The Push to Get Physical in School

By Silken Laumann on November 02, 2007
I believe our schools, communities and each of us as parents need to teach the whole child – mind, body and spirit. As adults, many of us don’t really understand how much our physical health affects our mental clarity, energy and outlook. In our work culture, we tend to revere academic qualifications, often above practical thinking, emotional intelligence and a positive outlook.

Whatever the red flag is for you – an obese child, a rushed family life, a lack of enthusiasm from your child about school – the time has come to refocus our thinking and to acknowledge what we already know: Kids need to move. Let’s stop looking at physical education and physical activity as simply ‘nice-to-have’ in our child’s education. We need to embrace them as integral elements of an education.

This is about all of us We need to ask for more movement for our kids and support teachers in creating opportunities for kids to be active. This can begin in our parent-teacher meetings where parents can take the initiative to prioritize the physical health of kids in our schools. You may be thinking, “Here’s one more thing to worry about; where does it stop?” Not here! This really is important. Take Brittany, a nine-year-old neighbour, who shared with me that they do laps in gym at her school, every gym day except ‘freaky Fridays’ when they can do whatever they want. She hates the laps and loves Fridays. So it’s not just movement that kids need, but kid-friendly movement. Schools must develop intramural sports, active after-school care and good quality physical education. By asking to increase the time our children spend being active each week, we are asking schools to teach the whole child.

Look who’s doing it right
Physical activity can be any movement that takes place in the school day. A special event like the Terry Fox run, a quick 10 minutes of gym time between math and English or an extended recess during which children walk a mile all qualify. It doesn’t take much equipment to move. With a little imagination, any classroom can include physical activity.

One teacher in Vancouver teaches Shakespeare outdoors, including elements of very physical acting. In Saskatoon, 35,000 school children go for a walk upon arriving at school – spring, fall and winter!

ActionSchoolsBC! raises the roof on great initiatives that help schools become active places for our kids. Their initiative touches all elements of school activity from special events to intramural sports and school yard games. I’ve witnessed entire high schools playing 30 minutes of intense ‘capture the flag’ at the lunch hour, I’ve watched classrooms take action breaks to hip hop music and teenagers gleefully side-stepping through the halls or doing jumping jacks at the school bell.

ActionSchoolsBC! started out as a research-based pilot project. The research showed that increased physical activity decreased blood lipid levels, increased bone density and didn’t hinder academic progress in any way. Most impressively, but more difficult to measure, was how kids in active schools felt about their school life; how much they enjoyed school because of the increased movement and sports. Now in its fourth year, perhaps the greatest indicator of success for ActionSchoolsBC! is that 1,300 schools in BC have signed up this fall.

Trained teachers please!
Physical education should be led by a trained and passionate teacher whose goal is to build foundation skills and instill a lifelong love of sport and physical activity. Running, jumping, throwing and a solid introduction to various sports and health education are an invaluable part of a balanced education. Yet most school-aged children are taught by teachers with little or no training in physical education.

Can you imagine teaching a math class without proper training in math? Steve Friesen, who teaches a vibrant physical education program in Guelph, Ontario, says the kids who come to his high school with good basic skills are more likely to participate in physical education and school sports.


Parents have power
I hear over and over from administrators and governments that the parents’ voice is powerful. Parents can get involved. I know personal trainers who volunteer at a local school twice a week, and dance and yoga instructors who regularly visit schools to run classes free of charge. There are many ways we can contribute. Sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to begin.

These days, schools rely heavily on parent volunteers to have school sports come alive. In my children’s old school, the cross country running program was initiated by a parent. In their present school, the basketball team is heavily supported by parent volunteers. The only sport I am trained to lead is rowing, not a common activity in most schools, but I have some know-how in running. I could lead unstructured games or volunteer to help with a skipping club.

Since most of us find the prospect of leading an initiative a little overwhelming, try starting with one small commitment at a time. Volunteer to lead a nature walk once this fall, or take on an initiative like a lap challenge that has a finite end and beginning.

Sports skills are life skills
For many kids, school sports are a central part of their school experience.
School sports give children and young adults a sense of belonging and provides them with invaluable life skills, skills that shouldn’t be reserved for the 50 percent of Canadian kids privileged enough to enjoy private sports and leagues. It’s also good for those children already participating in after school lessons.

School sport can be a place to connect with kids outside their own classrooms, a time for fun and learning and an opportunity to get to know their teacher-coaches in a way the classroom doesn’t allow.

School sport has given my son a sense of connection in his new school and added enormously to his belief that school is a fun place to be. On mornings when he comes down to tell me he isn’t ‘feeling well’, he first asks me what day it is so he doesn’t miss lunchtime soccer.

Our children deserve to be educated in schools that respect their minds, bodies and spirits. When we grasp that our bodies house our minds and souls and that our bodies can expand or limit our potential, we will find the will to change. PC

Silken Laumann is a professional speaker and president of her charity, Silken’s ActiveKids Movement. www.silkensactivekids.ca

By Silken Laumann| November 02, 2007

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