Delightful Physical Education

 

This is a guest blog I wrote for @meaningfulpe – check out LAMPE for more good content on meaningful (and purposeful!) #physed.

Part 1 of this blog series on delight and physical education raised the question, how might 47158_150773548281336_8366218_n-1a physical education teacher lay ‘groundwork’ for delight (Kretchmar, 2005)? Before getting directly to some thoughts on that topic, let’s back up a bit and explore this notion of delightful or joyful movement just a little more.

I was fortunate to be boarding in the Rockies on a day where a foot of fresh powder had just fallen.  As one of the first people up the lift, it was awesome to hear – from all across the mountain – spontaneous cries of joy from those revelling in the snow.  We need this joyful  movement!  As Scott Kretchmar writes:

When movement is experienced as joy, it adorns our lives, makes our days go better, and gives us something to look forward to.  When movement is joyful and meaningful, it may even inspire us to do things we never thought possible (2008)

Imagine the two kids (mine) in the picture at the beginning of this blog having the following conversation:

“So, I was thinking of increasing my cardiovascular fitness by paddling these buoyant tools in the ocean.”  “Great!  I’ll join you, I need to work on my core strength anyways.”  “Yup – lookin’ to reduce my co-morbidity”  “You got that right – I don’t wanna get diabetes.”

Bwahahahahahaha! I know it sounds funny to say it out loud, but this is often how we treat movement and physical education.  The fact is, kids (and adults!) are motivated by joy and will work / play extremely hard to find it.  As a bonus, they’ll also get health, social, and academic benefits – among others.  If you want to see an example of this ethic in action, go visit a skate park.  There you’ll see people finding joy in learning, intrinsic motivation at it’s best and not a trophy or rubric in sight!

As teachers of physical education, one of our main goals or purposes should be joyful or delightful movement. So how can we ‘look for’ this in our practice? Going back to Kretchmar (2008), he posits:

“Children are built to move; they want to move. Almost anything can be turned into a grand adventure—catching, throwing, running, touching, enjoying rhythmic activities, and discovering ‘fundamental movement concepts.’ A teacher who has a gift for make- believe can, without much difficulty, become something of a Pied Piper of movement. Delight, excitement, intrigue, and usually considerable noise permeate the physical education setting” (p. 166).

So, how do we ‘bring the skatepark to the gym’, so to speak? First of all, movement must be honoured, not just used (Kretchmar, 2000). We want to move past a utilitarian or functional approach to movement (which does have its place) and help students appreciate and experience learning as potential sources of joy/ delight. Examples include (Kretchmar, 2005):

From mechanically correct to expressive movement

From effective to inventive to creative movement

From  movement as obligation to movement as part of your own story

From fear and avoidance to accepting and overcoming a challenge

From thinking to spontaneity

I believe that we can encourage these types of shifts by providing a rich learning environment for students to play in, creating a culture of honoured movement, reflecting on our own practice and, perhaps most importantly, having students reflect on their practice and journeys of joyful movement.

Look for sweaty, smiling faces.

Look for grim-faced determination followed by quiet satisfaction.

Look for meaningful social interaction.

Look for focus – the ‘tongue out of the side of the mouth’ kind.

Look for failure, then some more failure followed by overcoming a realistic challenge.

Look for joy.

 

Something is very wrong…

I recently became aware of two very different stories about children and physical activity. The first was a Facebook video of a young kid cruising around in a parkour gym. If you haven’t seen it – check it out – it is worth the 1:14 min. What a great place for kids to play, learn and move! Check out the movement skills of that boy! And, kudos to the wonderful instructor leading the class – love the clip with the kids jumping to a box and grapping his feet for stability.

A couple days later and this story hits the inter-web: School district bans game of tag to ‘ensure physical, emotional safety of students’. (Spoiler alert: tag is now back at Mercer Island School District after the outcry – yay.). The rationale given by the communications director was:

“The Mercer Island School District and school teams have recently revisited expectations for student behavior to address student safety. This means while at play, especially during recess and unstructured time, students are expected to keep their hands to themselves. The rationale behind this is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students.banning-tag

Let me go out on a limb here (properly harnessed in, of course) and let you know what probably happened.

Random kid: Julie pushed me.

Other random kid: Ryan pushed me.

Not so random Principal: That’s it – no tag for anyone! Everyone must keep their hands to themselves. In fact, why don’t you sit on your hands all recess for good measure (ok, that part might not have happened).

Unfortunately, over the last few years there has been no shortage of these type of events:

This School Banned Cartwheels, Tag, Balls, Fun at Recess

The School That Won’t Let Students Play Tag or Hold Hands

Children Banned from Playing Tag in School Playground

Toronto School Bans Hard Balls

I could go on with even more, but I think you get my point.

