How Much Physical Activity Does a Child Need?

According to the Centers for Disease Control,  children and adolescents should do 60 minutes or more or physical activity each day.

Increasingly, educators have become concerned with how much students are sitting throughout the day.   With a focus on standardized tests, young children are being subjected to curriculum that some feel is not age appropriate.  Teachers have been saying this for years now (since the adoption of Common Core) and only recently has a national research project supported what was considered anecdotal data by educators.

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Children at play, Image courtesy of Morguefile.

What Does the Research Say?

Study Snapshot: Is Kindergarten the New First Grade”  published on January 6th, 2016 outlines changes that have occurred in early elementary education.   The new focus is on academic skills and a reduction in opportunities for play.  Educators and psychologists of children at this age group are very concerned about the implications this has for students and their learning experiences.   As state mandates force teachers to push kids toward those skills – the ones on the tests – that leaves less time for play, recess, and physical education.    Type in a question to google about the importance of play in kindergarten and you will find no shortage of scholarly articles espousing the benefits of play based learning and physical activity for our youngest learners.

Some of these articles are more dire than others, like the U.S. Department of Education study titled “Crisis in Kindergarten.” This 7o page document outlines the research and suggests, among other things, that parents take action to:

  1.  Restore child-initiated play and experiential learning with the active support of teachers to their rightful place at the heart of kindergarten education.
  2. End the inappropriate use in kindergarten of standardized tests, which are prone to serious error, especially when given to children under eight.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) also takes a strong position on play in early childhood.  Many of these organizations are responding directly to changes in districts that have resulted in the loss of recess, kindergarten and teacher-guided play in the classroom.

As parents and educators, it may be on us, as “Crisis in Kindergarten” suggests,  to save programs that get kids moving and playing.  Districts are under immense pressure from state governments to impose standardized tests that align with the state adopted standards.  This pressure can push out other aspects of traditional early childhood curriculum, like music, art, and physical education.   It can be tempting to reduce these so-called non-core classes to make room for subjects that are explicitly tested.

Child psychologists suggest that abandoning play-based learning can have consequences.

According to studies by NASPE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), attending physical education classes is directly related to better academic performance and attitude toward school. Physical activity promotes brain function and psychological well-being, reduces anxiety, and increases overall energy and attention span.  (Source:  http://www.sparkpe.org/blog/implications-of-removing-physical-education-from-school/)

What can you do?

Let your local school board know that programs like P.E., Music, and Art are important.  Contact your state representatives about how state tests are being used in your schools, and encourage the reduction of tests.   Even the newest education act (ESSA) has suggested that there are too many tests, but has left the testing decisions largely up to states.

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