Category Archives for Early Childhood

How Budget Cuts Have Created a Health Epidemic in Students

It’s no big secret that physical fitness is essential to living a long and healthy life, yet Physical Education is only mandatory in 8 of the 50 states. In the recent decade, the obesity epidemic in America has been at the forefront of health crises. It leads many to wonder, why are budget cuts toward Physical Education in schools so frequent?

The sad reality is that many K-12 school districts throughout the U.S. rely on high test scores to secure funding. Budgets are focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects, while “non-essential” programs like art, music, and physical education are overlooked.

Underfunding, or in some cases total defunding of these programs, is incredibly detrimental to developing children’s health and well-being. Budget reductions to physical education and after school programs have contributed significantly to creating a health epidemic in students across the country.

Daily exercise is crucial to the positive development of children’s bodies and minds. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that children ages 5-17 get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.

Sometimes, Physical Education class is the only way for children with busy parents to receive structured time for physical activity. Participation in after school sports or travel sports programs is a privilege not afforded to many. When kids lose out on the opportunity for exercise because of budget issues, they are affected in a variety of ways, both physically and mentally.

The problems that come with a lack of adequate exercise lead to irreversible mental and physical health issues, like cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes, depression, and other severe ailments that contribute to the ongoing health epidemic faced by young Americans every day.

How Budget Cuts Created a Health Epidemic in Students

Budget cuts are a stepping stone to a major health epidemic in American students. When government agencies slash physical education budgets, they think they’re saving themselves money. While this may be true in the short term, over time, it will wind up being much more costly than expected.

Childhood obesity is steadily on the rise annually, while heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women of all ethnicities. Every 37 seconds, someone in the United States dies of cardiovascular disease. Without access to physical activity in schools, that person could be any of these underserved children in the future.

Kids need daily exercise, or else they are at a higher risk of serious diseases. Additionally, a lack of physical activity can impact mental health and performance in school.

Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is steadily on the rise annually. According to the CDC, the number of obese young people in the United States has more than tripled since the 1980s. The CDC’s data from 2015-2016 found that 1 in 5 children aged 6 to 19 is obese. So what exactly are budget cuts saving government agencies? In essence, nothing.

Each year in the United States, $147 billion is spent on obesity-related healthcare costs. So while the impacts of physical education budget cuts might not be immediately apparent, it can lead to incredibly costly expenditures for public and private medical facilities in the long run. Childhood obesity has been attributed to several other long-term complications like:

  • High cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Impaired glucose tolerances or insulin resistance
  • Sleep apnea
  • Asthma
  • Joint and musculoskeletal problems
  • Liver disease
  • Acid reflux
  • Gallbladder issues
  • Depression and other mental health issues
  • Type 2 diabetes

By cutting off funding for programs that promote a healthy lifestyle, children are exponentially more likely to be at risk for childhood obesity and obesity-related illnesses.

Type 2 Diabetes

Because of the obesity epidemic, rates of Type 2 diabetes are rising at an alarmingly fast in children. Diabetes can lead to a plethora of severe health issues and, ultimately, death. Some of the complications and ailments brought on by Type 2 diabetes include:

  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Cataracts
  • Kidney failure
  • Nerve damage leading to amputation
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Clogged veins and arteries
  • High cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack

While diabetes is a manageable disease, there is still no guarantee of the risks and outcomes presented later.

Mental Health

The second leading cause of death in young people ages 10 to 24 is suicide. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are an increasingly concerning part of the health epidemic faced by America’s children today.

Boston Children’s Hospital estimates that nearly one of every eight children between the ages of 6 and 12 has suicidal thoughts. The fact that exercise can minimize the risks of depression and suicide in children and young adults is widely accepted. During physical exertion, our brains let out endorphins, which release the energy to keep us feeling good. Without regular exercise, children’s bodies and minds can suffer severely.

Depression also arises prominently in obese or overweight children, especially if they are teased or bullied. This can result in slipping grades and anger issues, furthering the cycle of depression.

What Kids Are Really Losing Out On

When kids don’t receive the recommended amount of daily exercise, their overall physical health and well-being are negatively impacted. Regular exercise promotes healthy lifestyle habits that continue into adulthood.

