This week’s post has been written by guest educator, Andrew D. Watson. His career in education spans over twenty years and has taken him to several countries, sharing his expertise in school reform, teacher training and leadership. As a qualified FA coach, he has also been committed to providing young children with opportunities to excel at sport and is a firm advocate of the importance of physical activity for the well being of children; in and out of the classroom.
As I was growing up one of the things I found amusing, (and at times frustrating), was my parents’ recollection of their childhoods: a golden period of invention and self-reliance. Without the presence of television, they would spend countless hours outside making tree dens or creating games. We were considered cosseted, lacking in the ability to amuse ourselves and spending too much time in front of the television.
Fast forward a generation and the television has been replaced with other screens. But the message remains the same: children need to get away from their devices, go outside and do something active. Indeed, the UK Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield recently issued a stark warning to parents that the online bingeing of their children would have serious consequences to their health and well-being, (The Observer, 5-8-17).
As parents however, how seriously should we take these warnings? Are our children in real danger due to their increased levels of inactivity? It seems they are. Helping our children become physically fit and active can be viewed as on a par with helping them learn to read and socialise with other children. A recent study in Norway, (Zahl, Steinsbekk & Wichstrøm, 2017), found that, being active, getting sweaty and roughhousing offer more than just physical health benefits. They also protect against depression.
The Link Between Physical Activity and Learning
In terms of helping children learn, there is a wealth of research based evidence, that physical activity supports children’s ability to concentrate, whilst also transferring information from short to long term memory more effectively. Martin, (2010), concluded that regular physical activity is likely to provide children with the optimum physiological condition for maximising learning.
The World Health Organisation also recommends strongly that children over the age of five should accumulate at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. It argued that participation in physical activity can assist in the social development of young children by providing opportunities for self-expression, building self-confidence, social interaction and integration (WHO, 2017).
Getting children out of the house and active is not always that easy. However, remember that young children have a natural tendency to be active. They want to run around, climb, jump etc. How can parents create opportunities for this to happen? Making an effort to help our children stay active when they are young is of vital importance. There is a serious danger that sedentary behaviour patterns will become so ingrained that any future change will be almost impossible.
How Can I Inspire My Child to be More Active?
- Make outside time such as an evening walk or trip to the park a part of your family routine.
- Invite friends over to play. Making it a social activity may be just what your child needs to play outside.
- Some children find traditional games a turn off. Experiment with other options such as dance, skipping, rollerblading, yoga or martial arts.
- Use water as part of the play. Kids love splashing around in water using hosepipes, paddling pools or just a few buckets and containers.
- Let your children help you with household chores. If you have a garden or backyard encourage your children to take an active part in gardening activities.
- Let your children know that it’s okay to get wet, dirty, and messy.
- Get your bikes out. Riding a bike with your child is great exercise and also helps your child become aware of road safety.
- If your children find the idea of a simple walk unappealing, turn it into a family treasure hunt or a picnic to make it more fun. This will ensure everyone gets a chance to get outside.
- Start off with small activities and work your way up to more challenging ones. What you did when you were young may initially appear intimidating to your kids.
Active parents usually have active children, so it’s a good idea to be a good role model in this area. How often could we be viewed as a slave to our digital devices? I know that I am certainly guilty of spending too much time in front of a variety of screens. We are going to have to get ourselves active at the same time and practice what we preach by getting fully involved in our children’s activities. By doing so, we also provide the best conditions for our children to become active learners and be the best they can be, both inside and outside the classroom.
Written by Education Consultant: A.D. Watson
Martin, K. (2010). Brain boost: Sport and physical activity enhance children’s learning. Perth: Department of Sport and Recreation, Government of Western Australia. https://www.dsr.wa.gov.au/docs/default-source/file-support-and-advice/file-research-and-policies/brain-boost-how-sport-and-physical-activity-enhance-children%27s-learning.pdf?sfvrsn=4
Tonje Zahl, Silje Steinsbekk, Lars Wichstrøm. Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Symptoms of Major Depression in Middle Childhood. Pediatrics, 2017 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170131075131.htm
Stop Children Bingeing on Social Media during Holidays, parents urged, The Observer, 5-8-2017, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/aug/05/children-bingeing-social-media-anne-longfield-childrens-commissioner
Castelli, D et al, Active Learning Research, Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance, Jan, 2015
World Health Organization, Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, 2017