Oh, right . . . fitness. Am I the only one who needs reminding about this? When it comes to my family’s health, lots of things manage to get my attention regularly. Runny noses serve as a reminder to pick up orange juice at the store. Meals, with their various health implications, get made every day. Sleep routines come around daily. Doctor’s offices call every few months about check-ups.
But fitness, poor fitness. Yes, I know: that squish where I’m supposed to have muscles and all my labored breathing climbing stairs signal something. But I have a hard time connecting those things to my family as a whole. I’ve never been the athletic/organized-sports type, so the devil on my shoulder whispers that my child is fine. Kids’ natural state is running around and playing, right?
Except that my kid, like most children, isn’t in a natural state. She’s in school and, often, the house or other places where running and playing have their limits. And even an anti-jock like me can see the ways regular exercise makes life better. When my kid—or her dad or I—get the chance to be active, moods improve. We all breathe a little easier, pay more attention to one another, and just feel better.
So I know it’s important, and I get that physical activity affects my kid’s health and wellbeing, even her ability to succeed in school. But how can I make this as routine for us as vegetables on the dinner plate and lights out at 8:00?
There’s no one answer that’s right for every family, but for me, I’m glad to see schools trying to help. Texas law requires 135 minutes of exercise in elementary school each week. But a lot of kids only go to P.E. once or twice a week and recess can be short. That’s why districts like Austin ISD have found some creative ways to incorporate exercise into other parts of the day. My child’s kindergarten teacher might use a lesson about caterpillars as an opportunity for active dance, where kids act out the motions on the way to becoming a butterfly. In a lesson about forests, they might pretend to hike through one, walking fast with big steps in place. Between lessons, kids might take a “brain break,” like some jumping jacks or arm-flapping. And our monthly school lunch menu comes home with suggested homework for the family—a “health challenge” like graphing how many push-ups we can do in a month and seeing if we feel stronger at the month’s end.
When I was a kid, I think the only information my parents got from the school about my fitness was a certificate showing how I’d done on something called the President’s Fitness Challenge. Remember that? Since the 60s, kids have been doing things like sit-ups and pull-ups in gym class to show whether they’re in shape. That test is in its last year now, set to be retired because scientists no longer believe that measures of athletic performance are the best way to help families and schools understand student fitness. Instead, what’s helping districts like Austin come up with plans for activity in the school day—and letting them inform parents about things they can do to improve their children’s health—is a program with an accompanying report card, called FitnessGram. It comes from Texas, is in all Texas schools, and next year, will be the gold standard for the rest of the country, too, when the outdated president’s challenge goes away.
I got to speak with Michele Rusnak, physical education supervisor for Austin Independent School District about this. She told me, “FitnessGram not only acts as a guide for our physical education curriculum and for families who want to understand their children’s fitness. It also leads our schools to create the kind of environments where more kids can grow up in better health, resulting in academic improvements, too.”
I’m going to keep working on how to add more exercise to our routines at home and keep an eye on what’s happening at school. But there’s one more thing I can do today without breaking a sweat. I’m contacting a few lawmakers in the Texas legislature, who are deciding right now whether to keep FitnessGram in our schools. They should hear that Texas parents think it’s a good idea. Won’t you join me?
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Christine_Sinatra.jpg[/author_image] [author_info] Christine Sinatra is the communications director for Texans Care for Children and mom to a kindergartener. Her past experience includes working as a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and the Oakland Tribune company, being a Peace Corps volunteer for high school girls in Africa, and studying at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.[/author_info] [/author]