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Oregon Family Magazine

Learning to Play & Playing to Learn

10/03/2014 ● By Sandy Kauten
We were designed to move!  Way back in the day, 1885 to be precise, the playground movement began as a way to counter the perception that urbanization was threatening American values of nation building and human development...the movement began with the sand gardens in Boston.  And from there, sand gardens progressed from sand piles to equipment, gymnasiums, and sports areas.

By 1900 the value of play areas was recognized.  It was discovered that children in neighborhoods with play areas performed better in school, were less disruptive and were in better physical health. (Coakley J, Dunning E, Handbook of Sport Studies)

Today, in 2014 we are facing another perception that has become a reality:  the 21st century has the most sedentary lifestyle in our history and with the marginalization of physical education in schools, not only are American values being threatened, but the very health, welfare, and life span of our children.

 The importance of physical activity for children cannot be overstated in the 21st century.   What we knew back in the 1900's is what we know today:  human beings were designed to move.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that children get 60 minutes of vigorous exercise a day.  Do you know how many minutes of physical exercise your child gets a day?   

21st century research on the effects of physical activity on children has shown that an hour spent playing/exercising is not only important for your child to develop their physical & physiological systems to ensure a healthy, active, and productive body, but as importantly, physical exercise helps your child's cognitive, intellectual, emotional, and social development.

The research and evidence is incontrovertible:

Time's Health/Exercise/Fitness Magazine recently published (08/2014) an article that described the discovery, "for the first time ever, there is evidence that being fit can improve the speed and connectivity of brain neurons in children....what the results show is that physical activity may be an important part of keeping children's brains active and open to doing well in school as time spent in a classroom."

In John Ratey's National bestseller, "Spark," a chapter called "Learning," highlights a class of students in Naperville who exercise 20 minutes prior to school and as a result, show heightened senses; their focus and mood are improved; they're less fidgety and tense; and they feel more motivated and invigorated to learn."

Physical exercise and activity is essential for children and the earlier they start, the healthier and more capable they will be in all aspects of their education and life.

So what can parents and children do given the landscape of our sedentary lifestyle and the marginalization of physical education in schools?   Here are some active solutions to the movement revolution:  

First of all, as parents, strongly advocate for full time physical education in our elementary schools.  Physical activity = Physical Literacy.  

  • Physical Literacy means that a child can move their body confidently and competently.  Like reading, writing, and arithmetic, the ABC's of movement (Agility, Balance, Coordination, Speed) are learned optimally through ages 0 - 10.  
  • Once learned, physical literacy becomes a competitive advantage, not just in terms of physical and perhaps athletic performance, but more importantly, it helps your child develop their full human potential and capitol.

Secondly, find time to play games with your kids outside.  

  • Activities that focus on the FUNdamentals: running, jumping, hopping, skipping, tumbling, climbing, throwing and catching.  Visit the pool for swimming lessons and water activities.  
  • Old school playground games such as hopscotch, 4 square, tag, skipping rope, playing "catch," and any small sided/modified games in the backyard can provide tremendous learning opportunities for physical literacy development. 

Thirdly, look to enroll your child in activities that help them develop their global physical, mental, emotional,and social development.  Participation in many different age appropriate activities and sports helps children to develop to their full potential:  academically, athletically, and socially.

  • Be cautious of specialization in one activity or sport too early:  research shows that early specialization (before age 12) contributes to one sided, sport specific preparation; the lack of ABC's (see above); overuse injuries; and early burnout.  
  • Children have optimal windows of opportunity for developing their agility, balance, coordination, speed, and flexibility - range of motion.  The crucial periods of fundamental movement and motor skill development are prior to age 11 for girls and age 12 for boys.

To find physical activities and sports that will create a positive learning environment for your child, consider these core aspects of a program:

(taken from Designed To Move, 2012 Nike)  

  • Age appropriateness: (fits your child's physical, social, and emotional development)
  • Dosage and duration: maximum benefit for a group based activity is at least 60 minutes per day (this can include a variety of activities) 
  • Fun - activity has to be fun; make sure to let your child have a say in what "fun" actually is
  • Incentives & Motivation: focus on "personal best," verses winning or losing.  Celebrate attendance, participation, and both individual group effort and progress

 Learning to play, and playing to learn helps children to develop a comprehensive and holistic foundation.  Children who learn to love physical activity in all of its forms often grow up to be active adults and, active people in general, live longer, healthier, happier, and more productive lives.

As Dr. Friedman, the director of the CDC reminds us, "Exercise and physical activity is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug."  So let's take back the playground and bring on physical education to keep our kids playing, developing, and having fun for an hour a day to keep the good doctor away!

Further readings for background and ideas on activities for your family:

Beverly holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Human Performance from the University of Oregon (1988) and her level 4/5 National Coaching Certificate from the National Institute of Coaching in Victoria, British Columbia. She helped write the draft for Canada Basketball’s Long Term Athlete Development Plan (LTAD) and has done skill and coaching clinics in Canada, Italy, Jordan, and the US.  Beverly also  coached the Oregon Women's Basketball Team from 2001 to 2009 and the Canadian National Basketball Team from 1997 through to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. She was elected to the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (2003), the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame (2003), the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2004), and the University of Oregon Hall of Fame (1992)

Beverly is presently the Executive Director of Emerald KIDSPORTS.

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