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Back to School: Physical Education Safety Insights

By Shana Brenner

Where has the time gone? Summer is over, and now students and teachers are well into another school year. While for many, the focus this year will be on achieving academic success, the importance of physical education can’t afford to be overlooked. Obesity rates for children and teens have more than doubled over the past 30 years, and in part, one might argue it’s because most schools aren’t giving their kids enough time for P.E.

Teachers and parents alike need to make a joint effort to ensure students are able to get enough exercise on a daily basis, and in large part, this relies on providing a safe, enjoyable environment in P.E. class. Together, teachers, staff and parents can all do their part to help kids safely participate in physical education.060410_fitnessschools_hmed_1p.grid-6x2

Here are some key elements to achieving safety in P.E. class:

  • First-aid kits must be readily available: No one likes to think about it, but an injury or medical emergency can occur at any moment during P.E. class. Teachers need to be prepared to respond and provide necessary care for students in an instant. A fully stocked first-aid kit must be easily accessible in the gym and anywhere else that physical education activities take place. You can easily purchase first-aid kits designed for schools online. First-aid kits should be inventoried regularly and restocked accordingly.
  • Routine gym floor maintenance is essential: Every day, gym floors attract dust, dirt, sweat and all sorts of debris. This can make the floor slick and unsafe for physical activities. If the gym floor isn’t properly cleaned and maintained by the school, students in P.E. class could easily slip and fall, twist an ankle or get injured in any number of other ways. Think we’re overstating the importance of gym maintenance? What about the story of Rene Rodriguez, a man who recently suffered a serious slip-and-fall injury at an L.A. Fitness due to a lack of proper cleaning by the gym’s staff. Gym floor maintenance needs to be an ongoing priority of the school’s maintenance staff. Floors need to be dust-mopped on a daily basis, deep-cleaned weekly and covered when being used for non-sporting activities. Entrance mats also should be placed at every doorway to your gym to prevent more dirt and debris from being tracked inside your facilities. Routine gym floor maintenance can go a long way toward preventing injuries in P.E. class.
  • Safety padding along walls helps prevent injuries: Many activities in physical education involve running around at high speeds. Of course, sometimes, this speed can lead to some intense collisions. In some cases, those collisions can be between a student and the wall. That’s why it’s a good idea for school gymnasiums to have safety padding along the walls. This padding will help protect students when the action spills off the gym floor and into the wall, cushioning the impact and reducing the risk of injury. When choosing indoor wall padding, make sure you study the ASTM recommended specifications so you get a product that truly meets the best safety standards.
  • All equipment being used should be inspected daily: In order to provide students with the safest possible environment, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to perform a pre-activity inspection of all equipment to be used for the class period. Equipment must be verified to be in proper working order, and any hazards should be identified, removed and corrected immediately.
  • Equipment should be stored away properly when not in use: Any equipment that isn’t currently being used in physical education needs to be immediately stored away in a safe and neat manner. Equipment left around the gym can pose a serious injury hazard for students participating in physical activities.
  • Students need proper shoes and clothing for P.E. class: Proper footwear is absolutely essential for participating in P.E. class. It’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their children have comfortable, properly fitting tennis shoes that provide the foot support needed to safely engage in exercise and activities. Students should not be allowed to participate in P.E. activities wearing flip-flops, sandals, dress shoes, Crocs, boots, skate shoes or other non-athletic footwear, as this could lead to injury and also damage the gym floor. Additionally, students need to have comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing for physical activity. Parents can do their part by helping to make certain their kids bring their shoes and clothes for P.E. class every day.
  • Pre-existing student health issues should be disclosed: If a child has any sort of pre-existing medical conditions or injuries, the parents need to let the school know so that the child isn’t asked to participate in any physical activities that may be unsafe given his or her condition. This includes heart conditions, allergies, asthma and respiratory issues, diabetes, etc. Schools should have a process in place for communicating this medical information to teachers at the beginning of the school year and throughout the year as required. P.E. teachers need to always be aware of their students’ health and well-being, and when necessary, activities should be adjusted to accommodate their special needs.

Safety in Physical Education: Everyone Plays a Role

No single party is entirely responsible for the safety of a student in P.E. class. Everyone has a role to play, from the teachers to the maintenance staff to the parents and the students themselves. When everyone does their part, students are able to enjoy all of the benefits that physical education has to offer.

Shana Brenner is the Marketing Director of CoverSports, an American manufacturer of gym floor covers and other athletic equipment with roots tracing back to 1874.

How Play Changes from Toddlers to Teenagers

By David Reeves

toddler_playOne of the most interesting aspects of raising or caring for children is the opportunity to watch the way they change and develop, and much of this is seen in the way they play. Young toddlers spend time learning fine and gross motor skills while playing in tandem, but not necessarily with, their peers. This gradually progresses until pre-teens and teens are more interested in the social aspects of their play, having mastered the motor skills long before. When considering playground equipment, an understanding of these changes is crucial.

The Evolution of Play

How does play evolve? It seems to develop alongside the child’s physical and emotional growth. Children begin truly playing, rather than just exploring playthings, in their toddler years. From around the time they start walking until they hit the preschool, children are spending most of their time perfecting their gross motor skills. Walking, climbing, dancing and jumping are all favorite activities. Throwing and kicking balls are also popular playtime. Children this age may play with other children to the point of dancing at the same time or mimicking movements, but you will observe little in the way of cooperative play.

kid_playThat begins to change around age three. During the preschool years, children begin to “pretend play” in earnest. They enjoy playing with other children and engaging in pretend activities together. While the motor skills are fairly well developed at this point, children can still be a bit unsteady on their feet, so they prefer smaller items to climb on.

