Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thoughts About The Idea To Solve Childhood Obesity With Longer School Hours

Some who work in the education field are upset about childhood obesity. Some school administrators wanted the child’s weight and height to be measured at school in order to calculate a BMI score in order to place that score on the child’s report card. I wrote about that at length in a blog post in March 2007 and in another blogpost April 2007.

Why would a school tell a parent of the child’s BMI score? It would be to alert them and to tell them this information. The problem is that by law public schools require that children pass physical examinations performed by (non-school staff) private doctors. Those children are already being monitored by professional medical doctors and therefore their parents already know their children are overweight. If the parents eyes are not enough to tell them then what their child’s doctor tells them is more direct. So why does a school need to put the BMI on the child’s report card, which the last I knew was a communication of academic performance (rather than a communication of the child’s health)?

Today at Consent of the Goverened I read about about a proposal to make the school day longer in order to try to reduce childhood obesity and to help keep children from getting fat. Basically they want a longer school day in order to have time to fit in more physical activity.

In my town the elementary grade public school students get an hour in which one part is eating their lunch indoors and the other part is recess outside on the playground. On rainy days the children are put into their classroom with no organized activities, they are left tot their own devices. A teacher’s aid rotates between the classes to check on them, there is no continual monitoring of every classroom. (I have heard stories that this is the time when verbal bullying and physical bullying happens as well as verbal sexual harassment of children. I have heard stories of second graders calling names of profanity, writing notes to others calling them profane names, asking other second graders for sexual acts to be performed on them and another story of chairs being thrown at other students.)

So already in my town, the morning is focused academics and the afternoon is focused academics. The exception is the few days a week when it is time for ‘gym class’. The children on my street are gone from their houses 7 hours and 45 minutes per day from grades Kindergarten through Five. So for all that time they are getting only about 30 minutes of recess and gym class three times a week. The school already has them all that time and if you ask me they don’t have enough breaks, not enough time for studying everything they need to study. Teachers have told the parents, for example, that science and social studies had to be cut out of third grade in order to make time for preparing to take the standardized test (Connecticut Mastery Tests: CMT’s they are called in my state).

My friend told me that in third grade they are doing “language arts”: reading, writing, spelling, and grammar for 2.5 hours and math for 1.5 hours each day. I was told these times were increased to this level in order to teach them what they need to know to score well on the CMT’s. Wow, that seems like a long time to me. That leaves little time left over to teach everything else.

If I were in charge I’d give the children a recess in the morning and antohe rin the afternoon. I’d make lunch totally separate. I am not sure if a short lunch without outdoor play would suffice or if a short time of 15 minutes or so of outdoor recess would be necessary. The increase in physical activity will help raise their metabolism and will exercise their heart, lungs and muscles. The fresh air will help them think more clearly. Having a burst of freedom to run and play will give them clear heads for learning when they are back in the classroom. Giving them more freedom and a break from being controlled and talked at will relieve stress and calm them down.

(Wait, I predict that if the idea of breathing higher quality air with higher oxygen levels than most large buildings has can impreove learning gets into the heads of school administrators, they will begin to look into air purification systems or even piping in air with higher than normal oxygen levels into the classroom. Then a whole industry will be created around designing these machines and customizing them for already-built school buildings. Lots of money would then be made by both the manufacturer, the designers and the installers of these machines.)

I think that too much of the children’s time is spent inside the classroom sitting in desks and although I’m no expert I do suspect this has something to do with the fact that so many children are being labeled ADD or ADHD. I think the kids are being forced to do academics too early (starting in preschool and Kindergarten) and that they are being forced to learn with methods not necessarily geared toward their individual learning style. Add boredom into the mix and suddenly a child tries to alleviate that boredom and gets a label. Add the fact that children don’t get enough individual teaching time and are taught en masse and you have children who have trouble learning and get a label of a leanring disability.

Another reason why keeping them in school longer won’t help childhood obesity is because the kids will have to eat more while at school and what they eat there is either unhealthy or doesn’t taste good. For many reasons it is not possible to serve children the freshest food available or plenty of fresh fruits or fresh vegetables, one being the storeage and shelf-life issue, that is the reason also why buying only from local farmers and eating what is only in season locally won’t work. Due to cost reasons it is not feasible to buy organic either. Due to picky eater children (mine are in this category) trying to serve large numbers of children all the same foods doesn’t work resulting in children refusing to eat what is presented (that is what I did when I was in school).

So anyhow, please read what Judy says over at Consent of the Governed to read what she and some other people think.

You may wonder why I care what goes on in public schools or in the public education world. I like to keep tabs on these things as I do care about other children and I do wish that all children got a great education. I also am a taxpaying citizen and I am concerned with my money being spent on things that may not be good. I also like to know what is going on in the public schools to continue to help me decide if they are a place that I want my children to be or not.

I also continue to ask the question, “What is the purpose of public education/government schooling?”.

How do you answer that question?

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Shawna said...

Physicals are only required here upon enetering Kindergarten or 1st grade if you skip Kindergarten and if you play school sports in high school--other than that, no physicals.

As far as recess, the kids need much, much more. They wonder why childhood obesity is a problem? I see a few major contributors: the soda pop industry, the educational system, and processed/fast foods.

Recess is a mere 10-15 minutes in the morning and afternoons here, and lunch with a recess (40 minutes I believe.) The kids cannot leave to play until their food is gone; some children lag because they are not hungry or don't care for a particular item. When a child is naughty or forgets his homework, recess is withheld. These kids need to move, to run, to jump, to climb, to yell...and less than an hour a day is ridiculous. And then keep in mind most of the school year is fall and winter, so by the time the kids get home and finish homeworkor their "extra-curricular activity" it is darkoutside, so no play.

And yes, the once so popular kindergarten where children learned through play is now an academic class with homework...and often full day classes, and many starting at 4 years of age if their birthdays fall before December something-or-other.

So many lessons and classroom activities and assignments could take place out of the classroom with a caring and concerned teacher...but the caring and concerned teachers are so weighed down with requirements and paper and scheduling that they just don't think of it or do it.

We definitely need much more activity for our children inthis country and not longer school days!

And I won't even start in on the lackof field trips...actually the one or two field trips a child takes in his 13 years of public education **sigh**

Great post!

christinemm said...

The physicals must vary by state.

In Connecticut if a child does pretty routine things that children here do they must have a physical. This includes summer camps (day camps) and also some classes, plus sports.

Here in CT my kids had to have a physical to do community sports at age 4 (Little League baseball). All the sports require a physical, soccer, Little League baseball etc.

Going to summer camp with Cub Scouts requires a physcical in this state.

Doing the 2 night sleepover Cub Scout camp with the parent, both the child and the parent had to have the physical! Yes the parent also.

The CT public schools require more physicals than your state, Shawna. They have to have them at various points in time not just Kindergarten then nothing until high school sports players.

Here, you can't even join Cub Scouts without having your immunizations up to date unless your state has a waiver for religion, medical exemption or philosophical exemption.

Some of the homeschooler classes we take require physicals too. For example, a science class that entails hiking in the woods as part of the class.

We have had to have our kids have a physical every single year to meet various requirements and we are not even in the public school system.

Also our insurance company sends us letters reminding us it is time for our kids to have physicals if we have not yet done so!

christinemm said...

I will be deleting a comment in my comment moderation process as the content is pornographic content and it links to one of those sites which is heavy on ads and low on actual content. I am a bit surprised that the site owner is operating by using a Blogger account and is still trying to do "spam" links in comments. Sigh.