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Keeping your child active

Joel Shaljean Joel Shaljean | 20:28 UK time, Friday, 25 March 2011

Having had 12 years as a PE teacher and 10 of those years as Dad to three (very boy) boys, I wonder whether the sport we provide in state schools really does what it should be doing? When we think about school sport and the impact it can have on your child, it's clear that we face an enormous task to make sure that our children lead active and healthy lifestyles - even if certain games consoles do present a plausible picture of meaningful physical activity, as their main selling point.

If you think that just sending your child off to school with their PE kit packed and pressed nicely in their bag is enough, then please think again. Brian Glover's magnificent performance as an unforgiving, hard-nosed PE teacher in the 1969 film Kes might press buttons for what we experienced in school ourselves. The fact is that PE lessons have evolved hugely since then.

Sports balls @ Orlando Florin Rosu - fotolia.com

Children are now offered an infinitely broader and higher quality, range of activities to experience compared to the 'jumpers for goalposts' mentality, which seemed prevalent when I was in primary school (erm 30-ish years ago). In the last decade, there has been massive investment in PE and School Sport .  A fierce debate has raged for some time as to whether there would be equally massive cuts to funding. Whilst there have been cuts, the existing, hugely successful, framework has been retained by the Coalition Government after a public outcry.

If you haven't already heard your children talking about doing rocketball, high five netball, quicksticks, speedstacks, multi-skills, futsal, SAQ, tag rugby or even the popular essentially dance, then you may well do sometime soon. More children are taking part in sport within school than ever before – this is progress. With sport being seen as a more attractive proposition to our children, due to the breadth of opportunity available, all should be rosy...surely? Well, yes it should but let me sound a note of caution for parents...

In making PE lessons high quality learning experiences we also need to ensure that there is (oddly enough) sufficient physical activity taking place. There is the possibility that a 50-60 minute PE lesson results in maybe only 5-10 minutes of actual physical exercise. Let me explain: there are health and safety issues, kit checks, not to mention demonstrations and stretching exercises that all have to be gone through, before the lesson itself can kick off.

So how do we get them more active? Well, you can check a number of things. If your school has a Healthy Schools status, they should have a physical activity policy. This policy should outline what is in place, outside of PE lessons, to help children live an active, healthy lifestyle.

Daily Physical Activity (DPA)  is something that lots of schools do well. A variety of approaches are out there: Take Ten, Wake and Shake, Huff and Puff, Skip 2b Fit and Activate, to name a few. The benefits of DPA are clear for all to see. Obviously, if you are doing 10-15 minutes every day of aerobic exercise in the classroom, assembly hall, playing field, playground or anywhere else, then really that's a guaranteed extra hour of actual physical activity, to complement the learning and skill acquisition they are getting through their PE lessons.

The brain works better in the classroom when it has been activated through exercise. There is plenty of research to suggest that classroom performance is improved when there has been increased exercising.

DPA releases natural anti-depressants into our blood stream. When you think that 10% of children will have experienced a mental health disorder by the time they reach 16, then DPA becomes ever more significant. It makes it easier for both children and adults who suffer from mood, anxiety, or attention disorders to concentrate and absorb new material, which aids the learning process (as reported by the US Sport Information Resource Center 2009).

So whether they are skipping, dancing, doing aerobics, action rhyming, or going for a brisk walk/jog, make sure they are doing something additional to their PE lessons in school.

So there we go and I didn’t even mention combating obesity once! Oh alright then, consider this: In a programme in the US, Phil Lawler reduced the obesity levels in Naperville, Illinois to 3% from the national average of a massive 33% by introducing a new approach to regular DPA. 

Let us know your thoughts.

Joel Shaljean is deputy head teacher at a secondary school.


  • Comment number 1.

    a really interesting post.

    a few things though frustrate me with school sports particularly at primary level.

    i dont know what it is like in england as i am from scotland, but no doubt they are the same problems.

    i do not believe school primary teachers are educated enough at uni in delivering sport of any level. schools at times just do enough to tick the box that says they give kids the designated hours a week which is wrong. how can things such as "walk and talk" around the playground count? yea fair enough their walking which is them being low in activity at least doing something, but why dont they take the time to do some high intensity, fun sports that can introduce kids to new sports creating links to clubs in the area? but thats rarely ever done. potentially producing the next generation of athletes at an earlier age. where at times we lack the drive and end up lacking behind the rest of the developed nation.


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