Getting Physical

Mind and body are one indivisible system and both parts fundamentally impact upon the other.

This is a belief that I have fully bought in to over many years, convinced that there is more than adequate evidence to believe. having bought in to this, it has a profound effect on how i try to live my own life, but perhaps even more so on what I see as priorities when it comes to how we educate children in schools.

And there, the long and the short is – I am convinced that we are not providing the time, the support or the scope for children to be anything like as physically active as they should be. Further, i believe that this is done out of some foolish notion that children come to school to exercise their brain and that whether they do or don’t exercise physically away from school is a matter of choice and has no great impact on their academic achievements.

I believe these are wrong notions and that we need to build in the scope for our children to be far more physically active. This becomes even more the case in a place like UAE where for large chunks of the year most people find it way too hot outside to be physically active. Next, we know that an increasing proportion of our children are from families where both parents are working, meaning that during the working week the time and chances for getting out and physically active are somewhat limited.

So, I believe that the school needs to take a bigger responsibility to build physically active sessions in to the school week. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of full PE periods. Most children are lucky if they can get two of those in a school week. We are exploring the scope for short activity breaks between class periods, where they can be physically active without leaving the classroom (or hurting themselves or each other). I’ve read reports that these have been tried in other countries and really boosted learning, concentration and ‘on task’ behaviour amongst pupils (especially boys).

One of our ‘big goals’ needs to be to develop habits in our children for physical activity to be a natural part of every day. We need to avoid some of the cliched ideas that it involves putting a different set of clothing on and doing something to excess. Sometimes, short burst activities can be far more effective – I’ve even been exploring some of the documented evidence for adults who (after a certain age!) are faced with the reality that long periods of cardio exercise don’t fit very well in to the busy professional day, but can also be harmful. It’s not much good starting an exercise regime if a pulled muscle means you can’t take any exercise for days.

Here are a couple of very interesting articles. The first was one i read a couple of months ago that advocates for the same thing – more frequent, high quality bursts of physical exercise every day, emphasising quality as much as quantity;

NPR Ed – Learning to Move and Moving to Learn

We have to acknowledge that, even in Primary School there are some children for whom physical exercise and PE have already become a source of unhappiness, discomfort and dislike. This can come about for all sorts of reasons, not least the association with sport and the child’s innate inclination to make comparisons and to be competitive. The child who believes others are better at it than them get switched off pretty early. However, I believe we’ve got to stop confusing PE and healthy lifestyle with sport. The latter may not be an area of strength for all, but the former should be an essential part of life for every person.

Quite recently, the Guardian newspaper in the UK hosted an online live chat/ discussion on the subject of how to make sport/ games/ PE more inclusive in schools. There are some interesting ideas discussed. Here’s a link to the article (which also contains a link to the full discussion for those interested):

Guardian – Making PE more inclusive

I’m really keen to hear from educators who may have experiemented with little bursts of physical exercise and activity in the school day about the pros and cons, what did and didn’t work.

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