Read, Write, Drop and Give Me 20

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Imagine a teacher finding herself with a five-minute gap between reading and music class. Why not use that time to get kids jogging in place or doing sit-ups — right then and there beside their desks? The result might be greater fitness and better mental focus, some experts believe.

This concept — making active use of downtime during the school day — is behind a new program designed by the Orange County Department of Education that will be tested this fall by 25 elementary teachers in the county.

The program provides teachers with an “Active Classroom Fit Kit” of low-tech, easy-to-use play equipment, exercise videos and supporting Web content. The kit is a response to the growing childhood obesity crisis and to concerns about the quality of elementary school physical education programs. The hope is elementary school teachers using the kits can add 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity to the school day.

Most elementary schools don’t have a full-time, credentialed PE instructor, and already overburdened classroom teachers end up having to teach those classes, in some cases with mixed results. Meanwhile, being able to flip a switch to show an exercise video during breaks and transitions in the classroom is proving to be an attractive option for teachers.

Chris Corliss, program coordinator at the Education Department’s Center for Healthy Kids and Schools, has been working with elementary teachers on ways to boost fitness beyond traditional PE activities like kickball, which often leads to 35 kids standing around watching one kid kick and run.

Instead, he said, teachers want practical, fitness-oriented tasks they can lead in small increments, as well as activities that don’t require them to have sports skills.

“I kept hearing from teachers, ‘Give me something I can use inside or outside the classroom that doesn’t require me to be a demonstrator of the motor skills’,’ Corliss said. The answer seemed to be fitness DVDs, as well as jump ropes and floor mats serving as exercise stations. Further, a website where teachers can register their class will provide fitness tips and prizes.

“We’re hoping students can accumulate 30 minutes of activity inside the school day,” Corliss said. “Research is telling us that when kids who get up and move every couple of hours, it does reboot their brain. They’re more likely to be on task.”

But do teachers want to take on the additional responsibility of stimulating the body in addition to the brain?

“What we’re sharing with teachers is what the research says that getting kids up and moving has an immediate effect on them and improves on-task activity,” Corliss said.

— AMY DePAUL

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