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In this 3-part series we will explore how more play, creative expression, and movement can lead to more cognitive development. The link from body to brain is powerful, so getting kids to move more and study a little less throughout the day may seem counterintuitive, but it may actually lead to better grades and even improve behavior!

In part 2 we will explore the mechanisms behind the power of movement to improve the brain. If you missed Part 1, click here. 

So how is it possible that more time spent moving and less time spent "learning" results in better grades?

You see, movement is never just a physical act; it is a physical expression, or outcome, of cognitive strategies to solve problems. When learning fundamental or complex movements in the context of physical education, sports, recreation, or free play, it "...is an active learning process intricately interrelated with cognition. Movement skill learning cannot occur without the benefit of higher thought processes" (Gallahue, 2003, p. 104).

Learning is a process that involves the integration of both sensory and motor skills (Gallahue, 2003). Children, therefore, learn best when more of their senses are involved. When kids play, explore and solve problems, especially when outdoors in nature, they are forced to use all their senses to navigate this unpredictable and ever changing environment.

Kid on lawn Craig V

In a review of research on the acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills, Rosenbaum et al., (2001) concluded that all knowledge is "performatory" and that the 'skills of mind' and 'skills of eye, ear, and muscle' are fundamentally similar" (p. 454).
A finding Rosenbaum cites to support this fact is that coordination and timing seem to be required for intellectual as well as perceptual-motor skills (p. 464). Rosenbaum also points to the evidence that across animal species, more advanced intellect is associated with a greater facility of motor behaviors such as tool making. This fact has led to the hypothesis that, "...the evolution of brain areas credited with the development of language (e.g. Broca's area) may have paved the way for complex behavioral sequencing" (p. 465)

Current research points to the fact that exercise directly impacts the ability of the brain to process and retain new information (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008). A common concern in schools today, with the emphasis on learning the academic basics and passing standardized tests, is that physical education classes would take away valuable time from the teacher's already limited time to prep their students to pass the tests.

Kid w hands in hair Craig V

Classroom teachers are understandably concerned as they are also judged by how well their students do on these tests. Any time taken from an already tight schedule is therefore, seen as a threat. In a study reported by Graham et al., (2013) it was found that doubling the amount of physical education time allocated in the course of a school week did not interfere with standardized reading or math scores (p. 680).

Tony Schwartz discussed the basic human needs that must be satisfied in order to maximize performance in all realms of life in his book, The Way We're Working isn't Working (2010). He talks about the importance of renewal with the four key factors being, nutrition, fitness, sleep, and rest.

Schwartz asserts that, "Our physical capacity is foundational, because every other source of energy depends on it." (p. 11) He highlights exercise for its importance in increasing work capacity and as a means of calming emotions and quieting the mind, especially in the middle of a workday, and in our case, school day. Schwartz believes therefore, that exercise in the middle of a day, especially after a period of intense work, is a powerful form of rejuvenation.

In part 3 we will discuss how specific forms of exercise effect brain development.

For brekafast we had the same as last time (I hate to sound boring, but in case youm issed it).  We have 2 eggs over medium with salt, pepper, and turmeric, sweet potato hash, 1 slice of bacon, sautéed baby kale, chard, and spinach, sautéed cherry tomatoes & fresh avocado – all drizzled with olive oil. Coffee is mandatory, though not for my son, and we all look forward to our spoon of cod liver oil to finish off our breakfast of champions.

References
Ericsson, I., & Karlsson, M. K. (2012). Motor skills and school performance in children with daily physical education in school - a 9-year intervention study. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 24(2), 273-278. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01458.x

Gallahue, D., & Cleland Donnelly, F. (2003). Developmental Physical education for all children (Fourth ed.). Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.

Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S. A., & Parker, M. (2013). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Musolf, D. (2014, February 19). Does outdoor play make kids smarter? - San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_25181071/does-outdoor-play-make-kids-smarter?source=infinite-up

Ratey, J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (First ed.). New York, New York: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group.

Rosenbaum, D. A., Carlson, R. A., & Gilmore, R. O. (2001). Acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 453-470. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.453

Schwartz, T., Gomes, J., & McCarthy, C. (2010). The way we're working isn't working: The four forgotten needs that energize great performance. New York, NY: Free Press.

Published in Breakfast Club

In this 3-part series we will explore how more play, creative expression, and movement can lead to more cognitive development. The link from body to brain is powerful, so getting kids to move more and study a little less throughout the day may seem counterintuitive, but it may actually lead to better grades and even improve behavior!

Today in part 1 we'll showcase some surprising studies and real world examples of how this focus on movement has created dramatic results in learning and behavior.

"Let's move!"

Craig V 1

 

For the last few years we have been imploring kids to put down the gadgets, get active, move more, and eat less. Rising childhood obesity rates and plummeting youth fitness levels have raised the alarm. The solution seems simple enough.

But there's a dilemma...

Schools are so focused on standardized testing and academic success that physical education and recess have been put on the back burner.

The irony, however, is that more time spent moving, playing, and exercising has actually been shown to improve attention, behavior, and the ability to learn and retain knowledge – not to mention the side benefit of improved fitness and health!

Finland is a great example of the success of this counter-intuitive strategy. Finland mandates 15 minutes of outdoor play for every 45 minutes of classroom time, with students getting at least 75 minutes of outdoor play per day. Additionally, the amount of academic testing and homework has been greatly reduced.

