herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

'PE for homework' idea will get kids off the sofa and away from screens

PE should be compulsory for young students
PE should be compulsory for young students
School playground

Ask any parent about homework time and it's likely you'll be regaled with tales of tears at the kitchen table.

Sitting down to face more school work after spending a long day in the classroom can seem like cruel punishment to both child and parent alike.

But what if instructions to exercise together featured alongside the complicated maths problems and Irish grammar? Would it be a welcome breath of fresh air or just another task to add more stress to our day?

If a new "health homework" scheme takes off, we'll soon find out.

Launched by Laya Healthcare in more than 300 primary schools last September, an initiative called Super Troopers aims to increase fitness levels in the more than 60,000 children taking part.

competitive

Each child is given a physical activity homework planner outlining short-burst exercises to do at home with their parents. They then bring the planner into school for their teacher to check.

It's a clever idea, not least because children can be incredibly competitive when it comes to this sort of thing.

I remember when the healthy eating Food Dudes programme was introduced in my children's school. Overnight, pupils became hell-bent on outdoing each other's fruit and vegetable consumption records. Little Jimmy ate broccoli, so little Mary tried red peppers.

Sweets and biscuits were off the menu in our house, and it got so fanatical at one point that I was reduced to eating chocolate in secret for fear of enduring a lecture from my then eight-year-old about how a sliced carrot would be better for me.

Chocolate shaming aside, the Food Dudes programme helped kids discover a love of fruits and vegetables that they wouldn't have otherwise.

Peer pressure can be a terrible thing, but in certain circumstances there's no denying that it can also be a useful tool. If a child's pal is willing to try kiwi fruit, for example, then chances are he will be more likely to as well.

I imagine that's how the Super Troopers plan will work. If one child reports that he did 50 star jumps as part of his homework, then everyone else will want to do the same. The end result? A far fitter classroom than before.

There's no doubt Irish children need the extra push.

Kids are supposed to get a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity a day, but it's estimated that four out of five don't reach that target, which is shocking when you consider the possibly dire health consequences down the line.

The hard truth is that many children are already unfit and overweight by the time they leave primary school, and the situation only worsens as they get older and activity levels fall off the charts.

sedentary

You don't have to be a scientist to understand how this can happen. Many children spend their days sitting in school and then come home to complete homework before sitting down again in front of the TV or another screen.

It's frighteningly easy for a child's sedentary lifestyle to begin before he even hits puberty.

PE for homework may help to break this cycle. Some children will slide back to bad habits once the programme ends, but for others it may kick-start a lifelong love of exercise.

As parents, we must embrace any opportunity to exercise with our children. Not only do we have to set the example, but ultimately the buck stops with us.

We have a duty to ensure that our offspring develop healthy habits for life. So let's dust off our trainers and get star jumping. It'll do us the world of good. We might just enjoy it too.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News