Academic Success? Get Outta the Desk
Every tax paying citizen should be aware of the K-12 budget dollars going toward test preparation strategies and products each year. Who was it that said insanity was doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results? I am an educator (ExerLearning) and I know how hard teachers, administrators and parents work to help students do their best through the rigors of standardized testing.
Meanwhile the PE teachers and physical activity advocates in a school are usually relegated fewest hours of class time, small budgets and less respect when it comes to “important” things like cognition, academic success and student engagement. The evidence is in.
Behavioral changes can have a positive impact on increasing physical activity in children and adolescents. Benefits go far beyond improving BMI and actually positively impact the brain, cognition and the ability to learn. However, increasing physical activity may be challenging. What role can parents, coaches, day care providers, and people who influence the lives of children play?
Dr. Russell Pate, PhD CME/CE, in a recent article posted at Exergame Consulting has some solid suggestions. We have to keep in mind that physical activity is a behavior, and we’re learning that it’s a quite complex behavior. People perform physical activity in a lot of different ways in a lot of different settings for a lot of different reasons, and that’s true for our children as well as for older persons in our population. Therefore, I don’t believe that there’s going to be a magic bullet. I don’t think that there’s going to be a single target that we can shoot at here, and by making changes in that one area, hope to solve this problem. We’ve gotten where we are by removing in bits and pieces physical activity from the lives of our children. Kids today spend more time inside, more time being sedentary, engaged in pursuits that involve little or no physical activity. They spend less time outside, less likely to walk, and ride bikes to school. At least in some school districts, they’re exposed less to school physical education than was the case in earlier decades. In some schools, other opportunities for physical activity have been removed or reduced, such as recess time in the elementary schools.
We’re going to have to attack this problem by making changes in the areas where we believe physical activity has been reduced and eroded, which I believe include making changes in the way in which schools address this issue. Likewise, we’ll have to make changes that will influence community-based physical activity for kids. Very clearly, we’re going to have to make changes in the way in which parents address this issue, the way in which they parent around physical activity, the way in which they manage their home environment, and the way in which their kids engage in physical activity at home and in the neighborhood proximal to their home. I think that we need to be making changes in the settings in which children spend most of their time, and that includes school, home, and a range of community settings. To take the first one, schools, I think that it’s way past the time for us as a society to make a decision about a role that we want our schools to play in providing physical activity to kids.
There have been enormous challenges in our schools in recent decades, tremendous pressure for school personnel to deliver better test scores, and higher academic achievement. Sometimes this is manifested as a shifting of resources away from physical education, time for recess, and other opportunities for physical activity at school. However, we have to hold ourselves in front of the mirror here and ask: Is that really what’s in the best interest of our kids? There is developing evidence that increasing physical activity may actually promote higher levels of academic achievement and learning. I personally think that we have a lot more to learn about that issue, but there are some encouraging findings in that area. Whether levels of physical activity increase academic achievement or not, it’s very clear that helping kids meet the current physical activity guidelines is a critical goal for our society. Schools need to help with that, and in many cases that is going to require that state and local school authorities place greater emphasis on physical education, allowing kids time for recess, and providing excellent extracurricular programs that will help kids meet the physical activity guidelines.