Craig V 2

 

Many US schools, on the other hand, mandate 100 minutes of physical education... per week! Homework, classroom time, and academic testing have been increased in an effort to help close the achievement gap and make our kids more competitive in the information age.

The result: In 2014 the US ranked 26th out of 34 countries in math, 17th in reading and 21st in science. During this same time period, Finland was ranked #1 in science, and #2 in both Math & reading (Musolf, 2014).

Graham, Holt/Hale, and Parker authors of Children Moving: A Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education (2013) discuss numerous studies showing the connection between physical activity and increased academic performance. A few prominent examples include:

  •  A study on third graders, which concludes that integrating physical activity within the school day led to increases in academic achievement (p. 679).
  •  A study where after just 20 minutes of moderate treadmill walking versus no exercise for 20 minutes, preadolescents scored a grade level higher in a reading comprehension test (p. 680).
  •  And finally, a study where children who increased physical activity four-fold with a 14-week physical education program demonstrated improvements in fitness, academic performance, and behavior (p. 680).

A 9-year prospective intervention study from Sweden showed that daily physical education in school improved both motor skills and school academic performance (Ericsson & Karlsson, 2012). This longitudinal study compared two groups of children from the time they were 7 years old until 16 years old when they left compulsory school.

The control group of 91 students engaged in the normal amount of physical education in school, which was comparable to U.S. standards, of 2 days per week for 45 minutes per session. The intervention group of 129 students participated in PE class 5 days per week for 45 minutes per session, and for those students with motor skill deficits one hour per week of adapted motor skill training was added. The students were all assessed based on a validated motor skills test as well as on their grades in Swedish, English, math, PE, and the proportion of students who qualified for upper secondary school.

At the end of 9 years there were no motor skill deficits in 93% of students in the intervention group compared to 53% in the control group! The average acceptance rate for Swedish students to secondary schools is 88% and decreasing each year. The control group achieved a similar rate of acceptance at 89%. The intervention group, however, had a 96% rate of acceptance, despite the fact that the control group had better reading ability scores at the start of the study.

 

Craig V 3

In part 2 we will explore the mechanisms behind the power of movement to improve the brain. Look out for part 2 on April 4th! 

For Breakfast I cooked for my wife and very hungry 3 year old, we have 2 eggs over medium with salt, pepper, and turmeric, sweet potato hash, 1 slice of bacon, sautéed baby kale, chard, and spinach, sautéed cherry tomatoes & fresh avocado – all drizzled with olive oil. Coffee is mandatory, though not for my son, and we all look forward to our spoon of cod liver oil to finish off our breakfast of champions.

References
Ericsson, I., & Karlsson, M. K. (2012). Motor skills and school performance in children with daily physical education in school - a 9-year intervention study. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 24(2), 273-278. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01458.x

Gallahue, D., & Cleland Donnelly, F. (2003). Developmental Physical education for all children (Fourth ed.). Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.

Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S. A., & Parker, M. (2013). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Musolf, D. (2014, February 19). Does outdoor play make kids smarter? - San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_25181071/does-outdoor-play-make-kids-smarter?source=infinite-up

Ratey, J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (First ed.). New York, New York: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group.

Rosenbaum, D. A., Carlson, R. A., & Gilmore, R. O. (2001). Acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 453-470. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.453

Schwartz, T., Gomes, J., & McCarthy, C. (2010). The way we're working isn't working: The four forgotten needs that energize great performance. New York, NY: Free Press.

Published in Breakfast Club

Designing welcoming environments for children and families has never been more important.

 

boostAHG2welcoming

 

Let's look at some statistics and then talk action!

When reading these statistics, it's easy to feel discouraged. But – AFTERSCHOOL IS POWERFUL.

Imagine if we energize the 10.2 million children attending afterschool programs to feel a greater sense of connectedness and responsibility for each other and their communities.

Inspired by a recent visit I made to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), below are four activities to try this month to foster inclusive and welcoming environments. I've also intentionally blended these activities with the National AfterSchool Association (NAA) Standards for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity because a healthy afterschool site should always be an inclusive site.

 

BOOSTAHG1welcoming

 

1. Lead a Site Walk-through

Gather staff and students to lead an inclusion-focused walk-through of your afterschool site. If you operate on school grounds, invite school administration to join you. If you're a recreation agency, invite someone from your city council to join you. Before a child or family member even walks through your front door, what small changes can you make to ensure they feel welcome?

What opportunities will you uncover on your walk? Here are some ideas:

One new solution might be to create a fun and active trail made with Alliance for a Healthier Generation task cards leading up to your front door. Print, laminate and post activities using paint sticks. It'll add color and movement to your site while making a statement that something fresh and engaging happens inside!

Why not ask teens to design an "all about me" welcome bulletin board that features site staff and their favorite physical activities or hobbies. Integrate this activity into new volunteer or staff on-boarding to reinforce that your program prioritizes healthy role-modeling.

Keep the creativity flowing and help new students feel included by providing clear and vibrant signage. Decorate water fountains, hang encouraging stairwell signs and make it the norm to dance from point A to point B. In a challenging world, filling our afterschool programs with art, music and movement can provide a much needed oasis for children who may not otherwise have it.

A site walk-through gives children the opportunity to express their creativity and take ownership of the physical space of their afterschool site where they can find places to "absorb, act and show". Invite in-school staff to collaborate with afterschool staff and work together, especially if you share space. Consider putting a shared use agreement in place to make your efforts more sustainable.

Invite maintenance staff to participate so they understand your program goals. Something as simple as requesting light bulbs to be replaced can make it easier for children with disabilities, brighten up dark corners and encourage stairwell usage. Why not partner with your local creative community to paint a mural with positive and healthy messages? Not sure how to get plugged in? Check out a Creative Mornings event. A service-learning grant could help make it happen and a local art store might donate supplies and talent.

Combine intentionality and spring-cleaning and who knows what inspired materials you'll find in your supply closet!

2. Make Daily Cooperative Physical Activity the Norm

It doesn't matter if your program is focused on STEM or homework help, starting your program day with an inclusive brain booster can help children get active, clear their mind and foster connectedness. Make rainy days cooperative days even if they catch you by surprise. Create your own collection of favorite energizers so it's easier for children to help staff select activities that meet best practices.

Make this practice sustainable by adopting a wellness policy that ensures all program time begins with physical activity. Add cooperative physical activities to staff meetings and family events too for consistent messaging and role-modeling.

Avoid games with elimination elements that might target children who are new or different. Never run out of ideas by hosting your own do-it-yourself brain booster activity. Commit to never playing games like dodgeball – ever.

Daily cooperative activities give children an opportunity to learn, practice and develop a life-long love of movement. Cooperative games also make it easier for children to share in leadership.

3. Build Community through Healthy Snacks and Meals

If you serve afterschool snacks, meals or summer meals, promote dialogue and discussion through intentional conversations and activities. Structured mealtimes prevent small cliques from forming. Pay attention to needs of children with physical disabilities who many need accommodations. As you plan for summer meals, consider how new partners can spread the word, such as healthcare providers, the faith community and social service agencies who can help you reach a broader audience.

Let shared food experiences show youth how to identify commonalities with their peers and community members. Taste tests and potlucks at family events create space for families to get to know each other, share culture and traditions of cooking, meal times or even food preservation.

4. Build a Movement through Partnerships with Purpose

From maintenance staff willing to replace your light bulb to a police officer who likes to Zumba, creating healthy inclusive communities requires all of us. Learning how to work together can be the most challenging part. Begin staff meetings with intentional icebreakers to help staff connect on a personal and professional level.

Identify partnerships and guest speakers that reflect your student's interests and backgrounds, but find opportunities to introduce your students to new experiences. Give yourself permission to not know all of the answers. If you're not sure how to adapt a brain booster to be inclusive, ask a local disability focused organization, special education or PE teacher or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . If you're going on a field trip or having a guest speaker, take time to educate the partner organization on the students and the families you serve.

Ensure your social media reflects families that you want to recruit into your program and depicts an inclusive environment.

 

boostAHG3welcoming
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Imagine the world we could create if we harnessed the power of the 10.2 million children who attend afterschool programs. That potential grows if we involve passionate staff, unconventional partners and extended families. We can accomplish a lot in afterschool, from health and wellness to STEM, but our impact will only be as strong as our ability to be inclusive and welcoming.

For breakfast I had a coffee and two clementines.

Published in Breakfast Club

Asia Society and BOOST Collaborative are partnering to create a series of blogs on global learning in out-of-school time. This blog entry was originally published on EdWeek's Global Learning Blog. This entry was written by Rich Keegan, author of "Global Games for Diversity Education," and a physical education teacher at Squadron Line Elementary School in Simsbury, CT.

 

Traditionally physical education classes have not only focused on how to move, but also have emphasized teamwork. This, in conjunction with my interest in helping students develop an appreciation for global learning and diversity life skills, are the basis Global Games for Diversity Education. The premise of the book is to use various games from around the world to help students practice ten different Diversity Life Skills. These skills promote empathy and understanding and reinforce the idea that we are all more similar than different. The ten diversity life skills are:

1. Listen to someone else's perspective.
2. Challenge your own beliefs.
3. Treat everyone fairly.
4. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
5. Confront inappropriate comments.
6. Learn from each other's differences.
7. Accept people the way they are.
8. Come to a compromise.
9. Focus on what you have in common.
10. Make the experience enjoyable.

Many times, these diversity life skills are already a part of a school-wide goal. At my school, respect, responsibility, and kindness are the guiding principles for behavior. Creating a global frame work for these same principles has been a seamless connection for our students to make. The Common Core strategies of demonstration, presentation, explanation, and written expression for reflection can also give deeper meaning to all activities and games.

Getting Started

When I begin a unit in a Physical Education class or with various recreational groups, l am often asked, "Why are we learning about diversity and different cultures?" I give a brief explanation, noting that we are living in a global economy where we will have to understand, respect, and accept various peoples and ideas in order to live and work in an ever-changing world. We talk about how the Olympic Games have been used to bring people from all over the world to play, compete, and share common interests in a peaceful way. We then play our first game which is a Singaporean version of Rock, Paper, and Scissors. The Olympic theme is played as background music as participants compete against each other for two to three minutes with students trying to ascend to either the bronze, silver, or gold podium. This activity has always been a fun and enjoyable way to get students to interact with each other and have a mutually shared experience, which is also a goal of the Olympics.

We then do an activity called Ethnicity Mingle, which has learning outcomes of getting to know each other's names and acknowledging the diverse population we have in our class. During this activity each student is given an index card. On one side they write their first name in big letters, and on the other side of the card they write the country or countries that their family identifies as their country of origin. Students who do not know anything about their ethnic or cultural background choose a country they would like to travel to or they write the word unknown. Students then mingle with each other sharing their name and country. We conclude the activity by doing celebration high fives, acknowledging everyone's different backgrounds. Students' self-identified countries will also be used throughout the unit when I choose various games and activities.

After these kinds of activities, I ask short reflective questions that lead students to the Diversity Life Skills they will be learning throughout our time together. These skills are written on an easel and displayed in the area so that all participants can see them. An example of a question I ask after the previous activity could be, "What did you notice about us as an entire group?" Inevitably someone from the group will share, "We are all are from somewhere other than America." When students are then asked to chose a Diversity Life Skill they used during the last two activities, usually the most discussed and practiced skill chosen is, finding what you have in common with others. In a school setting, having the students do their own research to choose games and activities from their country has been a very effective tool for learning more about a country.

A final introductory activity and reflective piece that sets group norms is an activity called Ways of Life. I looked at common themes from the world religions of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Some of those themes are: respect, taking care of others, and forgiveness. Groups of four or five participants are given eight common themes written twice for a total of 16 cards. The cards are placed on the ground face down. Similar to the matching card game, one person at a time from each group runs to the cards and turns over two different cards looking for a match of common themes. If a match is found, the cards are placed face up; if a match is not found, they are placed face down. Each member of the group has a turn running and turning over two cards looking for a match. When a group finds all the matches, the game ends. Each group then picks a common theme to use as a guiding principle for our group norms for the rest of our time together.

I also recommend using A Teachable Moment, by Jim Cain, Michele Cummings, and Jennifer Stanchfield as an excellent resource for other reflective tools that are engaging and fun for a wide range of ages and learners.

Positive Outcomes

Over a five-year period on end-of-year physical education student surveys, the diversity and global learning unit was consistently rated by students as among their top three positive experiences. It is these positive experiences that can lead students to live more successful and productive lives in an evolving global economy.

Integrating global learning and diversity life skills into physical education, camp, and before and after school programs can be a fun and engaging way to introduce children of all ages to diversity and global learning objectives to meet the needs of all our 21st century learners.

Follow Rich and Asia Society on Twitter.

Published in Breakfast Club

"Oklahoma senior Running Back Brennan Clay accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game. Clay rushed for 913 yards and six touchdowns this past season for an average of 5.8 yards per carry. The senior's production came in bursts, as he dropped 200 yards in a win over Kansas State and another 170 in a victory over West Virginia" (Fri, Dec 20, 2013 03:19:00 PM, East-West Shrine Game on Twitter).

Brennan Clay took part in athletic after school programming from football to track and field and is now hopefully on his way to the NFL. I had the privilege of coaching this young man and taking him to his championship long jump and 4x1 relay win at the Junior Olympics in 2006. Kids like Brennan only paid for uniforms track meets and fundraised for the travel. Olympians have been born from youth track and field specifically from San Diego. However, the death of youth track and field is beginning to sweep San Diego County. Many schools have begun to reject the popular Youth Track and Field after school programming due to adult soccer leagues. Don't get me wrong I love that adults can play a sport and do something positive rather than negative, in fact I would say soccer is just as necessary as youth track and field. The conflict is with funding, facilities and etiquette.

First: funding. While youth track clubs remain non-profit many are unable to pay large annual fees for youth fitness during after school. Most school districts charge anywhere from $10-$800 for use of their facility. And even so the use is limited to track usage only and sometimes there are no restrooms open or lights to light up the track during sunset. This presents an issue, youth track clubs exist to deter criminal activities within inner-city youth and improve academic and health outcomes for the community. If there are no local track and field clubs what happens to the health of the young community as they grow? And what happens to a legendary sport without its foundation?

Second: facilities. Track programs often have to resort to Parks with grass instead of custom-made track fields at local high schools. There in lies the issue, these state-of-the-art track fields are being held from local kids ages five to eighteen. Children can find fitness anywhere however the thrill of individual running competitions while belonging to a greater team is rare. Soccer and track are two completely different sports and they require two completely different environments to execute the sport. The question is why would you reject track and field after school programming for a conflict of facilities if the soccer team uses the field and the track team practices outside of the field?

Third: etiquette. This remains a constant issue. Youth afterschool track and field clubs are being blamed for left over water bottles, trash and even vandalism. Taking on the burden and responsibility youth track and field clubs find themselves taking the blame and even having to explain where the trash and vandalism comes from. Responsibility for shared usage of facilities typically falls on the youth track and field club due to their seniority with facilities and there ability to pay for damages some of these clubs have been around for 25 years at the same school. The question is how do you prove who is responsible for trash and vandalism? And how do you discipline the liable party?

Ultimately, the sport is dying in San Diego County and your county may be next. Children have already begun to look for other outlets to release energy and our fear is that it will affect the community negatively years from now. Youth track and field clubs can have anywhere from 10 to 100 kids on one team, thus creating a community of culture, camaraderie, respect and athleticism in youth ages five to eighteen. These clubs run 4 days a week effectively steering kids away from negativity. So what's next for youth track and field clubs? I suspect they will not go down easily but they will take this fight from the schools to the district, from the district to the local papers, from the local papers to the news, to the United States of America Track & Field Association (the Olympic track and field organization) and start a movement. Because kids like Brennan Clay deserve their local youth track and field clubs.

