The SPARK Early Childhood (EC) Program was initially developed for and during a study (1997-2000) involving over 100 Title 1 Early Childhood classes in Memphis City Schools. The project was conducted in collaboration with the University of Tennessee, Memphis and San Diego State University (SPARK). This was one of the first large-scale, scientific efforts to evaluate a comprehensive physical activity program for this age group. Participating teachers in intevention sites received SPARK curriculum, staff development, and content-matched equipment. Their students were measured against those that continued to do their current physical activity programming (controls).
The project concluded in winter 2004, and showed the SPARK EC program was well received and highly rated by the Head Start teachers in the intervention setting, and they increased their students’ moderate to vigorous activity levels to over 50% of class time (Healthy People Goal 2010 objective achieved) and improved the number of minutes their children engaged in activity throughout the day. An effective preschool physical education program was born!
The Memphis study was followed up with another test of SPARK effectiveness in 3 impacted neighborhoods of NYC. This second effort was done in collaboration with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and occurred during the 2006-2007 school year. Results showed 91% of the teachers trained reported using the SPARK EC curriculum at their preschool sites. The amount of childrens' physical activity time increased significantly after teachers participated in SPARK training. At centers offering full day programs, median time increased 22 minutes per week. In half day programs, activity time increased 18 minutes per week.
The SPARK EC program being disseminated today, applies the lessons learned from rigorous research and subsequent field-testing in the "real-world." SPARK EC is designed to provide children ages 3-5 with high activity, academically integrated, enjoyable movement opportunities that foster social and motor development and enhance school readiness skills. Young children love SPARK EC activities because they are age-appropriate, engaging, rhythmical, and fun. Head Start, WIC, and public and private daycare teachers love SPARK EC because it provides them with the curriculum, training, equipment, and support they need to successfully implement effective preschool physical activities.
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When an agency or organization chooses SPARK EC, they receive the four building blocks that lay the foundation for a successful physical activity program: