should communicate what questions an individual should ask themselves in order to gain perspective of their desired goal. Some of these questions include, but are not limited to:

  • How physically fit do I want to be?
  • How much weight do I want to lose and keep off?
  • How important is it to me to reduce my risk of heart disease and diabetes?

It’s vital to challenge students to achieve higher levels of physical fitness than their baseline comfort levels without making them feel they aren’t good enough if they can’t reach the same goal as a peer.

Focus on Disease Prevention

One of the main goals of the PAG guidelines is developing fundamental education and an understanding of disease prevention. By fostering proper physical fitness routines, students, as well as adults, have less likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It’s also crucial to teach students the opposite end of the spectrum: the effects inactivity can have on the human body. By understanding both ends of the spectrum, students are better able to find a balance and ensure sound physical health throughout their lives.

Take the Lifespan Approach

Physical fitness and sports are imperative for children’s healthy growth and development. Exercising the right way for just 60 minutes a day has a huge impact in both the short and long-term, promoting healthy day-to-day habits and encouraging a lifetime of physical activity. Students fully educated by PAG guidelines will be able to take this valuable knowledge and apply it to each stage of their life: adolescence, adulthood, and late adulthood. And it can all start with one well-designed physical education class at school.

With all these benefits, why not update your P.E. classes this National Physical Fitness and Sports Month? Which new lesson plan ideas will inspire you?

How Much Activity Do Young Children Need?

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

exercise

Physical activity is an important factor in the healthy development of children. Inadequate physical activity negatively impacts childhood development and puts children at risk to become obese, develop Type II diabetes, and cardiovascular health risks, Unfortunately, many parents underestimate the role that activity  plays in keeping children happy and healthy. According to a recent survey outlined by WebMD, only 15% of parents regard overall physical health as a primary concern for their children.

Young children have an inherent desire to be active, which can be fostered by parents and caregivers. Strategies for encouraging positive activity and nutritional behaviors should start during early childhood because this stage of development is a critical period learning.  Inactivity becomes the norm when children are not giving opportunity for movement. Physical activity activity time is rapidly being replaced with “screen time” (television and computers). Major cities and towns have become less physically active friendly with  automobile commutes where children are confined to car seats for long periods of time.  

Parents, caregivers, and early childhood learning centers should provide environments that promote structured and unstructured physical activity time. Structured activity is teacher/adult led through a curriculum ensuring both a physically and emotionally safe environment, Unstructured physical activity is “free play” or recess.

What Do the Experts Say?

According to SHAPE America (The Society of Health and Physical Educators) , toddlers should be engaged in at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity and  preschoolers 60 minutes of structured physical activity.  Both groups should have a minimum of 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity time and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time except when sleeping. These activity times can be divided into smaller blocks of time throughout the day to avoid large periods of time when children are sedentary.  

The American Heart Association suggests that a sedentary lifestyle represents a significant risk factor for the development of coronary artery disease and may boost the risk of significant cardiovascular threats, such as low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity. The AHA agrees that all children above the age of two should be getting at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day. Their guidelines also suggest splitting the full activity hour into several shorter periods for children who struggle to exercise for extended periods of time.

What Should the Recommended 60 Minutes Include?

Parents and caregivers can help shape a child’s attitudes towards physical activity by encouraging young children to be physically active. Children require a variety of activities to maintain and promote physical health.

The SPARK Programs (Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids) encourages that Early Childhood structured physical activity time engage children in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA)  at least 50% of the session time. Moderate physical activity is the equivalent of a fast walk while vigorous physical activity is similar to a jog.

SHAPE America also recommends “Preschoolers should be encouraged to develop competence in fundamental motor skills that will serve as the building blocks for future motor skillfulness and physical activity.”  These fundamental motor skills include locomotor skills and object control skills.

Physical activity programs like SPARK Early Childhood include academic integration during physical activity that focus on readiness skills such as listening, following direction, colors, numbers, shapes, literature, science, social skills, and rhythmic activities. SPARK Early Childhood also includes Family activities, simple fun activities that can be done with parents or caregivers, that require little or no planning.

Promoting Healthy Growth

If you’re concerned about how to incorporate such a wide range of exercise opportunities into your child’s day – remember it’s not as tough as it seems.  Learn what your child likes to do and get creative. For instance, if your child likes to explore, head for the nearest jungle gym. If your little one prefers creative activities, then go on a nature hike and collect leaves for a picture. SPARK suggests simple as turning on music and dancing or imitating animal movements instead of turning on a “screen” are wonderful ways to incorporate movement.  If your child is enrolled in an early childhood program, inquire about the physical activity program offered at the site to see if it meets the recommendations of SHAPE America and includes important school readiness skills.

It doesn’t matter how your child gets their recommended activity each day — what matters is exercise and movement are given the attention that they deserve.

Can Exercise Help Students to Excel Academically?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

exercise

Although we all know that physical activity is an essential factor in lowering the risk of child obesity, and improving physical fitness, new research is proving that a fit body, can equal a fit mind. In other words, ensuring your kids stay active could be the first investment you make in their college fund.