This morning for breakfast I drank a tall, dark, strawberry protein shake with super greens by Fuller nutrition.

Published in Breakfast Club

Out-of-school time providers have the unique opportunity to create environments where healthy eating and physical activity are encouraged. It doesn't matter if you're a before school program, an afterschool program, a summer program, a scouting organization, or a sports team you play a meaningful role in empowering youth to eat better and move more. As you think about your goals for 2014, below are resources and tools you can try throughout the year to promote healthy eating and physical activity.

1. In January, start your year off right by learning about the Healthy Out-of-School Time Framework. Read inspiring success stories of how others have created environments where youth are encouraged to eat healthier and move more.

2. In February, find customized resources to encourage youth to Drink Right, Move More, and Snack Smart by taking the Healthy Kids Out of School Survey.

3. In March, send healthy habits home; get a free copy of A Year of Being Well. Don't forget to download free copies of the Yum-o! Kitchen Roadmap.

4. In April, build support and strengthen your capacity by reaching out to your local Parks and Recreationagency or Cooperative Extension. Ask what programming is available and how you can collaborate.

5. In May, learn why Afterschool Meals Matter by signing up for this monthly call which explains federal nutrition reimbursement programs. If you haven't already thought about serving summer meals, the Food Research Action Center can help with that too.

6. In June, try a new AfterSchool Energizer to get children moving and having fun. "As If" is a perfect activity for a rainy day. The Healthy Kids Hub has even more resources for when you're short on space, time, or equipment.

7. In July, "Drink Right" and make sure kids in your program are getting enough water. Read and share Tips to Increasing Water Consumption to promote healthy hydration during the summer.

8. In August, mobilize youth leaders; try holding a walk-through of your building and have youth identify ideas for where positive messages could be shared via posters and pictures. Need a resource? Try the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Youth-Engagement Guide.

9. In September, start the school year off right by creating a partnership with your local grocery store to help promote healthy snacking. Download the Snack it Up Tool Kit from the Healthy Kids Hub.

10. In October, apply for a mini-grant from Youth Service America to find additional funds to promote health and combat hunger. Don't forget to sign up for the National Service Briefing to stay up to date on youth leadership opportunities.

11. In November, beat the winter blues and get your staff up and moving by using the Fit for a Healthier Generation videos. Try yoga, kick boxing, or even Zumba! The Alliance for a Healthier Generation resource database has even more ideas for indoor and outdoor activities.

12. In December, and all year long, celebrate! Share your successes and challenges with us on Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter @healthiergen @healthykidsoos. 

This blog entry was written in collaboration by:

Daniel W. Hatcher, National Healthy Out-of-School Time Advisor, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Molly B. Newman, Regisitered Dietitian and Senior Project Manager, Healthy Kids Out of School

For breakfast, Daniel had a cup of black coffee and a piece of toast with jam and butter.  Molly, enjoyed a whole wheat muffin, fruit cup and a latte with skim milk.  

Published in Breakfast Club

One of the powers of play is that it gets us to exercise our bodies as well as our minds. – David Elkind

Childhood is becoming increasingly sedentary. Tragically, many afterschool programs are becoming increasingly sedentary as well. Today, childhood is spent mostly indoors, watching television, playing video games and working the Internet. When children do go outside, it tends to be for scheduled events - soccer camp or a fishing derby - held under the watch of adults. In a typical week, 27% of kids ages 9 to 13 play organized baseball, but only 6% play on their own, a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. A child is six times more likely to play a video game on a typical day than to ride a bike, according to surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the CDC (Cauchon, 2005). With the increased focus on high-stakes testing, many afterschool programs are caving to the pressure to improve academic achievement by forcing kids into more seatwork when the school bell rings.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 60 minutes of aerobic physical activity each day, but only 33% of students attend daily physical education, and more and more schools are eliminating physical education and recess (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013).

School-age children and youth spend 8 - 11 hours a day using entertainment media, including TV, computers, video games, cell phones, and movies (Rideout et. al, 2010). Childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high, and TV viewing is a contributing factor to childhood obesity because it takes kids away from more physical activities; leads to increased energy intake through snacking and eating meals in front of the TV, and influences children to make unhealthy food choices through exposure to junk food advertising (Zimmerman, et. al., 2010).

The best afterschool programs include many opportunities for physical activity for the sake of the basic health of the children. For afterschool programs, the undisputed fact that exercise improves the health and development of children on the whole health is more than enough justification to make movement a best practice.

The relation between exercise and overall student health is clear, but in the current educational climate, that is not enough for schools. Today, the relation of physical activity and fitness to academic performance is of special concern to schools that are being forced to justify physical education not just on the grounds of overall student health, but solely on the grounds of academic achievement.

Growing numbers of elementary schools are eliminating recess in favor of more time for reading, writing, and math. Our test-driven curricula are driving the elimination of creative and playful teaching practices in favor of rote learning methods, despite the fact that studies demonstrate that children involved in daily physical education experience show greater academic performance and a better attitude toward school than children who are not (Jensen, 2005).

There are many long-standing, well-documented physical and mental health benefits of physical activity. Many studies have found significant improvement in attitudes, discipline, behavior, and creativity of students following physical activity (Keays, 1995). We know that a correlation exists between physical activity and self-esteem and the desire to learn in children (Tremblay, et al., 2000).

