Putting the “Physical” Back in Education
Brett Klika C.S.C.S.
I won’t beat the statistic into the ground anymore. Unless you live under a rock, you have read, seen, and possibly experienced, modern stats demonstrating about 1/3 of our youth are overweight. According to the center for disease control, the number of extremely overweight youth has tripled in recent decades. It’s up to individual families to decide how they are going to address this matter in their home, but what are we as a society going to do about it?
I write and speak quite a bit about creating a culture of wellness at home. This is absolutely paramount in creating life-long healthy habits in our youth. While the home is “where the health is” the time spent outside of the home is also important in helping shape healthy behaviors. Our nation’s education system is the primary incubator for creating the minds and bodies of our future. Recent cuts in funding, facilities, and staffing have left many school districts reeling for ways to “right the ship” by jettisoning aspects of our education system they deem non-essential. Unfortunately, physical education mistakenly falls victim to this educational “fire sale”.
According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, only about 29% of high school kids have daily physical education, down from 42% in the last decade. 75% of high school students don’t attend physical education classes. About 4% of grade schools have daily physical education. According to the American Associates for the Child’s Right to Play, 40% of school districts have eliminated daily recess. Lack of funding and resultant losses of staff and facilities are deemed the primary culprit, however, as standardized testing has become the gold standard in U.S. schools, many districts believe that more time spent studying for these tests outweighs the benefits of regular exercise. Ironically, standardized test scores have actually decreased as the amount of physical activity in curriculum has decreased.
The Netherlands has recently committed a large amount of funding and resources to researching physical activity and intellectual development. In their introductory studies that support well-established existing research, they’ve discovered a correlation between increased physical activity and increased ability in math, English, and reading ability. One theory is that physical activity promotes blood flow to the brain in addition to general “neural excitation”. In article by American researcher Dr. Hillary Burdette, she suggests that Kids who exercised more, particularly as recreation, are often found to have a heightened ability for high level mental skills such as planning, organizing, sequencing, and decision making. These are summated as “executive functioning”, a true measure of intelligence.
From the research, it would appear that youth need to be active to stay both physically and mentally fit. While physical activity should be part of home life, unfortunately, it’s not. As current economic situations often require both mom and dad to work, children are often left alone or with caregivers eager to pacify youngsters with inactive technology. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered that youth spend on average at least 4 hours per day watching TV., playing video games, and other inactive pursuits and spend less than 15 minutes engaged in any physical activity. While the CDC recommends at least an hour of activity every day to reap physical and mental benefits of exercise, one can see that youth are not getting it at home.
How can we, as a society, help prevent the loss of physical education in our school system? For starters, we need to voice our opinions. Attend school district meetings, write letters, and educate other parents. As our education system’s financial landscape grows more dire, realize that some additional financial responsibility may fall on parents to help fund these programs. What many don’t realize is that there are millions of dollars in government grants available, for all schools. I consult with a school district in a rural area of the United States that has secured over 2 million dollars in grants, JUST FOR THEIR PHYSICAL EDUCATION SYSTEM!!!! Grant writing takes time and energy, but it can be done. If parents make it clear that physical education is a priority, progress can be made.
Physical activity is essential for physical, mental, and emotional fitness. It is clear that our neglect of the societal importance of physical activity in recent years has lead to an overall detriment to the optimal health and well-being of our youth. It is going to take educated and committed parents, teachers, and administrators to reverse this trend both in the home and in our education system. What are you going to do today to make an impact on the future of our youth and in turn, our society?