School health programs teach kids the value of nutrition and taking care of your body. Physical Education promotes increased endurance and flexibility, fine-tuned motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and strengthens muscles and bones. It also improves communication, teamwork, and critical thinking skills that are reflected in the classroom.

Lack of physical fitness leads to the ailments contributing to the ongoing health epidemic in our country. Childhood obesity leads to further health problems down the road and puts children at a higher risk of depression and suicide.

By cutting off funding to Physical Education programs in the United States, federal and state government agencies are directly contributing to the ongoing health epidemic in the country. Pennies can be pinched now, but lives can’t be saved later. Physical health should be prioritized in school systems before this epidemic becomes irreversible.

About The Author

Sandy Slade is the CEO & Founder of Skillastics®, the #1 large group physical activity resource. Skillastics® makes it easy to organize, motivate, and engage students to move, learn, and love it. Skillastics® is an innovative technique of play designed around an oversize mat where up to 100 children can play at one time. There are 13 different Skillastics® Activity Kit themes, ranging from general fitness, sport skill development, character enhancement, and academic integration, including STEM and nutrition.

The newest layer of Skillastics® resources includes 30-Day Virtual Physical Activity programs, including Fitness, Martial Arts, and Yoga.

Skillastics® is enjoyed by over 10 million students in more than 25,000 Physical Education and After School settings nationwide. For more information, email info@skillastics.com or check out www.skillastics.com.

Why Children Should Move (Staying Active)

Probably every parent will tell their children at some point to “move it or lose it!” Whether dawdling on the way out the door or just reluctant to give up screen time, it’s an excellent way to get kids to react. However, if we break down this idiom, we must ask, “What is lost if we don’t move?”

Given a choice to move or lose it, we’re saying that unless there is instant action, something will not return to you. As parents, we probably mean this as a loss of privilege (or our patience!), but it can also mean something much more straightforward. Unless you move, there is quite a bit to lose.

Losing It

The body requires activity to thrive. Healthy bodies mean we have the power to do the things we need or want to accomplish. Healthy bodies also mean we have sharp minds, powered by the right balance of nutrients and energy from a healthy body. Keeping strength up has everything to do with getting moving.

When the body is in motion, we are working on conditioning all the systems that keep us healthy. From circulatory and digestive systems to musculoskeletal systems, movement conditions our body to be in peak form. These systems of the body are interconnected so that one works best when the others are also in top condition. Total body health means these systems are all working in harmony and maintaining equilibrium so that the body can perform as it needs to.

The more you keep the body moving and building strength, the more the systems improve and function optimally. As the body gets stronger, even more activity can be sustained, furthering the system’s improvements and functions.

However, if you’re not moving, then you lose it, the strength and conditioning that allow the systems to improve and function at their best. The “it” is your health, so it’s vital to keep moving.

Why Children Must Move

It’s hard to change ingrained habits, so it’s best to start early with a positive attitude toward movement. Habits begun in childhood have a better chance to persist into adulthood. When children are taught skills that help them understand their body and relationship to activity, they are much more likely to be active adults. They will have the knowledge and experience to stay healthy once they are adults and responsible for their own choices.

Another genuine reason children engage in activities that move their bodies is that their physical development depends on their ability to strengthen their muscles. From large and small motor skills to the use of core muscles to sit and work in school, activity keeps children healthy. And healthy children are better able to learn. We know that a mind/body connection exists, and there is a link between cognitive ability and healthy bodies for school-age children.

Not much differently than adults’ bodies, children’s systems also work similarly. The more children exercise, the more their bodies’ systems receive optimal conditioning to perform all the work that kids must do. From schoolwork to playtime, kids are active, and as a matter of fact, we often consider childhood to be one of the most active times in our lives.

Climbing trees, jumping into puddles, running races against anyone willing to go for it, and biking with friends far and wide are mostly childhood pursuits. Once adulthood settles in, and work-life responsibilities take over, the ability to be active declines. The more children feel healthy and able to move, the more inclined they will feel about participating in childhood activities that mostly disappear by the time they enter adulthood.

Finally, when children are moving and staying active, they can prevent disease and problems related to weight. Children who are overweight suffer from a variety of ailments like diabetes or limitations brought by obesity. Also, these problems related to weight are vicious cycles because it’s much harder to move and get active when there is excess weight to carry. Many overweight children may avoid activity because it’s harder or feels embarrassed because they may not be able to move very well.

