Month: January 2014

Are Kids Forgetting How to Play?

This article first appeared in The Epoch Times here.

Lack of unstructured outdoor play is affecting children’s development, says expert

Play has been called “the business of childhood,” but with an increasing lack of free, unstructured time outdoors, kids are simply forgetting how to play, says an Ontario teacher consultant.

In the not-too-distant past, it was common to see kids playing outside. These days, however, it seems most children would rather stay indoors and get their entertainment from computers or other electronics.

“There’s a bit of a challenge with electronics these days,” says Sharon Seslija, a health and physical education consultant at Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor.

“Even in my own neighbourhood, it’s like a desert out there—you just don’t see the kids outside.”

Besides spending an increased amount of time in front of various screens, Seslijia says other reasons why children aren’t getting outside as much include being over-scheduled in after-school activities, a lack of quality outdoor play space in urban areas, and parents’ fear that kids may get abducted or harmed if they play outside.

“We’re starting to see that kids don’t know how to play,” she says, noting that play—particularly unsupervised outdoor play—has an important role in children’s development.

This lack of outdoor playtime may be affecting childhood development, according to experts.

Studies show that in addition to the physical benefits of exercise, outdoor play and exposure to the natural world or “green space” has a number of cognitive, emotional, and social development benefits.

Play has been shown to improve and foster motor function, creativity, decision-making, problem-solving, social skills, control emotions, and helps develop speech in preschoolers. It also allows youngsters to try new things, test boundaries, and learn from their mistakes in a safe environment.

Only 5 percent of kids meet the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines of 60 minutes of physical activity per day, according to Active Healthy Kids Canada. In addition, 46 percent of children get less than three hours of active play per week.

“If one is not outside and moving and exercising, then of course we see rising rates of obesity in our young kids, and increases in mental health issues—anxiety, depression, all that stuff,” says Seslijia.

“Kids are not learning how to use their imaginations, and decision-making, problem-solving skills, and collaborative play are not being developed to their full extent.”

‘Everyone has to contribute’

Schools have started to notice the phenomenon and programs have been popping up to get kids outside, but the problem needs a more proactive, community-wide solution, says Seslijia.

“It’s much bigger than what the schools can do. This is one of those issues where everyone has to contribute,” she said.

“It would be great to see the police department saying, ‘Send your kids outside to play, our streets are safe. Crime statistics are down. It’s OK to go outside and play.’ It would be good for our Department of Health, our health units to promote [outdoor play]—to get that message to the parents.”

According to Active Healthy Kids Canada’s 2013 annual report card, the federal government has started to take note of the need to include active living initiatives in policy and funding.

The report card gave the government’s strategies on active living a “C-” grade for 2013, up from “D” in 2012. Government investments were also ranked “C-,” up from “F” in the last three consecutive years.

Several factors contributed to the improved grades, said the report card. These include greater commitment from provincial and territorial ministers to increase health-enhancing initiatives in their jurisdictions; improved funding for active transportation infrastructure; increased federal funding to Sport Canada and the 2015 Pan American games; and endorsements of the Canadian Sport Policy 2.0.

Active Healthy Kids Canada recommended that the government follow the lead of many other countries and develop a national action plan on physical activity promotion.

“The federal government should continue to increase the priority of physical activity across several government departments including sport, health, transportation, and environment,” the report said.


School ditches rules and loses bullies

Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school.

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.

Principal Bruce McLachlan rid the school of playtime rules as part of a successful university experiment.

“We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over.”

Letting children test themselves on a scooter during playtime could make them more aware of the dangers when getting behind the wheel of a car in high school, he said.

“When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don’t.”

Swanson School signed up to the study by AUT and Otago University just over two years ago, with the aim of encouraging active play.

However, the school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely, much to the horror of some teachers at the time, he said.

When the university study wrapped up at the end of last year the school and researchers were amazed by the results.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a “loose parts pit” which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school.”

Parents were happy too because their children were happy, he said.

But this wasn’t a playtime revolution, it was just a return to the days before health and safety policies came to rule.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research project, said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds.

“The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.”

Society’s obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking, he said.

Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. “You can’t teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn’t develop by watching TV, they have to get out there.”

The research project morphed into something bigger when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment.

“There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring.”

When researchers – inspired by their own risk-taking childhoods – decided to give children the freedom to create their own play, principals shook their heads but eventually four Dunedin schools and four West Auckland schools agreed to take on the challenge, including Swanson Primary School.

It was expected the children would be more active, but researchers were amazed by all the behavioural pay-offs. The final results of the study will be collated this year.

Schofield urged other schools to embrace risk-taking. “It’s a no brainer. As far as implementation, it’s a zero-cost game in most cases. All you are doing is abandoning rules,” he said.

Source: TVNC OneNEWS
6:31AM Sunday January 26, 2014

With Hopes of Becoming More Active, Patrick Henry Elementary Shot and Sqord!

Early in the 2012 school year I was searching through copy after copy of different PE equipment catalogs for a pedometer I thought would most benefit my students (plastic vs. aluminum, “chip” clip vs. stationary hook, etc.). After what seemed like hours looking at these inferior activity markers, I remembered an interesting product that I thought did something along these lines worn by a principal–and many of his school’s students– in Colorado I had met a few weeks prior.

One thing led to another, and after raising nearly $4,500 in grants, my colleague and I were able to bring the aforementioned Sqord products to our school. All students in grades 3 – 5 were outfitted, along with any of our 95 staff who so desired. An assembly was held to formally launch the product, and we even enjoyed a little related local and national media attention.

From the moment our students strapped on their PowerBands, most were fully on board with this exciting new product. They ran, played, jumped, twirled and tumbled to earn more points and score a victory against the classmate they were paired up with for the week. One student wrote how she rode her bike around the block three extra times each night with hopes of beating her opponent.

More than just anecdotal success, I saw my students’ PACER scores (a test measuring cardiovascular fitness) increase as Sqord participation grew. My students loved this program!

In addition to the added movement in their lives, my students were receiving a safe introduction to online social media. They were able to interact with their peers via the sqord website, sending hi-fives and pre-written squawk messages. Each day they simply had to “swipe” their Bands over one of the several BaseStations we had in the school, and all of their movement was sent away to the protected website.

This program was precisely what my school needed. An external motivation tool that could create some excitement and provide for my students a rich incentive to move and get healthy.

As I write this blog, I am days away form bringing this technology back to my school for a second straight year. Over the summer Sqord has made multiple upgrades to their various products, software and website, and I can’t wait to get them back into my building.

So as my students and I stand on the verge of another great year with this inventive product, we are very thankful for the forward-thinking, innovative minds behind Sqord. Here’s to another great year . . . !

Mike Humphreys, PE Teacher, NBCT

Arlington Public Schools