60 Minutes of Exercise a Day and Time to Play
Can we make this happen for our kids???
By Pamela Settle
When I was a young girl, I read all the “Little House on the Prairie” books and remember thinking how different it was that the kids back then were happy to get an orange, a wood toy or a rag doll for Christmas. Toys and electronics were not in abundance like they are today; kids had to use their imaginations to make up games. When I was a little older, kids in the neighborhood congregated at the local parks getting there on their bikes and living by two rules: don’t get into trouble and be home by dark.
Times have certainly changed. Today we have:
• Moms who are being arrested for allowing their kids to play in a park without parent supervision.
• More homes with two parents who work outside the home and more single parent households.
• Kids who are supervised from being dropped at the door for before-school care to being picked up at the door of after-school care.
• Kids who are scheduled to participate in organized activities like karate or soccer that have rules, but have little time for unsupervised, creative free play with other kids.
• Kids who spend their free time on electronic devices.
• Kids who don’t get 30 minutes of physical exertion a day, let alone 60.
• Students who don’t get vigorous physical education every day at school. (Pinellas County schools went to a three-day a week schedule at the start of the 2013-14 school year.)
• Students who don’t get recess during the day.
Certainly, this list could be much longer when looking at some of the reasons why life has changed for kids growing up in the 2000’s and why they don’t have the time for physical exercise or the freedom to nurture their creative selves, develop their independence and Just. Be. Kids.
This lack of unstructured play, outside with other kids, is having serious consequences. Kaboom!, an organization with the mission of advancing play and playgrounds in the U.S. warns that the lack of play is causing physical, intellectual, social, and emotional harm to our children. They spell it out on their website:
Physical harm: In neighborhoods without a park or playground, the incidence of childhood obesity increases 29%.
Intellectual harm: Without ample play, we will continue to see a decrease in creativity and imagination, as well as vital skills including curiosity, social skills, resiliency, and the ability to assess risk. Children in China, Korea, Finland, Singapore, and Japan are provided with playful schooling opportunities prior to second grade and have among the highest scores on international PISA exam for 15 year olds, ranked (1, 2, 3, 5, 8) respectively. The U.S. was ranked at #13.
Social harm: Children who don’t play don’t learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, and advocate for themselves. The lack of these skills has dramatic long-term effects. Children deprived of play show increased problems with social integration, including a greater likelihood of felony arrests by young adulthood.
Emotional harm: Studies have shown that schools without recess face increased incidence in classroom behavioral problems, including violence and emotional outbursts. Their students show a lack of ability to interact with peers and authority figures. Outside the school, play deprivation can have serious long-term consequences. Physician, psychiatrist, and clinical researcher Stuart Brown, studied more than 6,000 felons and found that 90% of convicted murderers lacked “play features” in their childhoods.
Just across the border in Canada, Dr. Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta has been studying the role peer-peer play has in the development of social competence since 1990. He says the experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain, and without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.
“It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans, and solving problems,” says Pellis. “So play is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.”
He went on to say that in order to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of free play. “No coaches, no umpires, no rulebooks.”
The parent is key here. With so much emphasis on structured activities for children in our communities, a parent needs to be intentional about creating free play opportunities by making it a family scheduling priority. The good news is that adults need more play in their lives, too, so joining in on the sandcastle building project or being the volunteer convict in the cardboard jail can go a long way toward creating happy kids and happier parents. It goes against the grain of our uber social expectations that drive us toward over-scheduling our kids in the name of raising successful young people. This trend, however, could be causing the exact opposite result by stunting creativity and social skills.
Getting to 60 Minutes
The addition of free play can help to increase the time that kids are getting exercise if the play is vigorous, like a game of tag. So while play can lead to exercise, the two are not necessarily going to happen at the same time because the goal of play is to be free of expectations. Making sure all kids get the recommended 60 minutes of exertion every day takes planning and commitment on the part of parents, schools and the community.