Putting It All Together

If they aren’t moving, then children have much to lose. Healthy children are those who can play and learn to the best of their capacity. It’s essential to ensure that kids have every opportunity to move and be active so that they can perform best, whether at school or playing with friends. The more children can move and learn ways to stay active, the more they can develop healthy bodies and sharper minds.

Sandy Slade is the CEO & Founder of Skillastics®, the #1 large group physical activity resource. Skillastics® makes it easy to organize, motivate, and engage students to move, learn, and love it. Skillastics® is an innovative technique of play designed around an oversize mat where up to 100 children can play at one time. There are 13 different Skillastics® Activity Kit themes, ranging from general fitness, sport skill development, character enhancement, and academic integration, including STEM and nutrition. The newest layer of Skillastics® resources includes 30-Day Virtual Physical Activity programs, including Fitness, Martial Arts, and Yoga.

Skillastics® is enjoyed by over 10 million students in more than 25,000 Physical Education and After School settings nationwide. For more information, email info@skillastics.com or check out www.skillastics.com.

Active Children and Development

The job of children is to play, and it’s a significant job for a reason. While it may seem frivolous to make-believe and drive a toy truck, pretending and playing serve a much bigger purpose for children, learning. As children develop, their mode of play may shift and change as they grow, but the best way for kids to learn will always be through play.

Learning Through Play

The way young children process information and make meaning operates very differently from adults. This means that while the linear thinking of an adult allows logical decisions to occur, children decide about the world around them on a much more subtle and diffused level. Through play, children will work out ideas or new concepts, almost like how an adult will noodle on an idea and brainstorm.

As children get older, their play develops more than just their cognitive abilities but also their motor skills. Older children’s playtime spends much effort to develop their large and fine motor skills by strengthening the muscles that allow these movements.

Importance of Being Active

Mobility such as balance and gait and skills like writing and dressing relies on smooth and controlled movements. The more children play, the more they gain strength in the areas of their bodies responsible for more sophisticated movements. Finger painting, Lego building, and clay model making all work together to prepare a child’s hand for writing, while jumping, climbing, and running build larger muscles in preparation for supporting the body as it grows.

More so, strong core support is vital for children. The overall support system of the body comes from core muscle strength in the torso and back, and this core support is most important when it comes to learning because children will need these muscles to sit correctly over a desk at school. When a child slumps or lacks core strength, learning issues could result as they cannot stay upright and perform tasks simultaneously.

If a child has to work harder to sit in place, hold a pencil, or keep pace with peers, school becomes exhausting. This exhaustion from a lack of strength can lead to learning gaps or delays as children with weaker motor skills struggle to control their bodies. School is more laborious, and learning becomes difficult.

The Missing Link

The importance of activity to child development is deeply tied to school performance. The more active children are in life, the better prepared they are to learn in school. Classrooms require long hours of sitting, thinking, and activities and children will need a combination of body strength to maintain their stamina.

The more children move and participate in a variety of activities, the more they can develop the appropriate strength required for learning. Programs and classes that allow children to move their bodies in new ways reach muscles that may not get regular use from a child’s typical day. These and other types of activities get children active, stronger, and ultimately perform better in school.

Activity Leads to Learning

Activities that get children moving also help identify when there are issues with motor skills or muscle tone. Children who may have subtle developmental differences could begin to show difficulty with large muscle movements like relay races, obstacle courses, or organized games. Children’s responses to activities can help spot physical problems that could eventually affect a child’s ability to learn.

The goal isn’t to expect all kids in the activity to excel and to flag when they are not in peak form, but to pay attention when the ability is low and look for changes over time. Some standard benchmarks can measure a child’s physical development and help predict any problems. These benchmarks, like the ability to run a certain amount or complete several sit-ups, help determine if children’s physical development is progressing. There should be improvements, and if not, then it’s possible to get timely interventions before any problems develop that could affect learning.

It’s not realistic to think all children should be top athletes, but it’s practical to get kids involved in activities that move them. The benefits of developing large and small muscle skills through playing sports or participating in other movement activities are great for academic success. While we don’t want to pressure kids to make the grade, we want to give them every opportunity to do their best.