A growing body of interdisciplinary research has documented the beneficial influence of physical activity on brain development and function. Researchers have recently discovered that they can make a human brain grow new brain cells (hippocampal neurogenesis), simply by putting subjects on a three-month aerobic workout regimen (Carmichael, 2007). Evidence from brain imaging studies, anatomical studies, and clinical studies show that moderate exercise enhances cognitive processing, increases the number of brain cells, and reduced childhood obesity (Jensen, 2005).

Research has shown that blood flow to the cortex of the brain is increased following bouts of exercise. More blood flow means more oxygen, more nutrients, and more of something that John Ratey, Harvard Medical School Professor and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain calls "Miracle-Gro for the Brain" – Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).

Regular exercise causes levels of BDNF to build up, which causes the brains nerve cells to branch out, connect, and communicate more efficiently – the processes that underlie learning. Ratey states, "Exercise is like taking a little Prozac or Ritalin. It affects many sites within the nervous system and sets off pleasure chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine that make us feel calm, happy, & euphoric. It is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being."

There is insufficient data to support the belief that physical exercise raises scores on standardized achievement tests, but a growing number of studies support the idea that physical exercise is a factor that may lead to increased physical and mental health throughout life. Higher grades are associated with vigorous physical activity (Coe, et al. 2006). Physical fitness is positively related to academic achievement in math and literacy regardless of other variables (Castelli, et al., 2007).

In a recent study researchers measured the children's body-mass-index (BMI) of 259 third and fifth graders, and scored them on classic PE exercises. Then they compared their BMI and physical abilities to their math and reading scores. On the whole, the kids with the fittest bodies also had the fittest brains. Aerobic exercise was shown to improve many aspects of cognition and academic performance. (Hillman, et al., 2008).

We must teach with the body as well as with the brain in mind. Children need to be physically active, and need frequent opportunities for physical motion, yet in this era of standards and accountability, physical education is one of the first subjects to be cut from the school curriculum as non-essential.

Learning that is active and experiential, involving movement, and arousing positive emotions is more effective than disseminating information in a one-way flow from teacher to learner. Since movement of the body engages the brain, it is the wise educator's trump card (Jensen, 2000a). The evidence is very clear that a strong active body helps build a strong, active brain.

The best afterschool programs value and participate in the physical education process. Afterschool programs that do not include physical activity are shortchanging the brains of their children and their potential for academic achievement.

For breakfast this morning, I had a cold cup of blueberry yogurt and a hot cup of coffee.

Reference Notes
Carmichael, M. (2007). Stronger, faster, smarter. Newsweek, Mar, 26, 30-35.

Cauchon, Dennis (2005). "Childhood Pastimes are Increasingly Moving Indoors." USA Today, 11 July 2005. Retrieved from
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-07-11-pastimes-childhood_x.htm 

Castelli, D., Hillman, C., Buck, S., & Erwin, H. (2007). Physical fitness and academic achievement in third- and fifth-grade students. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 29, 239-252. Retrieved at http://bit.ly/1aaBkuS

Cauchon, D. (2005). Childhood pastimes are increasingly moving indoors. USA Today. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-07-11-pastimes-childhood_x.htm?csp=34 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Obesity: A Growing Problem. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/problem.html 

Coe, D., Pivarnik, J., Womack, C., Reeves, M., & Malina, R. (2006). Effect of physical education and activity levels on academic achievement in children. American College of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/JE5XPt 

Hillman, C., Erickson, K., & Dramer, A. (2008) Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9 58-65.

Jensen, E. (2000a). Learning with the body in mind. San Diego, CA: The Brain Store, Inc.

Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: Association for supervision and curriculum development.

Ratey, J. (2008). Spark. The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Little, Brown, & Co. New York: NY.

Tremblay, M., Inman, J., & Willms, J. (2000). The relationship between physical activity, self-esteem, and academic achievement in twelve-year-old children.

Pediatric Exercise Science, 13 312-323. Retrieved from http://extranet.nuorisuomi.fi/download/attachments/3245041/the+relationship+between+physical+activity,self-esteem,+and+academic+achievement+in+12-year-old+children.pdf 

Zimmerman FJ, Bell JF. (2010). Associations of television content type and obesity in children. Am J Public Health 2010; 100(2):334—40.

Published in Breakfast Club

As part of girls' development, it is critical they connect with positive peers- especially other girls. Those of us at middle school sites tend to cringe at the idea of girls "connecting" with other girls because nine times out of ten there is some drama involved. However, contradictory to what media feeds us, girls are not born with a "mean gene." Research stresses the importance of healthy relationships for girls can have a significant impact on their self-esteem, connection to school, as well as involvement in positive activities. Wondering what great tool can achieve this? The answer will probably not surprise you: athletics.

Participation in athletics provides multiple benefits for adolescent and teen girls, some of which include:

  • Increased self-esteem and confidence
  • Communication
  • Higher academics
  • Decreased chance of involvement with violence and/or drug use
  • Listening skills
  • Teambuilding
  • Goal setting
  • Positive thought thinking

Not every student may be attracted to playing a particular sport- let's face it, some of us aren't athletes (yours truly included). However, your after-school program can take the foundation of a sport and apply it in a slightly different setting. For example, some of your female students might enjoy participating in a step class/group. There's also the latest cardio craze- zumba! What about cardio-dance? The foundation principles are the same- it is merely the application that varies.

