Let’s Get Physical

by | 6th March 2020


According to an article released on March 4th 2020, child obesity levels have DOUBLED in a decade. The article in the Daily Mail claims that the 2008 Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy aimed to reduce obesity in children, but that the latest data reveals severely obese children in Year 6 has doubled in that time, & that now one third of children are overweight by the time they finish primary school.

According to the NHS National Child Measurement Programme, data shows the figure of obese Year 6 pupils rose by two-thirds in that time, jumping from 77,000 to 121,000.

This is, as ever, not a surprise to those of us that work in the physical education setting and I’m sure to many other professions who work in health or education.

The Government have long been trying to tackle this crisis, and much of the leg work falls down to schools and what they can do to help.

There could be a solution that will definitely help out and that many educators, especially those of us involved in physical education, think is being overlooked time and time again.

We all know that Physical Activity is proven to help with concentration, well-being, positive mood changes as well as improving classroom behaviour and engagement in academic tasks so why are we not learning in a more physically active way or, at the very least, taking regular physical activity breaks?

Research suggests that children who get extra Physical Activity do better in subjects like Maths and Reading.

As an ex-teacher I know how busy school life can be, and I know that teachers are under huge pressure to get results, but getting the children in your class physically active when learning will help this to happen – I promise! For learning to happen it does not need to be still, silent with a pen and paper. Too many times, teachers are concerned about ‘noise levels’ in lessons being too high or that if someone were to glance in the room it would look ‘too chaotic’. Sometimes the best learning in my lessons is noisy and chaotic. Children are moving around, they are creating physical models of how their blood moves through their body using tables, chairs, paper, pens or even their own bodies. They are talking and discussing, sometimes they even run in the classroom (!) BUT THEY ARE LEARNING.

According to research the average child’s attention span is around twice the number of minutes as their age:

6 years old: 12 to 18 minutes

10 years old: 20 to 30 minutes

With lessons lasting around 45mins to an hour for a year 6 child then maybe we could start to think about using physical activity within that learning time to break it up and re-focus. As I sit here writing I have taken at least one ‘cup of tea’ break and another, whilst I wander around taking a phone call. If I can’t do it, why should we ask a child to?

The afternoons in schools have become different from when I was at school. We used to have lunch, do some learning, and then have a break before learning a little more and heading home. This week, whilst I have been out and about in schools I have had a really close look at what the afternoon looks like for our children. It seems to me that in most schools our EYFS – KS1 children still get their afternoon break time but this is not the case for the rest of the school. With the pressures of a full curriculum and achievement being so important, the break time has been sacrificed for more academic work for our older children & their teachers.

I asked one member of staff this week where year 6 were at 1pm, as I couldn’t see them out on the playground. Their lunch time had been moved to an earlier sitting so that they ‘could get more work done in the afternoon’. They were in lessons from 12:45 until home time – imagine that for a young mind! I am sure that their teacher would appreciate a 10 minute break in the afternoon – perhaps let the children out for some fresh air and a run around but, if that wasn’t possible, then maybe a you tube dance video on the classroom screen, or some skipping could give their growing brains a break and then refocus them for another learning stint.

I feel very strongly that Physically Active Learning or physical active breaks could really be a solution towards helping with childhood obesity & ensuring the health and well-being of young minds.


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