A great deal of time, money and energy has been invested in discussing what it will take to raise the bar on our children’s health and physical activity. As childhood obesity rates continue to rise, we need to move beyond talk. We need practical, measureable solutions.
Thankfully, it seems to be happening. People are starting to realize that there is no single “silver bullet” solution to fighting the obesity epidemic. People are recognizing we need a multifaceted, “silver buckshot” approach that addresses all of the causes of inactivity and obesity. This is progress.
But soon we will face a practical question: How will we know when we have turned things around for our children?
When it comes to “getting better”, we need to start with a tangible baseline that gives us a comprehensive picture of our kids’ health. We still don’t have one, and that’s because we don’t have a mechanism to really, truly measure it.
You would not hire a personal trainer to help you lose weight and then refuse to step on the scale at the onset of your training program. Yet this is basically where we sit with children’s health and activity. Yes, we have a general idea, but real hard statistics and figures are few and sparse, and much of our information is anecdotal.
With reading, writing and arithmetic, we establish baselines and then we re-evaluate and assign grades. However, if we try to look for a baseline in physical education and child activity, we find that there is none.
When discussing the measurement of physical activity, anyone over 35 instantly conjures images of hanging from the gymnastics bar, arms bent at 90 degrees, biceps screaming, while a host of onlookers point and laugh. No way we’re putting our Liam and Olivia through that humiliation.
Instead, all students receive a ‘3’ in Phys-Ed we do not damage their self esteem and PE grades are derivatives of attitude and the ability to co-operate with others. In other words, we’re prepared to label our kids illiterate but we don’t dare label them out of shape.
But There Is Hope
There is promise of a real, new solution that does not include stepping on a scale, subjecting children to standardized tests, or pigeonholing them with a BMI number: physical literacy.
Dedicated experts have worked over the past decade to bring the concept of physical literacy to the mainstream, and it is now being recognized and embraced by educators, coaches, parents, and health practitioners across the country.
Representing a dynamic blend of identifiable movement skills and measurable confidence in physical activity, as well as changing rates of activity, physical literacy gives us something we can actually test and measure. It also recognizes and respects differences between individuals.
The growing groundswell of support for physical literacy education now provides us with the opportunity to really, truly move the needle on the issue of child obesity and youth inactivity.
But the key is to create a baseline reference. Without a baseline, we can’t measure improvement, nor can we create accountability for those who are tasked with developing physical literacy on the front lines.
With proper resourcing, we can deliver and measure physical literacy in schools in the same manner as the three Rs. It could look like this:
- Children arrive at their physical education class at the beginning of the year and the teacher evaluates their movement competencies.
- From there, the teacher teaches them proper fundamental movement skills. Fundamental movement skills are basic skills such as run, jump, kick, throw, and catch. These are precursors in turn to more complex movements in sport and life.
- When the school re-evaluates each child’s three Rs, they are also re-evaluated for their fundamental movement skill aptitudes. The evaluation would be individual-based, and the results would become a quantifiable part of each child’s PE grade. Suddenly, there would be purpose to the whole process.
- The same practice could be implemented with respect to goal setting and health awareness to further support the entirety of physical literacy.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Of course, there are challenges. At the elementary school level, for example, it requires generalist teachers to deliver new, complex information to diverse classrooms of children, and it takes time.
The 60 Minute Kids’ Club, with the guidance and support of Canada’s leading literacy experts, has taken the unique step of simplifying and digitizing physical literacy concepts and resources for kids, parents, teachers and coaches. These resources enable people with only general knowledge of movement skills and activity to effectively assess, teach, and track movement skill development in children.
Can programs like the 60 Minute Kids’ Club shift the needle on the obesity epidemic and inactivity? It remains to be seen. However, no one needs a crystal ball to see just how badly we need these types of initiatives to work.
Matt Young is the Founder of 60 Minute Kids’ Club, a not-for-profit initiative committed to supporting the development of healthy habits and fundamental movement skills in children in Kindergarten to Grade 8. Find the 60MKC on Facebook & Twitter.