Another great benefit to physical fitness activities is the obvious: health benefits. We all know that child obesity rates are the highest they have ever been and athletics is just one part of the solution. There is some research that links obesity in girls to their early entrance into puberty, which can lead to starting their menstrual cycles at an earlier age. Girls who begin puberty at an early age may often experience insecurity over their bodies, which unfortunately can contribute to low self-esteem. All the more reason to engage girls in physical fitness activities- build up their endurance and at the same time build up their positive self-image...sounds like a win-win to me!

Aside from health benefits and developmental advantages, there is one more critical reason to support and promote athletics among girls. According to Dr. Joan Steidinger, "in sports, girls not only care about their sport but also about the quality of the relationships connected to the sport. This translates into how well they get along with teammates, coaches, trainers, non-athletic friends, and parents." (source: Blood, Sweat, and Cheers, 2011). So, athletics can help you deal with the ongoing "girl drama" that all too often gets in the away of actual learning. I don't know about you, but I think this is pure genius! The idea of having girls work together on a consistent basis is the key to breaking down barriers...and it can all be done in your after-school program. Physical activities are key in motivating students (especially girls) to building positive relationships, staying connected to school, and making overall healthier life choices.

What are you waiting for? Start planning your next Frisbee competition, running or walking club, dance crew, group yoga- whatever is going to get your girls going! One last note, make sure that staff members join in on the fun! We have to, after all, always role model what we expect from our students. Perhaps a staff vs. students game is in order to kick off the integration of athletics in your program.

As part of the BOOST Breakfast Club, I'm supposed to tell you what I had for breakfast. Well, I actually skipped breakfast this morning because I had a physical. I'm happy to report that I've been moving quite a bit (walking and running) and lost 10 pounds in six weeks. I'm motivated now more than ever to keep reaching for my goal. Why am I doing it? I can't expect kids (especially girls) to take physical activity seriously if I don't- plain and simple.

Until next time, Boosters!

Published in Breakfast Club

Being the last one picked is just no fun. What if the last words you heard before you became a team member was "Alright, I guess we have to take you"? The first play hasn't been made and already, you feel like a failure. For some students, the mere act of picking teams is so difficult they simply choose not to participate in physical activity, thus avoiding the stress. The emotional safety of our students is as essential as the physical safety and it can begin with the act of picking teams painlessly. I recommend the use of a two-step approach: 1) Form small groups, and then 2) break them into teams.

Step One: Forming Small Groups

1. Play a grouping game. One that is very effective is "The Captain is Coming."

The Captain is Coming

(Modified from and used with permission Teambuilding Odysseys- Odyssey Teams, Chico-CA)

Purpose: This is a great game to get team members working together in order to accomplish a specific series of tasks. They will need to get out of their regular group of friends to stay in the game. This will really help get students mixing and laughing.

Set Up:

* You are the Captain of a pirate ship. Teach all your team members the series of motions. Show them one motion and then have everyone model it back to you. You are the Captain. Arrgh!

* One person for swab the deck. (pretend to mop the floor)

* If the Captain says "The Captain is Coming" All members are to freeze and stand at attention.

* Two for all hands on deck (two people connect hands above their heads).

* Three people for person over board (two people link arms like an life preserver and the third stands in the middle).

* Four people for man the lifeboats (form a life boat, two in front, two in back and do rowing motions).

* Five people for grub time (four act as if you are grubbing from a plate around one person as the table).

* The captain calls any of the commands and the team members scramble into groups and act out the motion called.

* The words The Captain is Coming can be used at any time to get the groups to stand quietly and salute.

2. Grouping Ideas. The must be several hundred ways to group students. Here a just a few:

* Number of letters in their first or last name.

* Playing Cards- each student gets a card and then groups by suit or value.

* Whistle Blows- Students move around, honoring personal space. Whistle blows indicate the number in each group.

* Musical Groups- Like musical chairs, only when the music stops students form groups of the number indicated by the number of fingers the leader holds up.

* Birth Months, length of hair, tallest to shortest, shoe size, etc. are all good ways to get students to group.

* Form A Band. Each band must have a drummer, guitar player, keyboard player and singer. Then they mime out their band, complete with air instrumentation.

* Form A Sports Team- pitchers, catchers, hitters, outfielders and hot dog salespeople.

* Hair Bands on Wrists- They fit perfectly and can be easily reused. Give each student a band and form teams based on color.

3. Use "incorporations." An "incorporation" is a small group of students that are grouped by something in common and are given the name of an object. Using only the members of their group they are to create that object.Examples:

A) You need a group of 4, who were born in the same month, and you are to create a washing machine.
B) You need a group of three, who have the same last digit in their phone number, and you are to create an elephant.
C) You need a group of 5, who use the same flavor toothpaste, and you are to form a pentagon. Have your students create new incorporations with different commonalities and objects. They will see how many things they really do have in common and how easy it is to work together.

Step Two- Forming Teams from Small Groups

Now comes the fun part. The games are used to break students into small groups by using various commands or incorporations. Once you have the small groups created, have one member from each group raise their hand and then move to another place in the play space. Then do the same with each remaining member. A small group of two would then create two teams, a group of three, three teams and so on. The same technique can work when the small groups have different members, like Form a Band. Here all the drummers go to one group, all the singers to another, etc.

Why does this work?

These methods eliminate "partner picking" and "clicks". Students are grouped and ungrouped so often, they begin to worry less about who is in their group and more on completing the task. No one is the last one picked and everyone gets equal chance to participate.

You will still have those students who are ":joined at the hip" of their best friend, however, the more these types of activities are used, the less that becomes a problem. Students come to know and work better with other members of the group they would not ordinarily interact with.

Remember- Every minute a student feels success in participating in physical activities helps to build a positive, lifetime attitude towards fitness. Every minute they spend in your program is a "teachable moment" and that includes the time spent picking teams. Let's make every minute count!

Published in Breakfast Club

I had 30 minutes to kill this morning after eating my standard: oatmeal, fruit, and 2 eggs breakfast. While waiting for my 13 year old to get her lunch together, I decided to see if I could catch up with local news. (Side bar: Being that I am a busy mom, wife, and full-time professional, I've had to cut some non-essential activities out. Currently, I'm on a media fast, meaning I read and watch VERY little news. I actually find that I'm a much more peaceful person, but I digress. Back to the shocking headline I found as I opened up the front (web) page of our local newspaper, The Press Democrat.)

"Enjoy the dry, albeit chilly weather while it lasts because the storm door is expected to open wide next week, with wet, windy and potentially hazardous weather starting Monday." (Press Democrat, 12/4/09)

EEEEEEEK! Are my after school line staff ready for rainy days in after school? I have exactly 1 day to prep folks for the glory and bliss of holding students captive indoors from 3pm-6pm, after a full day of school, with the minimal chance of an outdoor recess. Fret not my dedicated youth workers! Mama Sheppard has a plan! (Side bar: I've served at all levels of after school, but just prior to my current position as the Program Manager of "whatever comes up", I was a site director and earned the name Mama Sheppard. First, because I am totally a Mom to anyone more than 13 months younger than I. Secondly, because I shepherd folks in the direction of their own potential. And three, because I was working at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School at the time. Endnote.)

Here's the plan:

Wise Up! Please, please, please, be realistic in your expectations of what students can, or should be asked to do, after a day stuck indoors watching skilled contortionists (aka Highly Qualified Teachers) kill themselves implementing the next best thing for closing the achievement gap. It's a little like going to the Cirque du Soleil; you're exhausted just watching. So after a day of observing acrobatics from their seats, our sweet youth just may be itching to move their own bodies. So move the furniture, and keep the song "I like to move it, move it" playing in your own head (if not in the room). Because if you have ANY delusions of "Quiet Seatwork" in after school, you'd better get your hands on a bulk size Acetametaphin bottle from Costco, because you WILL go home with a headache. Be realistic, make space for movement = No headaches.

Bring it! Now is the time for pulling rabbits out of hats, fancy dance moves, and bringing the WOW factor. You have a captive audience, but don't take it for granted. You MUST pull out all the stops, and bring lesson plans that Rock the casbah, rock the casbah! You know what I mean? We've all experienced that Dyn-O-Mite substitute teacher in school, the one that brought that reptile, or instrument, or game activity that was nothing like you'd ever experienced before? Those were brilliant substitutes. They understood the power of NEW and DIFFERENT to create a classroom atmosphere of anticipation, intrigue and 100% engagement? (We all know the value of student engagement ...... if we don't give them something they want to do, they'll find something that they want to do. And heaven knows, I REALLY don't want Hugo to choose his own activity, because it usually involves experimenting with devices not originally intended for insertion in your nose, ear or neighbor!) So, heed my advice, when you know that your students have been seat-bound most the day, you must BRING IT!

Collaborate, research and, oh heck, who are we kidding, Steal! Last I checked, the phrase "Three Heads are Better Than One", was still being overused by my dad's generation. (Side note: He seems blissfully unaware of toxic pollution, and genetic engineering. Although, you'd think he'd be sensitive to this phrase, considering he remembers those crazy-voyer-pleasing-inhumane "man behind the curtain" experiences at the fair. Again, I digress.) Even though the phrase is out of date, I think it still has some merit when considering the challenges of our vocation. The one thing I learned early was that there IS a limit to my creativity when working alone. But no limit when I reach out to pick others' brains, exchange ideas, synergize new and cool activities. (Side note: I'll spare you the detail of how these collaborative efforts transpired in my early 20's. Suffice it to say, half the games I learned, I couldn't bring to school on Monday.) So, keep your eyes and ears open, make it a priority to never leave a conversation with a colleague without a new idea to try, and steal all of the tricks you can from teachers and others who are successful in keeping kids engaged.

Eat Healthy: Now, you'll notice that my breakfast included a serving of whole grain, fresh fruit, and a protein. I highly recommend a diet that includes these items AND lots of fresh veggies. No flour, no sugar, nothing that is more than 2 steps from the earth. Your body was not meant for "pretend" food. So abstain and THRIVE! You'll surely have energy AFTER 6pm if you fuel yourself with good food.

Resources: Here are some sites & resources for fun Rainy Day activities .

Family Education

Get Kids in Action

Indoor Physical Activity Ideas for Kids

Icebreakers and Indoor Games for Rainy Days 

Until next time, Take Cover and Be Prepared!

Over and Out,
Mama Sheppard



Published in Breakfast Club
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