Program "Spark"

"A strong body makes the mind strong."
-Thomas Jefferson

On the recommendation of many, I reviewed the book Spark today.  Essentially the book supports the fact that a strong, fit body creates the physical and emotional foundation for happy, healthy learners.

Schools historically have focused more on content than developing the attributes related to learning success.  Now, at this time of ready information access and content excess, schools are shifting to a focus on process over content.

Spark recommends that schools focus on process related to fitness as part of the overall school program since that process "improves learning on three levels: first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus."  In addition, physical fitness supports students' ability to avoid, manage and/or overcome issues related to stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD and other challenges.

What does this mean for your classroom and school program?  I suggest the following Spark-inspired actions:
  • Invest in physical education programs and trained physical fitness professionals to run programs for students and faculty, and to promote and manage healthy school environments. As Spark shows, the science of fitness is an extensive academic discipline that impacts every aspect of our lives--trained, passionate physical fitness professionals will bring that knowledge to life in school communities to benefit all.
  • Develop "healthy habits, skills, and a sense of fun, along with the knowledge of how their bodies work" in all students through formal and informal programming. This information and activity can be easily integrated into project base learning and skills exercises throughout the curriculum.
  • Institute "zero hour" fitness programs for all students to build daily fitness skills and habits. Start those programs with the most at-risk physical fitness students in your classroom/school.
  • Include only healthy food in all school endeavor. 
  • Focus physical fitness programs on personal best, effort and overall growth rather than a students' athletic skill in comparison to others.
  • Encourage a system-wide spirit of relentless investigation, learning and sharing with regard to information that can enhance school programs and efforts.  As with all areas of school life, encourage physical fitness professionals to learn; share their knowledge regularly, and use that knowledge to guide both students and faculty towards greater physical fitness. 
  • Look carefully at the way "gym" class is conducted in your school. Is every child involved or are those most in need sitting on the sidelines?  Are children building body confidence, awareness and life long fitness skills, understanding and habits?  Are students in gym classes developing skills related to collaboration, problem solving, communication and risk taking? How often are students' involved in physical fitness activities?
  • School roles can leave little time for personal health and recreation, it's imperative that systems re-look at work allocation and responsibility as well defined roles, responsibility and system-wide goals in order to create more time for employees' fitness and recreation.
  • The body needs to move, and movement helps people deal with stress in effective ways. Include and integrate movement into learning and recreational activities throughout the day.
  • Encourage students to wear clothes that foster ease with movement and physical fitness. Often students who are less fit will wear clothes that are more restrictive related to movement and physical fitness. 
  • Help students find the fitness activity they enjoy by offering exposure to many, many types of physical movement and recreation. Regular participation in these activities will help students become more aware and able to respond to their bodies in positive, beneficial ways.
Physical fitness correlates positively with academic performance, memory, concentration and classroom behavior.  With our current knowledge about the brain-body connection, schools would be remiss not to include positive programming related to physical fitness. 
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