The long stretch of frigid temperatures in February kept schoolyards covered in snow for most of the month across central Virginia and elsewhere along the East Coast. Even when schools were open, many of them kept kids inside at recess for days on end. Marcy Klug (M.T. ’04 Sci Ed) noticed a decided difference in her six-year-old son Samuel on those days.
“I saw the effect on him as soon as he walked in the house after school each day,” she said. “He was more agitated and emotional. Little things seemed to bother him, and his focus was off.”
Fortunately, Klug says, she could help by bundling Samuel in a snowsuit and sending him out in the yard to romp in the snow with his younger sister on those days. She is able to be a stay-at-home mom, and their family has enough property to provide a safe place for the kids to play. Not all families have these options. (Read the Curry blog for her guest post on schools and physical activity from a mom’s perspective.)
Worse yet, winter isn’t the only time when kids get an inadequate amount of daily physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day and that most of their activity be moderate to vigorous. Policies vary widely among states and districts, but few schools can spare that much time away from instruction on a daily basis.
We turned to some graduates of our health and physical education teacher preparation program for perspectives and advice on this topic.
This is the first in a new occasional series, “Curry Alumni Answers.”
What benefit do students derive from adequate physical activity?
“Students are commonly much more engaged in the academic classroom setting and achieve more academic success when they maintain consistent amounts of physical activity. The impact of the physical education program, scholastic sports program, and non-school based sports is significant. Schools often see that students earn higher grades while they compete in the school athletic program compared to those same students when they choose to no longer participate.”
“I believe that there is a direct link to student activity and academic performance. Students who are physically active are more attentive in the classroom and can be focused on their academic work for a longer period of time. In order to be actively engaged in academic learning opportunities, there needs to be movement in the classroom.
Effective instruction should include time for students to work together in collaboration with other students and move from place to place in the classroom. Students learn better when they are actively engaged in their learning, rather than being passive, receptive learners.”
How much daily or weekly time for physical activity is typically allotted for students in your school?
[In Federal Way, Wash.] physical education every other day for 30 minutes … plus 30-minute recess either in the morning or afternoon daily and 15 minute recess after lunch. “When I first started teaching, students had P.E. once every three days. We have been able to increase the number of minutes in P.E. with some very intentional scheduling.”
“[In Bradenton, Fla.] our students receive 80 minutes of PE a week (two 40-minute classes). They receive 75 minutes of recess a week. A new district policy was put into place this year that students are not to have PE and recess on the same days. The students have more PE but less recess than when I started teaching elementary PE 15 years ago.”
“[Albemarle County, Va., has] a mandatory minimum of 120 minutes per week of PE when the state mandate is 30 minutes a week. Our kids also get 20 minutes of recess daily…. This has been the same for the last 17 years, at least.”
What can classroom teachers do to help?
“The movement over the last few years has been “moving breaks” throughout the day. There are brain exercises—GoNoodle is a great website that has activity breaks for classroom teachers, etc.”
“Teachers can help by giving the students recess in the middle of the day, not at the end of the day. Also, frequent “brain breaks” during instruction are helpful. A ten-minute break every 40 minutes will help maximize students’ attention in elementary school. Brain Gym, yoga, or even unstructured play can be done during this time.”
“Teachers at our school all have “G.Y.M. B.A.G.s” – “Get Youth Moving Brain Activity Gear” that contain brain energizer activities and some equipment that can be used in the classroom when students need to move. They usually use this to break up long blocks of learning or when transitioning from one topic to another. Brain energizers may be as long as 10 minutes or as short as 1 minute – it all adds up to getting blood flowing and helping students refocus.
“Our school also participates in a program offered by the New York Road Runners – ‘Mighty Milers’ where students have opportunities to walk, jog, or run to log mileage in our school’s Legion of Zoom challenge. Teachers often let students complete one or two laps around our area when they need to recharge their brains. Some of our older students partner with younger students to get some mileage during these breaks.”
What do you recommend parents to do promote and support their child’s appropriate level of physical activity?
“Go to school board meetings and support your physical education programs. Whether your school has a quality PE program or not, it is important to lead by example and live an active lifestyle as a family. Go on hikes, ride bikes, play outside, set expectations for your child to find something they like to keep active, give them choice.
For parents of preschoolers, Barb adds, “Preschool is sometimes not a part of the school PE education programs; therefore, parents should go to the school board meetings and push for more staffing to cover this area. [These kids need] lots of breaks and lots of hands-on learning which involves movement.”
“Parents should understand that physical activity, engaged participation in the school physical education program, and participation in the scholastic sports program promote all areas of their child’s life. Social, academic, and emotional growth all occurs through physical activity. Parents can also use their child’s physical involvement to begin to develop a physically active lifestyle themselves. What a great opportunity to find a way to relate more closely with your child!
“Encourage your kids to get moving, even if it’s not through an organized sport. Put the electronics away, get off the couch, and do something active—paintball, laser tag, swimming, bike riding, or anything else that may be tied to your child’s interests.”
“Parents can enroll their children in after school activities such as soccer, dance, basketball, gymnastics, martial arts—the possibilities are endless. Other options include going for a run, a swim, a bike ride, throwing a ball in the yard, or visiting playgrounds. Remember, the goal is vigorous activity that elevates the heart rate.”
Dana Henry (B.S.Ed./M.T. ’90 Health & PE):
“I recommend that parents find out how many opportunities their child has to be physically active during the school day. It is important that children are getting quality physical education and physical activity. They are different and they are both important. If your school doesn’t give children access to developmentally appropriate amounts of physical activity time, ask them if they offer opportunities to be active before or after school.
“Many schools are starting to implement CSPAP plans (Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs), where they try to increase physical activity in five areas: Physical Activity during School, Physical Education, Physical Activity Before and After School, Family and Community Engagement, and Staff Involvement…”
Dana offers two websites with good suggestions for helping support your child in being physically active:
“As a former physical educator, I truly understand the link that exercise and activity has on academic performance. It is also important that we focus on educating the whole child. We owe it to our students to experience success not only in their core academic program, but also in gross motor activities like physical education dance, as well as fine motor activities like art and music.”
Our Alumni Contributors
K-5 Health and Physical Education Teacher
Lake Grove Elementary, Federal Way, Wash. (for 19 years)
Teaching PE for total of 22 years.
Physical Education Teacher
Jessie P. Miller Elementary in Bradenton, Fla. (for 15 years)
Teaching PE for total of 20 years
Athletic Director, Riverside High School (opening in fall 2015), Ashburn, Va.
14 years in public education (taught middle and high school physical education in Loudoun County Public Schools for 7 years; Freedom High School athletic director for 7 years)
Superintendent, Shenandoah County Public Schools
Former high school PE teacher. Working in education for 17 years.
Physical Education Teacher
Hollymead Elementary School, Albemarle County, Va. (for 11 years)
Teaching PE for total of 14 years.