The end of term is coming over the horizon, which means that in the school calendar it’s the season for sports days, swimming galas, and outdoor trips and challenges.

So maybe it’s also the time when we parents should turn our minds to the whole question of children, exercise, health and learning.

Of course we all know that children today don’t get nearly as much exercise as children in the past. Some of the consequences of this inactivity, such as obesity and diabetes, are serious and life-limiting. But how many of us know that a lack of exercise also has a direct effect on children’s mood, personal effectiveness, and ability to learn?

One of the most recent studies to highlight this, from the Universities of Edinburgh and Stirling, found that just 15 minutes of running or walking fast, made primary-age children feel more awake and happy. It also made them better able to remember words and sentences and more able to exercise self-control.

The researchers concluded that exercise didn’t need to be ferocious to make a difference. Running faster and faster against set times did no more for children than getting them moving at their own best pace. But the exercise did need to be frequent and regular. 

The researchers concluded that short bursts of activity, breaking up classroom learning, were the best way forward.

In line with this, a particularly good school exercise initiative has also come from Scotland. Award-winning primary school head Elaine Wyllie, was so appalled to find her 10-year-olds could not run once round the school field without getting breathless, that she consulted with her pupils and together they came up with the idea of the Daily Mile.

Quite soon the whole school was out running round the field for fifteen minutes a day, getting rapidly fitter and loving it. It wasn’t competitive, there was no expense involved, no PE kit to be changed into, and pupils could do it exactly as they liked, either with friends or alone, either skipping, jogging, running or walking. 

Every pupil owned their own  “fifteen golden minutes…of fun, friends, fresh air and freedom,” as Elaine Wyllie put it. Now tens of thousands of schools do it in more than 30 countries round the world.

Of course, there are other ways in which students are encouraged to take exercise, but in schools where the sports programmes are mainly team-based there is a real danger that children who don’t naturally star at hockey or rugby can come to feel that exercise isn’t for them. 

So we parents always need to play a big part in making sure our children discover that exercise is not only essential, but can also be fun, sociable and life-enhancing.

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