Sandy Slade is the CEO & Founder of Skillastics®, the #1 large group physical activity resource. Skillastics® makes it easy to organize, motivate, and engage students to move, learn, and love it. Skillastics® is an innovative technique of play designed around an oversize mat where up to 100 children can play at one time. There are 13 different Skillastics® Activity Kit themes, ranging from general fitness, sport skill development, character enhancement, and academic integration, including STEM and nutrition. The newest layer of Skillastics® resources includes 30-Day Virtual Physical Activity programs, including Fitness, Martial Arts, and Yoga.

 Skillastics® is enjoyed by over 10 million students in more than 25,000 Physical Education and After School settings nationwide. For more information, email info@skillastics.com or check out www.skillastics.com.

10 Unfortunate Facts About Childhood Obesity

One of the saddest conditions for a child to experience is obesity. The discomfort from excess weight and the limitations that obesity causes are difficult to bear. Unfortunately, we are still a society in which this condition affects children more than it should.

We have the education, knowledge, and ability to do better, but childhood obesity persists. While the apparent consequences relating to cosmetic problems like finding appropriate clothing sizes and looking different come to mind, there are other reasons that we need to combat childhood obesity.

Problems Related To Childhood Obesity

  1. Long Term Health Problems. Childhood obesity may affect a child’s future, as well. There is every chance that obesity extends into adulthood, causing a host of social, emotional, and physical health problems. Whereas obesity affects development when young, the weight can cause significant damage to organs like the heart over time.
  2. Diabetes Risks Increase. Diabetes comes in two forms, and while one may manifest as a genetic condition, the other is an effect caused by obesity. Being overweight does not automatically ensure diabetes, but it’s a leading cause. Children who suffer from obesity are more likely to develop diabetes, a condition that is difficult to manage for adults, let alone a young child.
  3. Complications From Weight. The human body was not meant to carry excessive weight, and obesity stresses the whole system. From the bones and joints that bear the brunt of the weight to the blood vessels and heart of the circulatory system that must strain to pump through so much excess weight, obesity causes many secondary health issues for children.
  4. Damaging Self-Esteem. The emotional burden of childhood obesity is often a lifelong struggle. Children who suffer from obesity experience feelings of shame or embarrassment that affect their mental health. As these children grow into adults, many continue to carry negative emotions and maintain low self-esteem.
  5. Too Easily Occurring. Children today have more options for physical activity, but they also have increased access to unhealthy foods or sedentary hobbies that contribute to childhood obesity. Fast food deliveries and lower prices at fast food restaurants like dollar menus make it easier to choose these unhealthy convenience foods. The amount of time children spend in front of screens for homework, school, and recreation also means they move less overall. It’s almost effortless to end up with higher caloric intake and less physical activity.
  6. Parental Guidance Required. Children must rely on their parents for guidance, but despite so many sources of information for parents to reference, there is still a lack of understanding about childhood obesity. Many parents with children who suffer from obesity do not have all the facts about health and nutrition that they must manage to guide their children.
  7. Lack Of Options. For those parents who understand that their children are obese and at risk, they may not have many choices to combat the condition. Depending on their socioeconomic background, some families can’t afford the solutions that could counteract the factors leading to their child’s obesity. Other parents may not be equipped with the ability to parent through the necessary actions that must be taken to counsel a child who is obese.
  8. Social Media Shaming. The rise of social media means children today are always under a microscope; their lives unfold publicly. While there are many positive elements to social media, there is a dark side that comes from shaming or online bullying. For children who are obese, they may struggle further to feel confident or accepted within this medium. They also may attempt to compare themselves against false standards from manufactured images, worsening their feelings, and perpetuating their condition. Encouraging a digital detox will help remove your child from negative situations and inspire them to look elsewhere for entertainment.
  9. Stigma Of Weight. As much as we have seen cultural shifts in the perception of weight, there is still a stigma against obesity. Body positive movements have come a long way and made many inroads, but there is still a lack of acceptance for larger sizes, particularly in children. Our culture and society have stepped back from a narrow view that promotes thinness as representative for all, and more body types are finally recognized. However, obesity still gets associated with many negative stereotypes.
  10. Not Enough Change. Too much effort to embrace physical differences obfuscates the health effects of obesity. While it’s crucial to maintain good mental health, this should not come at the expense of physical appearance. It’s a delicate balance to accept that a child is obese and work to preserve the child’s mental health while also battling against the factors that contribute to the condition. Acceptance shouldn’t equate to permission but rather be the first step toward making changes.

