It Takes A Village – Schools, Kids, & Health

Guest post by Greg Hayes

Everybody chips in

Village

Photo: Sebastian Yepes CC-By-2.0

This year, my kids will be going to a new school.  Their old elementary school is being torn down, and they’re building anew.  The first net-zero energy school in the nation; they’re doing it right.  Unfortunately, it’s being built right atop their old playground.  So the PTO met at the old school to discuss replacing the playground.  They’re getting a $5 million dollar school building, but there’s no money in the budget for a playground.

It’s no secret that rates of childhood obesity are skyrocketing.  On any given day, one can find the next news story about rising obesity among kids of all “developed” nations.  It’s a problem that cuts across ages, race, and economic status.  Yet while the curriculum at public schools is placing greater emphasis on academic performance, fitness and health are taking a serious back seat.  My own children have had physical education classes cut to twice weekly, instead spending more instructional time on reading and math.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Being a research chemist, I’m all about education.  Today, I’m a registered patent holder.  But back in elementary school, my favorite times of day were gym class and recess.

It’s also apparent that fitness and health are playing second-best to budget constraints.  The growing contribution of vending machine sales to school budgets, as well as shrinking funding for after school programs (or playgrounds) indicate that schools are taking less interest in fulfilling the non-academic needs of kids.  Unfortunately, several important truisms are being overlooked, in the rush to fill budget gaps.

Everyone (kids included) needs time each day for fitness.  It provides the opportunity to relieve stress, increases creativity, and teaches the routine of fitness and health.  Anyone who  has watched their children trying to deal with rising stress levels as testing requirements are mounting understands this conundrum.  All of the research on adults shows the benefits of even modest daily exercise to emotional and physical well-being.  Kids are no different.  Given time for fitness, they will focus better in the classroom.

After-school programs increase participation and involvement in education.  This keeps the kids engaged and interested in academic performance.  Even if their only motivation is to continue participating in their sport/activity/club, they are learning.

The sale of snack food items to fill budget gaps encourages the snacking habit, which almost certainly contributes to the rising obesity problems.  Much has been made about this in recent research, which indicates that kids are consuming nearly 30% more calories, just by virtue of snacking.  Whether the food in the vending machine is soda or wheat crackers is irrelevant.  It’s still extra calories.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  Since I’ve become a parent, I’ve begun to see the truth in this statement.  Children spend up to 8 hours of their day in a school setting.  Add in pre-school or after-school time or programs and that number can rise to 10-11 hours every day.  The influence educators have on their academic health is obvious.  What’s getting lost in the shuffle of testing requirements though is the influence on our kids emotional and  physical well-being.  Reversing the tide of childhood obesity will require parents stay engaged with educators, at both the teacher level, but also the school and district level.

The benefits of play, fitness, and exercise are being recognized in adults.  Even employers are making time for their workers to fit these into daily life, because it enhances productivity, creativity, and well-being.  Let’s not forget that our kids reap those rewards too.

Greg Hayes writes about fitting fitness into busy lives.  You can read more of his thoughts at Live Fit Blog, where he ruminates about fitness, parenting, and being mauled by little boys.

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8 Responses to “It Takes A Village – Schools, Kids, & Health”

  1. Anne says:

    @Greg, outstanding post. You nailed it on the head; schools are cutting PE programs, and feeding them junk. Not to say that the parents laying solid ground work, but outside sources certainly aren’t helping matters.

    BTW, I like your blog. I’ll come visit more.

  2. Tim H. says:

    I feel very blessed in that the Jr. High that my boys attend are very athletic. They have wonderful P.E. programs, and very good sports programs for a junior high.

    When they were younger, they had to go to day care, and while they spent alot of time playing outside, the food that they ate was horrible. Elementary school wasn’t much better.

  3. Greg says:

    Thanks guys. My wife and I were talking about this again today. Even getting playground equipment installed at their new school presents a huge challenge. It’s a massive problem.

  4. Todd says:

    @Amy – I agree, Greg does have a pretty cool blog.

    @Tim H. – I think that there is more opportunity for kids when they reach the Jr. high/middle school range because of the sporting opportunities. Here, the requirements for actual Phys. Ed. are very lacking.

    @Greg – Do you see the problem at your school as a budget issue, or perhaps one of liability? I’ve often thought that this is why some of the schools are going this rout.

  5. Greg says:

    @Todd – I’m inclined to think it’s budgetary. They’re more than willing to ‘let’ parents/PTO raise money for, and build, a playground. They’ll even take ownership of it once it’s built. They just won’t front the cash…

    Thanks to each of you for the vote of confidence. I appreciate the opportunity to participate.

  6. Todd says:

    That does sound budgetary.

    Thank you for writing such a great post. You are certainly welcome to come back.

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