“The Cha Cha Slide” plays in a kindergarten classroom at T.A. Brown Elementary School, and dozens of 6-year-olds stomp their feet, clap their hands and slide to the right. The students giggle when Mr. C the Slide Man instructs them to “cha-cha real smooth.”
The dance isn’t just for fun: It’s a “brain break” aimed at getting the children’s blood flowing. The breaks are part of the Coordinated Approach to Child Health — CATCH — a national program used at schools in the Austin district to incorporate physical activity and education into all aspects of school.
“Once their brains have oxygen, they can think better,” Principal Veronica Sharp said.
Or, as Paula Bowen, the school’s physical education specialist, says, “The more they’re sitting, the more the blood is pooling in their butt. I always tell (teachers) to get the blood out of their butts and into their heads.”
Students, especially those in lower grades, spend a majority of their time in school, so schools should play a primary role in ensuring they have the chance to get at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity a day, according to a new report by the Institute of Medicine, an independent, nonprofit organization that works to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public.
The CATCH program is a good start on what the report, released last month, recommends schools do more of, said Harold “Bill” Kohl III, a professor of epidemiology and kinesiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health. Schools too often make students sit in class for six or seven hours a day without the opportunity to be physically active, said Kohl, who chaired the committee that wrote the report.
“That’s the trap we’ve fallen in,” Kohl said. “They’ve become dangerously inactive. This is probably putting the health of academic performance in our children at risk.”
Kohl and his fellow researchers who worked on the report studied existing data, most of which pointed to the crucial role physical activity plays in academic performance.
The report makes six recommendations for incorporating physical activity into more aspects of the school day:
District and school administrators, teachers and parents should be sure to provide at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity a day, more than half of which should be during regular school hours.
Physical activity should be a consideration in all policy decisions related to the school environment. Activity should be considered a contributing factor to improving academic performance, health and development for all children.
The Department of Education should designate physical education as a core subject, like math, science, social studies, English and other academic courses.
Education and public health agencies at all government levels should develop systems to better monitor data pertaining to physical activity and physical education in the school setting.
Colleges, universities and continuing education programs should provide training opportunities for kindergarten through 12th-grade classroom and physical education teachers to enable them to embrace and promote physical activity across the curriculum.
Federal, state, district and local education administrators should ensure that all students at all schools have equal access to physical activity and quality physical education.
A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, follows a portion of the report’s advice and would recognize health education and physical education as core subjects within elementary and secondary schools.
State law requires districts to incorporate a coordinated health program such as CATCH. Curriculum writers in the district are already working on putting physical activity inthe curricula for math, science, social studies and other classes, said Michele Rusnak, the district’s health and physical education supervisor.
“There are a gazillion games out there that line up with a possible subject they’re teaching,” Rusnak said.
Brain breaks in kindergarten classes at Brown extend beyond dancing to popular songs. Some brain breaks use Adventure to Fitness, an online program that includes word and number games.
“They love it,” said kindergarten teacher Angela Florez.