Learn to move, move to learn

essential

Learn to move, move to learn

Our children are not moving enough. That statement might prompt you to ask a number of questions — so what? Enough for what? How much is enough? Not moving brings with it a range of physical, psychological and emotional problems.

It hinders both the quality and quantity of our lives. If physical activity was a pill, it would be considered a wonder drug. Nothing comes close to boosting our homeostasis.

My point of reference is moving enough to maintain good health. I am not talking about training for performance sport. Indeed, many children in sport are actually moving too much and this poses some very different but equally severe problems. Any parent whose child is in a high-performance sports programme would do well to read the hard hitting Until It Hurts by Mark Hyman and proceed with caution.

But, back to the inactive majority. Medical professionals recommend that children should move at moderate or higher intensity for at least 60 minutes a day. Not being a medic, I am in no position to question the validity of this recommendation. I can question, however, whether issuing such guidelines, helps achieve the well-intentioned goal of ensuring that children move more. I doubt it will.

It is significant that the 60 minutes’ recommendation comes from the medical profession. Medicine is a discipline built on scientific rationality that diagnoses illnesses and cures them. The problem is that our behaviours are far more complex than that.

Any parent will report that telling a child to do this or that because it is good for them doesn’t really ‘cut it’. This is exasperating when one considers the timeline involved. The deferred gratification inherent in the idea of doing something now because it will hold you in good stead in 20 or 30 years’ time is a really difficult way of convincing 10 year olds to do something.

So, what do we need to do to increase the chances of our children growing into healthy, active, young adults? Spend a moment considering why you do what you do. Where do your preferences come from? How are your habits formed? We generally engage in activities that offer us either pleasure or purpose or a combination of the two.

To equip children with an activity habit, we need to examine the environment in which children experience activity.

Making progress

Unfortunately, the mission is hindered by a range of misconceptions. The first comes from overuse of the word – fun. Now, I’m no killjoy, but fun as an outcome trivialises physical activity whether it’s experienced in school (Physical Education) or sports clubs or informal settings.

Fun is largely superficial. By its very nature, it lacks depth and meaning. Fun lacks transformational qualities and it does a disservice to our children. Kids generally like learning and making progress. Progress brings a sense of satisfaction that provides both pleasure and purpose. So, if we want our children to enjoy being active, be it in sport, dance or health-related activity, they need to feel a sense that they’re getting better. And this means developing the core competencies that allow them to make sense of the activity.

We know that children who move well are much more likely to continue moving, and we also think that children who take part in a range of activities tend to grow into active, healthy adults. The implications of this are far-reaching. We have an obligation towards our children to ensure that they become physically educated; that they learn to be skilled and thinking movers. This does not sit at odds with other areas of learning. It is learning too.

Our children’s long term engagement in physical activity is an important matter. It’s about time that we treated it as such and used the same discerning eye we have for all other aspects of our children’s development. I hear too many parents talk about supporting their children (only) ‘if they are interested’. Imagine saying that about Maths. We need to stop treating this as a ‘nice to do’ and elevate its status to ‘need to do’.
(The author is programme director, LeapStart, Bengaluru)

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