A Complicated Condition

It’s difficult to believe that childhood obesity continues to exist as a health problem facing children, but that doesn’t change the fact that it does. We have the education, knowledge, and ability to do better. Parents, teachers, and students in society today must continue to understand and combat any factors that contribute to childhood obesity.

How Exercise Affects Mental Health

Our bodies really are a machine; an amazing and organized system that works hard to keep us going. Every function of our circulatory, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and other systems work in conjunction, relying on each other to create the incredible result that is the body.

Lifting that spoon of cereal to your mouth takes a host of functions that interact and coordinate to make it possible to eat. Remove one, and suddenly, cereal falls off the spoon or never even leaves the bowl. Everything must work together and function well.

So, we care for our bodies, and we exercise to keep the systems healthy. And, the sooner we start, the better the body develops into a healthier machine. That means starting fitness young is key.

Machine Care Instructions

If our bodies are a machine, then the heart is the engine and the brain is the power switch. Both are vital, but brain functions pre-empt the heart. While we need to stay active so our heart can run the systems relying on it, the brain is the on/off switch that keeps it going.

The brain not only guides our actions and behaviors but directs our body to perform every function, including the heart. It’s the onboard computer system that makes everything work together. For children, brain function is vital to development, and anything that affects a developing brain must receive due attention.

So, while much of fitness focuses on the physical body and heart health, this focus should not eclipse the importance the role fitness has on children’s mental health. There are major ways that exercise improves children’s abilities to think and feel, which is why this is such a vital and significant effect.

  1. Endorphins. There are powerful brain chemicals at work that stimulate nerves and flood our brain cells to get us going. These chemicals, endorphins, are responsible for moods and a general sense of being. They are powerful because the right amounts can escalate our energy so that we feel amped up and excited about life, or the opposite – drained of energy and feeling blue, dejected, or depressed. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins that keep us feeling good and give the positive energy responsible for our motivation and productivity.
  2. Hormones. Another powerful mix of chemicals in our body, hormones are mighty influencers on our physical and emotional wellbeing. From initiating to maintaining growth and maturity of the body, hormones are fascinating forces that benefit from exercise. Fitness keeps hormone levels in balance and prevents factors such as weight gain and restricted blood flow that can affect the release of hormone amounts.
  3. Oxygen. We take our ability to breathe for granted because it’s regulated by our autonomic nervous system so that we don’t have to think to do it—it just gets done, all the time, automatically. However, this is a key and vital function because it provides and distributes oxygen to our bodies. Exercise affects this delivery system by bringing in more oxygen, thereby sending out more. In this way, our brain receives big oxygen boosts during activity and functions at an even higher capacity. The more oxygen received, the better the brain works.

It’s a Balancing Act

With all the brain chemistry and systems operating in balance, kids’ brainpower performs at optimal levels. They are their best and brightest versions of themselves with proper amounts of every chemical swirling around as it should, in addition to the right quantities of vitamins and nutrients working hard as well.

Regular exercise affects these balances and levels, creating ideal amounts with which to regulate the body. True health means the body, as well as the mind, is functioning well.

Conversely, a lack of exercise can adversely affect children’s well-being. From bad moods to serious medical conditions like mood disorders, depression, or diabetes, the absence of exercise can exacerbate childhood illnesses or states of mind. Feeling negative can be a result of low hormone levels, a sluggish endocrine system, or the inability to process a high caloric intake of sugar or fat.

And, it can become a vicious cycle; feeling bad may lead to worse eating habits, weight gain, or activity avoidance, further worsening the problems. In this way, a lack of exercise and fitness puts children at risk for mental health problems that could become potentially life-threating.

While exercise is not a magic bullet that makes problems go away, it certainly contributes to better health and overall well-being in children. When children feel a physical sense of strength and fitness at a young age, they are more likely to maintain a strong mental capacity that is cognitively and emotionally balanced, making it possible for them to be their best selves, in mind and body.

Virtual Physical Activity - 5 steps on implementing an all-star program

Sign up for our FREE Virtual Physical Activity Training

>