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Mom Congress Conference – The Importance of Physical Education and Recess

Kathryn Young Thompson

I was surprised at how affected I was by the panel on physical education and recess.  We have a decent PE program in our schools and good access to recess.  I didn’t think there would be much here for me but I was wrong.  And even if there hadn’t been anything that pertained to me personally, I would still have wanted to take action in my community after hearing that childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years.  Trippled!

In Jamie Oliver’s speech on day two of the conference, he mentioned that diet-related disease is the number one killer in America and I have to believe that lack of physical activity goes hand-in-hand with that.

The speakers on this panel were Robin Schepper, Executive Director of the First Lady’s Let's Move! Initiative, Jill Vialet, the President and Founder of Playworks, and Helen Darling, WNBA Player.  They were all amazing women with great ideas who helped me add several things to my parenting to-do list.  I have to admit that I’m not the most active mom.  You can see it in my curves and in the way my kids fight me sometimes on getting active.

This session got me totally pumped up about finding fun and natural ways to get my kids up and running and it was just a joy to listen to these three women.  I would invite them all over for a playdate.

They had us up and moving around.  They gave great practical ideas.  Robin Schepper talked about writing a proposal and receiving a grant from the Safe Routes to School Project, after being told that it was a “good grant proposal… for a mom.”  Them’s fightin’ words in these parts.  The project focused on providing safe routes for children to walk to and from school.  She also suggested starting a walking school bus or a rolling bike train, where parents can take turns picking their neighborhood kids up and walking them all to school to get exercise.

When the rain stops in Seattle, and that’s just around the corner (knock on wood), I would really love to make this happen.

Jill Vialet talked about play and how we need to get our kids playing again, to teach them games and tools to be successfully and enjoyably active.  She gave five steps to help achieve this:

  1. Teach everyone rock, paper, scissors.  This basic game can have so many applications.
  2. Map the school yard and think about how it would flow at recess in a perfect world. 
  3. Work to teach kids the rules of basic games like foursquare and kickball.
  4. Put kids in charge and use their natural leadership for good.
  5. Play yourself.

Number five was the one that really struck me.  If you want your kids to get active and play, you need to model that for them. Playworks is a non-profit that focuses on helping kids get active.  They have great resources on their site for improving recess and lots of games you can teach your kids.

Helen Darling talked about combining reading with activity, reading books with action words and getting your kids to move their bodies along with the stories.  Some suggestions she gave were her book, Obstacle Popsicle Thursday, and Jump into Literacy, Jump into Math, and Jump into Science by Rae Pica.  Emailing with her afterwards, she also pointed me to Read! Move! Learn! by Carol Totsky Hammett and Nicki Collins Geigert.  Her whole series that includes Obstacle Popsicle Thursday is available on her website for a really good price.

She also addressed food issues, saying that we, as parents, pay for and determine what our kids eat so we should choose wisely.

Some other great ideas to come out of the session were to let your children choose the activity if you want them to be invested in it.  Also, connect it to something they love.  For example, if they love video games, you could play in a way where you physically act out one of their favorite games.

My kids have actually done this out of desperation when I’ve cut off their game time, bouncing around the house like Mario on magic mushrooms.  Next time I’ll bounce along with them.  And a good side benefit will be that the more I bounce with them, the less of me there will be to bounce.

There’s so much more great stuff to cover from the conference.  I’ll be rolling out posts over the next several days, filling you in on what we talked about and many of the things I learned, at least those things I can put into words.  So much of what I experienced was just felt on a gut level.  I teared up more than once.  It was a truly an amazing few days.

Kathryn Thompson is a mom to two school-aged kids, a toddler, and a deceased betta fish. She can also be found at The Parenting Post, and occasionally the gym.