Sport will develop all of the attributes necessary for an individual’s mental and physical well-being, and yet the benefits of physical exercise in schools are often overlooked, and Games and Sport side-lined as an optional extra in the curriculum.
The development of sport within schools does not require government appointed Sports Tsars, sporting role models attending Speech Days, or the use of independent schools’ playing fields during holidays. The true integration of sport into children’s lives is about giving all children from nursery through to sixth-form the chance to exercise on a daily basis. When opportunities for PE, Dance, Games and Sport are part of every school day, all children can take pleasure in physical activity from an early age and grow up seeing exercise as part of everyday life.
Activities do not need to be challenging, complicated or linked to specialist programs. Physical activity in childhood is a natural state of affairs. When children and young people see it is normal to cycle or walk to school, climb trees, go swimming, walk the dog, bike to the shops, play active games in the school playground and roller skate or skateboard in the park, they are more likely to incorporate exercise into their daily routine and less likely to be at risk from obesity, diabetes and poor general health.
The more children and young people participate in sport, the more confident they will become in their ability, increasing the likelihood of further activity, which will improve their skill level and further reinforce motivation.
Activities that could be organised easily in schools would include: –
- Liaising with other schools to share sport taster days, specialist facilities and resources.
- Sharing input from enthusiasts within schools. Asking parents and grandparents to introduce and demonstrate the sports they particularly enjoy.
- Showing videos of different kinds of sports, for example: martial arts, skate boarding, speed climbing, synchronised swimming, cyclo-cross and parkour.
- Organising visits to, and social events at, sporting venues: bowling alleys, go-kart tracks, ski domes, equestrian centres, archery and golf ranges, climbing centres or ice-skating rinks.
- Establishing a loan system that enables pupils to borrow equipment from school, or selling off any old, but still usable, PE Department stock to boost school funds.
- Providing opportunities to try out different kinds of dance: disco, tap, street dance, salsa, dance mats, country dancing, swing, line dancing or hip hop.
- Promoting a variety of indoor games: 5 a side hockey, Football Rounders, French Cricket, Table Tennis, Korfball and Walking Netball.
- Setting up orienteering courses around the school grounds.
- Using of a variety of equipment during playtimes to practise basic skills: Velcro mitten and ball sets, juggling balls, boom bats, badminton sets, stilts or foot pots. Hopscotch grids, hoopla, skittles and hoops. Frisbee throwing and catching games. Boules. Skipping and French skipping to teach the children simple and more complex skipping games.
- Encouraging lunch time supervisors to organise physically active games: Hide and Seek, Chase, It, Grandma’s Footsteps, Piggy in the Middle, What’s the time, Mr Wolf, Mr Crocodile and Follow the Leader.
- Setting up circuits in the playground: ten star jumps, twenty skips, five runs across the playground and ten press ups.
- Teaching young children traditional songs and games that involve physical movement: Oranges and Lemons, Simon Says, The Farmer’s in his Den, I sent a Letter to my Love, Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and In and Out the Dusty Bluebells.
The long-term physical and mental benefits of sport are well documented. Exercise promotes fitness and fights off obesity, sharpens memory, boosts concentration, improves cognitive function and releases endorphins to ward off stress, anxiety and depression.