Obesity Solution – Let Them Play!

Yesterday I rode to school with my two youngest children on our bicycles. They are usually dropped off and picked up near the school gate by car, as with most families. Two interesting experiences resulted from this that caused me to think.

Firstly, it was amazing how excited my two children were about the prospect of riding to school. When I told them the night before, my youngest reacted as if I had just announced that Santa Claus was coming twice this year! In reality it is possible that they could ride to school every day, but like most modern parents, my wife and I are a bit fearful of safety concerns.

Ironically the distance to their school is comparatively closer than any of the schools I went to, and I rode my bike to school most of the time from about Year 2 onwards, and sometimes I even walked! High School was about 4km from my home, (which is twice the distance of our ride yesterday) and you know what?

I was allowed to walk home. I enjoyed the EXERCISE. So I learned something from this bike-riding experience – I need to find ways of letting the opportunity to ride or walk to school become more the norm.

Secondly, we arrived just on the bell and I was there during all the hussle and bussle of kids entering their classrooms. I heard a child being greeted tersely by the teacher because he came into class slightly sweaty, and out of breath after RUNNING around and PLAYING before school started. The child was chastised – “How many times have I told you [name] not to run around before school because you then come into class all hot and bothered!” I’d like to point out that this is also at a school, like many, where children are not allowed to play on the playground equipment before and after school for safety reasons. 

I can’t remember ever being chastised at shool for running around and playing before school starts. I remember even as a high school student playing some form of sport during the lunch hour, in the Brisbane heat, then going to class quite sweaty, yet it was never a problem. I was disappointed that this teacher would react in the way she did.

I continued to think …….

The 2007-08 National Health Survey results indicate that “24.9% of children aged 5 – 17 years are overweight or obese”(http://www.healthyactive.gov.au/internet/healthyactive/publishing.nsf/Content/overweight-obesity).  Our solution to this problem, through our elected governments, is to throw millions of dollars into programs to combat this epedemic.

Many of these are wonderful programs, some of which I am familiar with, aimed at teaching good nutrition and the benefits of regular exerice. However,  I would argue that complex problems don’t necessarily need complex, costly solutions. Often what is needed is lots of little things done well. Sometimes the solution may be right under our noses.

Here is one simple idea –

How about letting kids play before school starts?

What do you think?

Let them run around and get a little sweaty. I know the concerns are often about safety. Schools are concerned about liability risks if a child injures herself in the playground – hence the reason these restrictive rules exist. How sad is that!

My younger brother at the age of six broke both his arms simultaneously in a playground incident, and I don’t recall my parents engaging a solicitor to sue the school!

Once the plaster was off, both arms worked again – no lasting damage, only a lesson in being more careful was taught! May I suggest that we all just bear the slight risk of potential injuries for the greater good – that of encouraging our children to be more active and play.

With statistics showing that 1 in 5 children are overwieght or obese, I would suggest that this is a greater risk to our children’s health than a fracture or grazed knee.

Here is another simple idea – instead of the annual ride or walk to school events, how about we as parents and as a community find ways to make walking and riding more frequent and acceptable?

Not only will it potentially help battle this scourge of obesity, but research also shows that exercise improves the performance of the brain and aids learning (a good book on this topic is “Spark” by Dr. John J. Rateyhttp://www.bookdepository.com/Spark-Dr-John-Ratey/9781849161572).

I wonder if that teacher would be happier having a few sweaty kids in her class if she were to embrace the idea that running and playing before school can actually improve their receptiveness to learning and (as I say to my youngest), get their “jiggles out” so they can better sit and listen.

Maybe it sounds too simple. Maybe I am too simplistic in my thinking.

What do you think? Do you have any other crazy ideas like mine?