From what I can tell, each of these “bans” springs from an incident or two where someone gets hurt (in the Toronto case it was a parent who got a concussion from being hit in the head with a soccer ball…). If this is the way we handle inappropriate behaviour in schools then would someone please answer these questions?

If a kid gets stuffed in a locker – do we ban all lockers from the school?

If a kid throws an eraser in class and hits another kid in the head (like my friend and I did to each other for most of grade 5…) – do we ban all erasers from the school?

If a group of kids is too rowdy when they work on problem solving in math class together – do we ban group work?

NO!

Why do school staff (and some parents) go for the kneejerk reaction and frickin’ ban everything? Why don’t they just do what they do in all these other cases and DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM. We have enough issues with children not moving enough, not engaging in free play and not interacting with each other enough without putting even more constraints on them…

If anything, we should have MORE active play and student interaction at recess – the Lord knows they spend enough time in front of screens not interacting. Hmmm, here’s an idea – how about MORE physical education classes taught by qualified, trained professionals who can help TEACH social skills and appropriate behaviours for playing together in and out of class. Booya (does anyone say that anymore?) – problem solved.

UnderPressureCarl Honore shares a story in his brilliant book (which you should buy), Under Pressure: Rescuing our children from the culture of hyper-parenting, from the Secret Garden nursery school in Eastern Scotland – the first outdoor nursery in Britain. A group of 3 year olds had spent the day in the woods; helped by the adult in charge, they built a fire to ward off the chill. Wee Magnus Macleod reached in with his bare hand and picked up a burning ember.

BAN fires! BAN bare hands! BAN outdoor nurseries! BAN three-year-olds!

Nope. Everyone stayed calm. Magnus’s wound healed. His mom kept him in the Secret Garden and also enrolled his younger brother. She said, “…the main thing is that Magnus is now very sensible about fire – he knows not to get too close to it. The truth is that there are risks in the world and that children benefit from being exposed to them within reason” (p. 240).

A couple months after “the incident”, Carl spent the day with the kids at Secret Garden. Guess what? It was cold. They gather material for a fire. Magnus volunteers to light it – using a Swedish firestarter (that has sparks up to 3,ooo degrees Celsius) and a piece of denim. He lights the fire successfuly and here is how the chapter ends:

A smile crawls across Magnus’s mud-streaked face.“ You have to be careful with fire,” he tells me, in an almost professorial tone. “But you don’t have to be afraid of it.” He trows another log on the flames and then whispers, as if to himself: “I’m not afraid of anything.” (p. 255)

Yup.

Rebranding

Rebranding

As some of you may know, I had the distinct pleasure of co-chairing the recent joint conference2015_CMYKHealth and Physical Education Council / Physical and Health Education Canada, National Health and Physical Education Conference – A Physical Literacy Uprising, in beautiful Banff, Alberta, Canada (let’s just go w #Banff2015 from now on though…). I could share a lot about #Banff2015: the 867 passionate delegates, the crazy and fun socials, the variety and diversity of sessions, and much more. In fact, for an overview of the conference, presenters and presentations, check out http://www.phecanada.ca/events/conference2015/program/workshops.

However, it is really hard to replicate a conference on a blog page. I would say impossible. Fortunately, with some collaborative effort from Brent at PHE Canada and one of our keynotes, I can share a video that I hope will make you think about the way you think about exercise and physical activity (read it twice, it makes sense, really, it does). We were privileged to have Dr. Yoni Freedhoff (@YoniFreedhoff) speak to us on Friday morning on the topic of:

Rebranding Exercise: Why Exercise is the World’s Best Drug, Just Not a Weight Loss Drug

The premise of the talk is as follows: By preventing cancers, improving blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar, bolstering sleep, attention, energy and mood, and doing so much more, exercise has indisputably proven itself to be the world’s best drug – better than any pharmaceutical product any physician could ever prescribe. Sadly though, exercise is not a weight loss drug, and so long as we continue to push exercise in the name of preventing or treating adult or childhood obesity, we’ll also continue to short-change the public about the genuinely incredible health benefits of exercise, and simultaneously misinform them about the realities of long term weight management. We need to REBRAND.

Please take a moment and view the video.

I would encourage you to watch the whole 39:13, however, if you want to skip all the research evidence, jump in at about 28 minutes or so for some key points and the summary.

You may wonder why we asked someone who mostly writes about nutrition and weight management (http://www.weightymatters.ca/ – highly recommended!) and is an obesity medicine doctor to keynote a conference called A Physical Literacy Uprising. The reason lies with the way we sometimes rationalize our work as PE teachers and Physical Activity professionals: childhood obesity.

“We need more PE to combat childhood obesity.”

“We need more PA to combat childhood obesity.”

I have even heard colleagues’ state that the obesity epidemic finally makes our jobs relevant and necessary – finally we will get the respect we deserve as a profession because we can FIX this. I couldn’t disagree more.