Findings from the realms of education and biology research hint that regular exercise creates numerous benefits for the brain. Not only can regular workouts in the school gym or on the playground improve learning capacity, attention span, and memory, but it also works to reduce stress, and even combat the effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. In short, keeping your kids active could make them smarter.

The reason for this is that learning functions and memory retention are functions in the brain that rely on the growth and nourishment of brain cells, and exercise creates the best environment for that process to occur.

It All Adds Up: Exercise and Math

A recent study suggests that there may be a link between regular participation in physical education, and the mathematics scores that children achieve on standardized tests. The details of the study indicate a correlation between the amount of time students spent taking part in physical activity at school, and the scores they achieved during math-based exams. But the scientifically-backed connections don’t stop here. In fact, various pieces of research over the years have been able to point to the obvious interaction between physical health, and brain function.

The study worked by dividing the elementary schools of the city into separate groups according to level of physical education and exercise opportunities provided to students. At the same time, the researchers examined the recorded math scores for each student within those groups, allowing them to see a connection between both factors. The results showed that the schools offering the highest opportunity for exercise (151 minutes average) often posted higher math scores. In comparison, schools offering an average of 29 minutes of activity showed a lower proficiency rate.

Why the Research Makes Sense

While other studies have shown that academic performance is influenced by various factors, including socioeconomic status and parental involvement, a growing body of evidence has begun to reveal that active children often have a stronger performance in school, particularly in regards to mathematics and reading. The reason for this is simple – physical activity promotes positive mental health, reduces the likelihood of developing risk factors for chronic disease, and helps to build strong muscles, but it also affects academic achievement by enhancing concentration and improving classroom behavior. In fact, certain pieces of research have even suggested that reducing physical education exposure in schools could hinder the academic performance of developing children.

Although researchers aren’t entirely sure at this time what aspects of exercise contribute to better cognitive function, they are learning that it does physically benefit the brain – just as it benefits any other muscle in the human body. After all, increased aerobic exercise helps blood to pump throughout the body, delivering nutrients to organs and muscles. More blood means more oxygen, and therefore, nourished brain tissue.

At the same time, scientists have also suggested that regular exercise could be essential in helping the brain to produce more of a special protein known as the “brain-derived neurotrophic factor“. Otherwise known as “BDNF” this protein is an incredible source of nutrition for the brain, as it encourages the cells to grow, interconnect, and even communicate in brand new ways. Studies are even showing that exercise helps to play a part in the production of new brain cells, particularly in the “dentate gyrus” area, which is heavily responsible for the development of memory skills and learning.

Encouraging Educational Exercise

As more evidence continues to show the intertwining natures of exercise and brain function, it only makes sense that more groups are coming together to advocate the importance of after school activities and physical education in schools. Reports have already begun to suggest that all students should be getting at least sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, and yet only about half of school-age children are meeting this guideline.

Fortunately, parents may be able to help supplement some of the exercise that kids aren’t getting at certain schools. By supporting physical education classes, classroom breaks and recess, then encouraging children to take part in after-school sports and activity, they can increase the chances that their child will come to think of exercise as a normal, habitual, and important part of life.

5 Tips for a Healthy, Well-Rounded Summer Vacation

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Summer break is a great time to recharge before the upcoming school year, but can also cause some problems if it isn’t approached with a plan in mind. Research has found that kids gain weight twice as quickly during the summer than the school year, and some academic regression can also take place while on that blissful summer break.

Planning activities such as exercising, to keep your kids physically, mentally and emotionally sharp over summer break will make those months that much more enjoyable for your family, and will really make a positive difference when the school year comes back around.

Here are a few ways to have your most active, fulfilling summer break yet:

  • Hit up the local library. Summer is the best time of the year to visit your neighborhood library and take advantage of its many free resources. In addition to summer reading programs, libraries usually plan special activities for kids who are out of school. Some libraries even offer low-cost or completely free kids’ fitness classes too.
  • Take a daily walk. The cooler weather in the evening coupled with longer hours of sunlight provide the perfect opportunity to get out and explore the neighborhood. Make a habit of heading out into the community as soon as the dinner dishes are washed—and continue it for as long as the weather permits.
  • Train for an event. There is no shortage of active events that take place in the summer months, from 5k road races to family fun days with classics like three-legged and potato sack races. Find an event or two in your area and then prepare by training as a family!
  • Volunteer. Use some of your family free time for good by spending some of it with a local organization. Look for a charity or non-profit with values that are important to your family, and explain the importance of what you are doing to your kids. You can even allow each kid to pick out the charity of their choice and then go as a family to volunteer.
  • Keep learning. The “summer slide” refers to the regression kids experience when they have too much time away from school. Whether you print off worksheets from your computer, enroll them in a science-centric camp or simply read together each day, find simple ways to keep the learning process moving forward in the summer months.

How do you keep your family from falling into unhealthy habits during summer break?