When you think about ways to improve student achievement, does providing students with physical activity come to mind? It should. Active students have better concentration, fewer behavior problems, and higher performance on reading, writing, and math tests.
Image from Active Living Research’s “Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance,” based on research by Dr. Charles Hillman, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
These two brain images, taken from the top of the head, represent the average amount of students’ neural activity during a test following sitting and walking for 20 minutes. The color blue represents lower neural activity, while the color red denotes higher brain activity in a given region. So students who walked prior to the test showed more brain activity.
Studies show that too many students spend too much time standing around in P.E. class. Innovative P.E. instructors are changing their curriculum to keep students active:
- Less emphasis on competitive team sports
- More emphasis on fun and lifetime fitness skills
- More focus on engaging all students, regardless of athletic ability
- Increased tracking of individual physical fitness with digital tools like FitnessGram
This isn’t your parents’ P.E. class. Trends in physical education include replacing rope climbs and kickball with:
School recess is a highly effective strategy for increasing physical activity among children, because it is a strategy that can reach every student every day. Because of that, all schools should adopt a “No Lost Recess” policy as part of their school wellness plans.
Here’s an example from one school’s recess policy:
- A minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity shall be provided by schools for all K-8 students daily. This requirement can be achieved through activities such as recess, dance, classroom energizers, or other curriculum-based physical activity programs. However, this time should complement and not substitute for the physical education program.
- Structured/unstructured recess and other physical activity (such as, but not limited to, physical activity time, physical education, or intramurals) shall not be taken away from students as a form of punishment. In addition, severe and inappropriate exercise may not be used as a form of punishment for students.
Recess helps a child’s ability to process information, pay attention, and remain on-task, so it should not be taken away as a punishment for unwanted behavior or unfinished class work. In fact, the longer the stretch between recess breaks at school, the higher the inattentiveness among students.
What comes to mind when we say, “Marketing food and beverages to children”? Go on, take a second and let some pictures pop into your head.
You thought of all the unhealthy stuff, didn’t you? The advertising campaigns that push sugary drinks with no nutritional value? Fast food? Cute talking animals that sell addictive crunchy things that stain your fingers orange?
What if we told you that you can use the power of marketing in the school lunchroom to improve kids’ eating habits? It’s proven:
- Moving and highlighting fruit on the lunch line increased sales by up to 102%.
- Naming vegetables and displaying the names with the foods made students select them 40-70% more often.
Here’s a look at 7 ways marketing can help you nudge students towards smarter choices at lunchtime:
Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but too many kids can’t or don’t eat it. Three out of four teachers say they teach kids who regularly come to school hungry.
Why should your school make breakfast a priority? Students who regularly eat a good breakfast:
- score 17.5% higher on standardized math tests
- have better attendance
- are more attentive and have fewer behavioral problems
- have higher graduation rates
- are more likely to be at a healthy weight.
Let’s be honest. It’s easier to sell kids on an idea when it’s already ingrained in pop culture—when somebody else suggests that it is the new big thing. So get out the blender.
A mountain of research suggests that healthy nutrition radically improves children’s cognitive function and measurable academic achievement.
We know that:
- Specific vitamins and minerals that our body obtains from nutrient-rich foods play a critical role in brain growth, development and learning.
- Staying hydrated is important—a drop of just 1-2% in body fluid can cause difficulty with math problems, slower processing, impaired short-term memory, and trouble focusing on a page of text or computer screen.
- Obese children show less brain activity, especially in the frontal cortex which is associated with attention, short-term memory tasks, planning and motivation.
We know that playing outdoors enables children to easily engage in both moderate and vigorous physical activity such as running, skipping, jumping, climbing, chasing, lifting, balancing—even digging, splashing, and building. Playgrounds and outdoor play equipment are substantial investments, and we design and build them with the expectation that they will sustain us for many years. But that doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about them once they are erected.
Whether you’re in position to begin planning for a new playground, tackle a substantial renovation to existing play space, or make just minimal additions or changes, the following best-practice design ideas are worth thinking about.
At Jump IN for Healthy Kids, we talk a lot about what employers, schools, child care centers, places of worship, community centers and youth service providers can do to facilitate healthy eating and physical activity within their organizations. There is no doubt that what happens in these places has substantial impact on the lives of children and their caregivers.
But ultimately, we want the healthy habits established in these places to spill over into family homes as well. You can make that happen by sharing what you’re doing—as well as other tips—with the families you serve. Whether you, your workplace, school, or child care center is already a role model for healthy living or just beginning the journey to improve, there are simple steps you can take to share tips and influence the lives of children and families you know.
These two brain images, taken from the top of the head, represent the average amount of students' neural activity during a test following sitting and walking for 20 minutes. The color blue represents lower neural activity, while the color red denotes higher brain activity in a given region. Image courtesy of Charles Hillman, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as printed in Active Living Research's "Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance."