Children and Physical Activity
Article by Eloise Elliott, Ph.D and Steve Sanders, Ph.D
The Importance of Movement and Physical Activity
For children, physical activity and movement enhances fitness, fosters growth and development, and helps teach them about their world. As teachers of young children, we know that most children are innately physically active. They learn as they move throughout their environment. In observing a group of young children at recess, we will most likely see them running, jumping, throwing, and kicking in this unstructured environment. It is what they do naturally...they enjoy active play! So why should we be concerned with "promoting" physical activity in children? Here's why.
Children today find themselves more often in "sedentary alternatives" (Epstein, et al, 1995). For example, children ride in a car or bus to school, have less physical education, watch more television, play more sedentary games such as computer games, and do not have as much freedom to play outside on their own. Consequently, there is mounting evidence that even our young children are becoming less physically active and more overweight and obese. Physical inactivity has contributed to the 100% increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity in the United States since 1980 (CDC, 2000). Childhood obesity should be of major concern for a number of reasons.
- Obesity in children is a major risk factor for a number of diseases (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, elevated blood cholesterol).
- Childhood obesity tends to lead to adult obesity.
- Adults who were obese as children have increased morbidity and mortality irrespective of adult weight.
- Overweight adolescents may suffer long-term social and economic discrimination (Boreham and Riddoch, 2001).
Besides reducing the risks associated with childhood obesity, physical activity is important for other reasons. Regular physical activity helps children build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints; builds lean muscle and reduce fat; prevents or delays the development of high blood pressure; reduces feelings of depression and anxiety; and may, through its effect on mental health, increase students' capacity for learning. With these facts in mind, it is imperative that we, as teachers, help reduce the amount of physical inactivity, by increasing the amount of physical activity opportunities that children have during the school day. Being physically active not only provides important health benefits, but also provides children opportunities to learn through movement.
Integrating Physical Activity Throughout the Curriculum
It has often been said, "children learn through movement." In addition to the health benefits of physical activity, movement is an integral part of the young child's life and education, for it is through movement that children develop social, emotional, and cognitive skills. For young children, movement is a critical means of communication, expression, and learning. It is imperative that classroom teachers give children as many opportunities as possible to be physically active and to learn through movement.
A major thrust in curriculum development in schools today is the integration of subject content across the curriculum. Integration refers to the mutual relationship between subject matter. This suggests the building of relationships between all areas of study that make up the school curriculum. Integration of curriculum enhances learning by (Nichols, 1994):
- promoting understanding and reinforcing curriculum content in a variety of educational settings,
- encouraging students to transfer what is learned in one setting to new settings,
- increasing meaning of what has been learned by giving students the opportunity to see information in new relationships and to apply it in new situations, and, by
- reinforcing curriculum content by more in-depth exposure to the material.
Teachers have many opportunities to use movement and physical activity within the regular classroom curriculum. Since children are interested in movement, these relationships may spark their interest as they work in math, language arts, science, social studies, health, and other subjects.
Classroom Integrated Lesson Ideas
One popular technique used to integrate subject areas and include physical activity is the Thematic Approach. In this approach, teachers overlap the content across the curriculum over a set period of time, while focusing on one theme such as the Winter Games. For example, students in Grade 1 might participate in the following integrated activities with a 2002 Winter Games theme:
Social Studies: Show children a map of the United States. Compare the geographical area, in which they live, to Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Winter Games are being held (distance from one another, size, weather, etc). Each day add a new fact about Utah, and a new fact about the Winter Games (e.g., how athletes get to the Winter Games, Winter Games events, medals, etc.) to the semantic map constructed on the first day.
Language Arts: Read the book "The Little Engine That Could " to the class. Compare the "little engine" with a Winter Games athlete. Discuss with the children how the Winter Games athletes have a dream, and how it takes hard work and determination to achieve a dream. Encourage the children to draw and then verbalize and act out their dreams, and what they might do to follow their dreams.
Physical Education: Children practice skills and concepts of pathways, space awareness, cardiovascular endurance - fitness, and striking with an implement . They will explore the relationship of these skills to the Winter Games events of skiing, skating, and hockey.
PE Central Activities:
- Skiing Pathways:
- On the Move:
- Fire and Ice:
- Hockey Highway:
Math: Children are fascinated with the concept of time. To reinforce number identification, introduce children to the use of stopwatches and have them time each other in a few physical skills.
Art: Introduce children to the idea that a flag represents each country participating in the Winter Games. Show children flags from a number of countries. Ask children to design and draw their own flags on squares of white cloth. Attach to a Â¼ inch diameter-18 inch long dowel sticks and use the flags like ribbon sticks to design and create dances.
Another common practice in promoting physical activity through curriculum integration is the Shared Integration Model. In this approach, a lesson would include two distinct disciplines working together with a focus on the shared concepts. A lesson integrating physical activity with language would include practicing a skill taught in the language arts curriculum while also practicing movement skills previously learned in physical education class. An example of this approach is the Bounce to Spell (http://www.pecentral.org/lessonideas/ViewLesson.asp?ID=1084) activity that focuses on practicing spelling as well as manipulative skills. In this activity children practice weekly spelling words while also practicing dribbling, passing, and catching a ball.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (1998) has issued physical activity guidelines suggesting that young children should have an accumulation of more that 60 minutes, and up to several hours of physical activity each day to promote health and well-being. We also know that it is through movement and physical activity that young children learn about their world. integrating physical activity with other subject areas gives children more opportunities to move during the school day. Learning in all areas of the curriculum is increased as children have more opportunities to understand the relationships that exist across content areas as they transfer what they learn in one area to other environments.
To find more lesson ideas for learning through movement,
visit PE Central at http://www.pecentral.org/, or go directly to:
Classroom Teacher/Integrated Lesson Ideas:
K-2 PE Lesson Ideas:
- Boreham, C. and Riddoch, C. (2001). The physical activity, fitness and health of children. Journal of Sports Science, 19, 915-929.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2000). Promoting better health for young people through physical activity and sports: A report to the President from the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
- Corbin, C. B., & Pangrazi, R. P. (1998). Physical activity for children: A statement of guidelines. Reston, VA: NASPE.
- Epstein, L. H., Valoski, A. M., Vara, L. S., McCurley, J., L. R. (1995). Effects of decreased sedentary behavior and increasing activity on weight change in obese children. Health Psychology, 14, 109-115.
- Nichols, B. (1994). Moving and learning: The Elementary School Physical Education Experience. St. Louis: Mosby.
About the Authors
Eloise Elliott, Ph.D, is the Chair of the Health and Physical Education Department at Concord College, Athens, WV. She is a former kindergarten teacher and a K-6 physical education teacher. She is presently a Senior Editor for PE Central, a nationally acclaimed physical education website. Eloise is also creator and director of a web-based instructional module for intermediate age children on cardiovascular health, Healthy Hearts for Kids.
Dr. Steve Sanders is Chair of the Department of Health and Physical Education at Tennessee Technological University. He is the Editor of the Preschool Section for PE Central and author of the book Designing Preschool Movement Programs.
Published: February 2002