Some schools are cutting the length of recess and reducing Physical Education classes in favour of more sedentary, rigid classroom learning. However, at a time when 1 in 4 Australian kids are classified as overweight or obese, the importance of maintaining 60 minutes of daily physical activity, as recommended by experts, has never been higher. Furthermore, there is a growing body of research confirming what teachers have long believed: physical activity does not need to come at a cost to academic performance. In fact, research has found that active kids perform better in schools. They also have a lower dropout rate. And, behave better than their sedentary peers. Some studies estimate this difference in grades to be as high as 40% between kids who exercise and those who don’t. Furthermore, in Primary school, children who undertake regular and quality participation in sport and physical activity show greater improvements in literacy and numeracy. This is because, research suggests that regular exercise releases chemicals to the brain that assist in memory, concentration and mental sharpness. Researchers are unsure whether these benefits are a result of fitness improvements, or due to the social interactions, stimulation and engagement of children in group sports activities. Nevertheless, the positive effects are clear. Furthermore, participation in games that are unpredictable and require problem solving, boost the brain’s ability to organise and act on information. There is no doubt that all of these processes are vital to classroom learning.
Participation in sport also increases self-esteem and confidence. Factors, which play a major role in learning. When children participate in sports, they feed off the accomplishments they achieve. For example, setting new personal bests, winning games and improving their skills. As a child’s perception of their abilities increases, performance increases. Also, kids learn that their skills improve with practise. Team sports help kids confront setbacks and obstacles without seeing it as a negative reflection of themselves. But, rather as a challenge to overcome. This transfers from the field to the classroom, and assists in adulthood with work and other successes. Self-discipline increases in children who play sports. This can be attributed to the instant feedback that child athletes receive about their decisions. When children see their hard work at training, pay off at a weekend game, this encourages them to put in the time and work to achieve in other areas. Often at school, it’s difficult for children to make this meaningful connection due to the delay between tests and receiving their results. Self-discipline is important for maintaining focus on school assignments. As well as, banishing procrastination, which ultimately leads to better grades. Further, young athletes are usually accustomed to setting goals, and learn that improvements take time, practise and hard work. Lastly, when children play sport from a young age, they are given more responsibility over their own time management. Sporty kids learn to balance all their competing commitments, including family, school and sport. This becomes particularly useful as they get older and move in to high school. As kids will need to juggle many assignments at the same time. Better time management lends itself to better school performance.
Exercise links positively to mental health as well as physical well-being. Healthy bodies assist in healthy minds, which help students to achieve. Where school places pressure on kids, participation in sports helps to alleviate this stress. Vigorous aerobic exercise stimulates the body to release endorphins and dopamine. Which, helps to elevate kids’ mood, relieve anxiety and reduce the risk of developing depression. Researchers have shown that happier kids get higher grades. Also, the social stimulation that sports provide, as well as the positive relationships formed with coaches and teammates, has a positive effect on mental well-being. Moreover, active kids display better classroom behaviour. When they participate in sufficient physical activity, teachers report that kids are more tolerant of one another and work better together in groups. Participating in team sport also instils respect to authority. As following set rules, taking direction and accepting decisions that they don’t agree with, are all required. Kids who regularly interact with coaches and referees are more respectful of adults. And, teachers should be respected the same way. Sport is a productive outlet for excess energy, and kids are less likely to be disruptive in the classroom. Meaning, they pay more attention to their teachers, do more work, and learn more overall.
Not only does physical activity show benefits for school performance, but inactivity can negatively impact brain health and lead to decreased performance at school. Inactive kids are less able to effectively avoid distractions and maintain focus. Their memories are generally worse than active kids, and they are less able to multi task effectively. These skills are important for academic success, work and other aspects of life. Inactive kids are also more at risk for depression and anxiety, and less able to cope with stressful situations. Which has knock on effects for school performance. The take home message is clear: if your child is struggling academically, or if you simply want to ensure that they reach their academic potential, regular and quality physical activity is the key.
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