Allow me to ask three questions, each having the same answer, I believe.
1. “What is the most important tactic in our fight against childhood obesity?”
2. “How can we improve childhood learning in the classroom without cramming any more fact-memorization into an already bulging curriculum?”
3. “What will cause kids to ‘behave’ better during classroom instruction, having nothing to do with teacher-enforced discipline?”
Exercise. Before and during school.
Largely as a result of budget constraints and the pursuit of higher Standardized Test Scores, most schools have eliminated exercise (“PE”) from the student’s day. Bad idea.
Sope Creek Elementary School in Cobb County has reintroduced exercise into the school day, mostly before school, but yes, even at the expense of some classroom time during the day, improving test scores and classroom behavior along the way. Any good parent knows that kids must move … to behave, to grow, to be happy. Furthermore, as a community it’s time we attack the greatest threat to current and future generations of Georgians … childhood obesity (for more information, see the state-wide initiative known as GA Shape – we are making a difference).
Here’s what Sope Creek Elementary did, organized by Principal Martha Whalen, Coach James Hunt and Coordinator Shawn Maloney: (1) began a 20 minute Zumba class before school, (2) ensured that all kids, every school day, had at least 30 minutes of exercise while at school, typically in a low-cost activity like running, shooting hoops, or playing hand-ball with a dodge ball, and (3) made it fun (!) for the kids. All kids that I saw and spoke to, of all ages and backgrounds and body types were thrilled to be moving. It was way more about the moving than the specific exercise, although everyone loves Zumba.
Here’s what happened: kids now race off the bus to the Zumba room; kids compete with self to improve their running time or distance; absenteeism declined; 5th graders teach the Zumba moves to 4th graders, who teach the 3rd graders; the song/dance repertoire was 5 songs, now 20; the kids are more calm and attentive in class; standardized test scores were already high in the school, and got measurably higher.
In fact, as fitness improved for a child (as measured by a simple schoolyard aerobic-capacity test) scholastic aptitude improved (as measured by CRCT tests). That finding is not new … read “Spark” for more information.
All ages should heed Sope Creek Elementary’s insight. We humans must move … to behave, to grow, to be happy … regardless of age, but especially when young.