The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) holds the position that schools are ideal for influencing children’s health through improved physical activity participation, because school is where most children spend the majority of their time outside the home. The United States Department of Health and Human Services, along with public health and medical organizations, has called for schools to step up their game when it comes to increasing physical activity. This however, comes at a time when school districts are under increasing pressure to increase graduation rates and test scores for academics.
Physical activity has been proven to increase learning potential, however, the recommendations for schools under their plan are difficult to meet in the current climate.
AAHPERD has compiled a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP) for schools to follow in order to reach the nationally recommended 60-plus minutes of physical activity for each school day.
The five components of a CSPAP are:
1. High-quality physical education.
2. Physical activity during school.
3. Physical activity before and after school.
4. Staff involvement.
5. Family and community engagement.
In the spring of 2013, the Pinellas County School District started the move toward revising class scheduling for elementary schools to have three 50-minute classes a week for P.E. instead of five 30-minute classes a week. Both schedules meet the state requirement of 150 minutes of P.E. per week, which is half the recommended 60 minutes per day.
With no recess, children aren’t moving on at least two days a week during the six-hour school day. If this situation doesn’t change, and there aren’t signs that it will anytime soon, parents need to find other ways to ensure their children participate in activities that increase heart rate on a daily basis.
For busy working parents, one way is to choose an after-school program that intentionally includes activity into the daily schedule. One provider of after-school programs is ‘R Club. According to their executive director, Art O’Hara, their programs have a minimum of 30 minutes of planned outdoor time daily including: organized large group games like kickball, obstacle courses and four square and sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer, relay races. Also on their list are music and movement, Wii Dance, indoor “crab” soccer and yoga. “While some of the activities are competitive in nature, it is not the focus. We spend a great deal of time working on sportsmanship, cooperation and inclusion. The kids really seem to take to that and the parents appreciate it.”
Children who do not attend an after-school program with physical activities need their parents to get them moving every day. Participating in a youth team sport like baseball or football may not provide enough actual conditioning or exercise. Learning a sport is a wonderful experience, however it should be part of a comprehensive and diverse set of physical activities that develop the whole child.
Each city in the county has a recreation department with a wide variety classes, programs and events that are more affordable than private offerings. For unincorporated Palm Harbor, the City of Dunedin offers a discounted family pass because the non-resident rate can be cost prohibitive. “The county used to provide vouchers for unincorporated areas to help families, but they stopped doing that,” said Terry Trudeau, superintendent of recreation for the City of Dunedin.
Dunedin also participates in a reciprocal agreement with Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, and Oldsmar. This means that families with a recreation card for their city can receive the same resident cost breaks at the other recreation centers. Good news for residents of the smaller cities like Oldsmar who have limited funds for recreation programs. So for example, Oldsmar residents can drive to Safety Harbor or Dunedin to participate.
Like many other recreation departments, Trudeau says they are constantly looking to expand programs to meet changing recreation needs. Not every child wants to or can play a team sport. Plus parents and children are looking to do things together. Her department has recently added archery, which is open to anyone over the age of eight. Cardio tennis (for 14+) is popular with teens who want a fun workout without the commitment to a team. For the younger ones, there are new Pre-K sports opportunities on Saturday mornings.
Recreation departments throughout the county offer opportunities to be active without significant time or financial commitments. Parents can look through their city recreation catalogs to identify activities that will build different skills like balance, throwing, jumping, running, swimming and eye-hand coordination. City parks can offer other types of exercise, including many of the skate parks in the county, walking/running/biking trails, equipment for climbing and even water access for kayaking or stand up paddling.
Pinellas County is full of opportunity when it comes to meeting the 60-minute a day goal for activities. From St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs, parents can find outdoor activities, recreation classes, team sports, private lessons, parks and trails. Whether it’s supervised or free creative play time, the time is well spent as together we build strong and healthy kids and create healthy and happy families.