As Yoni states in his presentation, when we tie exercise to weight loss/control/management etc. we are committing:

A dis-service to exercise – we box exercise in as weight loss instead of highlighting all the other benefits of physical activity: sleep, co-morbidities, mental health, well-being, academics, joy, etc. This aligns with my own thoughts about WHY we need to move. Movement is worth so much more than the box(es) we often place it in.

A dis-service to quality weight management – people will try stupid things when they feel exercise has “failed” them in their goals (ie. Biggest Loser. To read one of Yoni’s scathing critique of that show, click here). Incidentally, this aspect is also linked with the fallacious idea that we need to be “fit” (or at least look that way) to be effective teachers of PE (more on that here!).

From a physical literacy perspective, we need only return to the original definition:

In short, as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition in which individuals have: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the lifecourse. (Whitehead, 2010)

I have read this and other definitions of physical literacy over and over and have yet to see weight loss, weight control, weight maintenance or any other iteration therein.47158_150773548281336_8366218_n-1

Quite simply – weight loss is not the motivational piece we are looking for to get kids (or adults) active, healthy and joy-full.

Let’s REBRAND EXERCISE and get it right*.

*My apologies to those who already “get it” and therefore do not need to rebrand. Please keep on being and doing awesomeness.

Two Wheeled Joy

387817_312352692123420_729312990_nMy lifetime love affair with the bicycle (in all its myriad forms) began at around 4 years old, I think.  My memories of learning to ride, although not complete, exist in flashes of colour, sound and touch.

Gold coloured bike

Conspicuously missing training wheels (gulp)

Hand on my shoulder

Reassuring voice in my ear

Greenness of the hedge flashing by

Reassuring voice NOT so close to my ear

Stolen glimpse over my shoulder of a rapidly disappearing figure

Feel of the gravel driveway on my skin

Taste of salty tears

Arms around my shoulders

Bum on the seat, feet on the pedals

Renewed trust

(Will you let go? I might!)

More green hedge

Straining to look forward and not backwards

Wind in my face

Freedom

A recent Globe and Mail article by Susan Rawley included the quote:

When I am on my bike, life couldn’t get any better.  Just like when I was 12.”

Susan’s middle-aged cycling adventure began from a desire for fun.  Those she meets on her bicycle often assume she is trying to get into shape, trying to deal with some health issue.  In her words,

“If they only knew how much fun I am having, how young and free I feel, how vital, they would get on their bikes too.”

Bike riding seems to provide access to our inner 12 year old like no other activity out there.   This young person within us does not care what she looks like, is not worried he will crash, adores the feel of the wind in her hair and is not afraid to get a little mud on his shorts or bugs in her teeth.  In the past few months of semi-spring in Edmonton, AB I have noticed the following “12 year olds” around town:

A silver haired lady riding her “Oma bike” no handed across a footbridge.

A tattooed man on a BMX, also riding no handed, listening to his music and drumming along (with actual drumsticks).

A man in a business suit riding leisurely down a completely straight bike path carving slow turns side to side.

A woman heading to the University (student or prof, I have no idea…) riding an old school cruiser and wearing a very pretty dress to go with an even prettier smile.

I have no idea of the motivation behind each of these individual’s choices to go for a ride.  Transport, fitness, health – doesn’t really matter.  Each of them was quite obviously experiencing the inherent joy and freedom that comes surprisingly easy on a bike.

No matter what type of bikes I ride – banana seat, 10-speed, cruiser, BMX, hard-tail, downhill, all mountain. 393633_312348655457157_1001564004_n

 

 

 

 

No matter what style of riding I do – paved, gravel, commuting, triathlon, single-track, free-ride, urban trials, skate park, bike park. 299710_284451321580224_2038219132_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

No matter who I ride with – family, students, teammates, friends, strangers, alone.200702_493437714014916_130855017_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy flourishes.  Two wheeled joy.  Wanna go for a ride?

Moved to Move

47158_150773548281336_8366218_n-1I have always believed in the importance of physical education.  Movement has been an integral part of my own life since I was a child.  As I grew up, went to school, tried to figure out my life (still working on that) and eventually settled on a career in education, physical education was always at the forefront.  2013 marks my 20th year as a physical education teacher and after nine career “adjustments” (new positions, new schools, new degrees) over this time span, two constants have emerged: physical education and working with children and youth.  Despite this long term committed relationship with PE it is only very recently that I have made the leap from thinking PE is important to a fundamental belief in the absolute, critical, elemental, life-changing and life-giving need for human movement.

