The key to helping children learn is physical activity

I’m getting worried about the health of our nation, especially our kids. It is stating the obvious that active children feel good about themselves, are fitter and healthier.

We now know that they do better in the classroom too. So I was alarmed to read that Scotland’s youngsters are amongst the least physically active in the world.

A study by the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance, a network of researchers and health professionals, gives England and Wales a grade of D- and Scotland an F, placing us in last position. Scotland, the country of the Murray brothers, Chris Hoy and Katherine Grainer, is at the wrong end of the world league table.

That is bad for the health of the child, and bad for the health of the Nation. And it holds kids back at school because its long been accepted that there is a link between physical activity and the ability to learn. There are some great schemes out there already but we have to ask the question: Are we doing enough to make exercise part of the daily routine of our children?

We now accept that children who need extra help with the three Rs should get it. The same is true for physical literacy. For many, the key to unlocking their learning potential lies in boosting their physical literacy. I am dyslexic. I didn’t learn to read or write properly until I was nearly 30 years old. I know from my own experience and from that of seeing my son grow up, that a one size fits all approach to learning isn’t enough.

We need to get to the root of the problem. Telling a child who struggles to pay attention in class and who fears every lesson, that they must do even more reading and writing isn’t always the best way. It sometimes just piles pain onto the pressure they’re feeling. I want teachers to have another tool in the box. That’s because for some kids, their brains are using up all the available processing power just concentrating on sitting still or paying attention. Its the way they are wired. That’s the issue we need to resolve.

It may be that they have dyslexia or dyspraxia or another condition. But this is not about labels. It is about recognising that if we want every child to be literate, then the missing link in their education is physical literacy. Just doing PE is good, but we can do even better by offering tailor made programmes for each kid.

I know it can make a real difference. It did for my son. Just a couple of ten minute sessions each school day can transform how a child processes information. A few simple, bespoke exercises on eye tracking, balance and coordination can improve their attendance, their learning skills and their self esteem. It can embed regular exercise. I know such schemes can be life changing.

There is so much to celebrate in our schools, but I believe we can do even more. I know we can find the spark in every child by helping them to be fit for life and fitter to learn.

And maybe then we can start to climb back up that league table.

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