Currently, the two most common arguments shared for increasing daily physical activity and advocating for more physical education include benefits to health and academic performance.  Here’s a quick overview:

  • Health Benefits: physical activity: is the #1 treatment for fatigue; decreases anxiety by 48%; decreases diabetes by 50%; decreases knee arthritis by 47%; decreases depression by 47% (these stats are from Dr. Mike Evan’s brilliant video entitled 23 ½ hours – there are many, many more stats like this!).
  • Academic Benefits: a research brief summarizing the relationship between physical education, activity and academic performance includes these findings: reducing PE time to increase classroom time does not improve academics; increasing PE can lead to improved grades; active kids tend to perform better academically; activity breaks improve cognition and behavior.

Awesome.  The more ammunition we have to advocate for quality physical education the better.  These are all valid reasons that should not (although often they are…) be ignored.

There is, however, one problem.  A BIG PROBLEM.  When all the focus is on extrinsic or functional rationale we miss two very important aspects of movement itself.

Aspect #1: Movement for the sake of Movement! Movement can stand on it’s own – it has inherent worth and efficacy all by its lonesome.  Consider this quote:

People perceive in order to move and move in order to perceive.  What, then, is movement but a form of perception, a way of knowing the world as well as acting on it? (Thelen, 1995)

Movement is essential to who we are as human beings and is absolutely critical to growth and development across the lifespan.  For example: infants who averaged 41 days of creeping experience were more likely to avoid a “visual cliff” (plexi-glass covered drop-off) than infants with 11 days of experience (Witherington, et al., 2005).  At the other end of the spectrum, women over 80 years old who participated in a targeted exercise program (strength and balance) had significantly less falls than the 80 year-old women who did not (Campbell, et al., 1999).  The health and academic benefits are a great bonus, but are really just an extension of how movement is part of our human identity and helps us negotiate the treacherous terrain of life.  Therefore, education should not be considered “whole-child” unless it includes education of the physical.

Aspect #2: The Intrinsic Joy of Movement I was fortunate to be boarding in the Rockies on a day where a foot of fresh powder had just fallen.  As one of the first people up the lift, it was awesome to hear – from all across the mountain – spontaneous cries of joy from those reveling in the snow.  We need this joy!  As Scott Kretchmar writes:

When movement is experienced as joy, it adorns our lives, makes our days go better, and gives us something to look forward to.  When movement is joyful and meaningful, it may even inspire us to do things we never thought possible (2008)

Imagine the two kids (mine) in the picture at the beginning of this blog having the following conversation:

“So, I was thinking of increasing my cardiovascular fitness by paddling these buoyant tools in the ocean.”  “Great!  I’ll join you, I need to work on my core strength anyways.”  “Yup – lookin’ to reduce my co-morbidity”  “You got that right – I don’t wanna get diabetes.”

Bwahahahahahaha! I know it sounds funny to say it out loud, but this is often how we treat movement and physical education.  The fact is, kids (and adults!) are motivated by joy and will work / play extremely hard to find it.  As a bonus, they’ll also get all the health and academic benefits.  If you want to see an example of this ethic in action, go visit a skate park.  There you’ll see people finding joy in learning, intrinsic motivation at it’s best and not a trophy or rubric in sight (you’ll also most likely see me laying at the bottom of the half-pipe after attempting to ride the wall…).

Want to advocate for physical education?  Want healthier kids and a less sedentary society?  Become a spokesperson and model for the inherent worth of movement itself.  Be a joy-seeker and find ways to allow others to find their joy through movement as well. As for me, I am off to the skate park!

This post was done as a guest blog for ParticiPACTION.

Made to Move

Welcome to Purposeful Movement!

This wee blog has been a long time coming but sometimes life just seems to get in the way…  I will be touching on a wide variety of topics (OK, sometimes more ranting than touching) with the common theme being movement of all sorts.  Physical education, for sure.  Sport, yup. Physical activity, yup. Physical literacy – you betcha.  Children and youth – absolutely (a bit of a specialty of mine).  Joy – wouldn’t miss it.  So, to kick this off and give you a bit of glimpse into my psyche (scary, I know), here is a poem I wrote for my Masters thesis.   Yes, I said a poem. Enjoy!

Child

For a fleeting moment, the child is still

Face dirty and smiling

Jeans grass-stained, torn, mended, torn again

Pockets full

Before the image really registers, the child is gone

A blur flying among the tall grass, fences and pastures

Free to explore and enjoy

Movement everywhere, in everything

Bikes, balls, trees, fields, swings, space

Pretending, feeling, building, creating

Work is play, play is work

Sweating in the late afternoon sun

Dirt clings but does not matter

All day he moves over the farm

Running, jumping, crawling, throwing,

Walking, creeping, leaping, rolling

The only constant is constant movement

Joy seeps through the dirt

Eyes are bright and expressive

Face mirrors mood

Reveling in the smallest accomplishment

Sharing success excitedly with any who will listen

At the end of the day he falls

Into a contented sleep

Dreaming

Of

Joy.

Yet to come.