Once children hit the elementary school ages, from six to nine years old, they become increasingly social, yet are still fine-tuning those gross and fine motor skills. During these years, risk-taking behavior is common. Children want to jump higher, run faster and climb higher than they have in the past. Their play is largely group-oriented, even if the group is somewhat small.

Once children hit the pre-teen years, from nine to 12 years old, they start to develop some independence in their play, yet still enjoy playing with other children. These are the years when children may begin to outgrow some childhood pastimes, like dressing up or playing pretend fantasy games, in favor of more strategic play activities and games, like organized sports or more difficult board games. Once they hit teenage years, play is almost entirely social, although some kids still enjoy physical challenge. Organized sports are quite popular with teens. Continue reading

Walking to School with Safe Routes and Zamzee

Safe Routes to School education event - August 24th, 2013 - Adam Brant (28)

“Back in my day, we had to walk ten miles back and forth to school. In the snow! Uphill both ways!”

It’s probably been a long time since you fell for that classic joke. But even though your grandfather probably didn’t walk uphill both ways to school, there is a good chance he did walk to school. Unfortunately, many kids these days don’t have a chance to say the same.

Back in 1969, 48 percent of K-8th grade students walked or bicycled to school. By 2009, only 13 percent of K-8th grade students were walking or biking to school. This uptick in students driving to school has had a big impact on communities. For example, did you know that 10-14 percent of all vehicular traffic between 7 and 9 A.M. is school-related?[1] Moreover, many communities lack the urban infrastructure that would make walking or biking to school safe for children. For all these reasons and more, Congress passed federal legislation in 2005 establishing the National Safe Routes to School program. The new program would fund projects to improve the safety of children walking and biking to school, and encourage families to travel between home and school using these modes. Continue reading

Zamzee Builds a KaBOOM! Playground

On Thursday, we joined forces with KaBOOM! for our first playground build.

On Thursday, we joined forces with KaBOOM! for our first playground build.

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We were pretty excited, and the school was, too!

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And there was a lot of work to do…

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It’s a good thing we had coffee!

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The Importance of the Playground: recent research

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By David Reeves

Some of the most important learning in childhood takes place outside the classroom, on the playground. Recent research shows that children develop important cognitive and social skills while playing, to say the least of improving their physical health. Here are just a few interesting examples of skills developing in the background while children are having fun playing.

Longer Attention Spans: In 2009, the journal Pediatrics found that students who were given more than 15 minutes of recess time on a daily basis were better behaved than those who had no recess period. When children in school take a break from learning lessons and are given the chance to play with one another, they are better able to focus on the subjects they are studying. Rather than looking at “play” as something that will take away from “study,” research shows that the two are actually mutually beneficial.

IQ Growth: Playing helps children grow their brains. In a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who were exposed to enriched, play-oriented childhood programs and social interaction had higher IQs at the age of five, as opposed to children who were not given the same play-oriented opportunities. Play is so important to child development that it is even recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a fundamental right of every child. Continue reading

Reflections on a Year of Using Zamzee at Greenfield Hebrew Academy

By Sue Loubser, Director of Technology at Greenfield Hebrew Academy

Sue Loubser and Jon Babul from the Hawks Development Team.

Sue Loubser and Jon Babul from the Hawks Development Team.

Our year is over and we reached our goal of A Million Minutes of Activity! We never doubted we would, although we did learn a few lessons as the year progressed.

When we launched the program last September, the school was abuzz. Our head of school recalls that “kids went home and were jumping around during dinner and running around in place as friends talked to them. Children who ordinarily couldn’t easily wake up in the morning or had to be dragged out of bed suddenly popped out with great enthusiasm and energy to maximize their minutes.” Parents were amazed by the changes in their kids’ behaviors.

Although this was launched as a Middle School project – there was so much interest from younger students that our PTSA started selling Zamzee meters. They sold 50 in short order and it felt like everyone was being active!

We held a lot of competitions during the year to keep students motivated. Originally our goal was to mandate the wearing of Zamzees as part of our PE program, but mid-year we took that requirement away. That meant we had to help the kids stay motivated to keep using Zamzee.

Students could win gift cards, T-shirts, chocolates (from Israel), drinks, baseball caps and even an iPod in random drawings or as rewards for exercising over a certain number of minutes. We were also given 20 pairs of Braves tickets to give to students who met a goal for exercising. We had random reward days where if you uploaded during the day, you received a treat (which could be a Zamzee flashlight or a skin) or even a surprise recess. Continue reading

Greenfield Hebrew Academy Reaches a Million Minutes of Activity with Zamzee!

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It’s Finally Here! Introducing “Zamzee for Groups”

The wait is over, and we can finally tell you what’s been happening behind-the-scenes lately at Zamzee!

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For the past 6 months, Zamzee has been developing a robust group program to help you manage, measure and motivate physical activity. After piloting this program extensively with healthcare and school partners, it’s finally ready to be released to the public – to you!

So what is it? Zamzee for Groups is designed to get kids and their parents physically active, and to give program leaders tools to optimize the Zamzee experience for their participants.

Group Leaders can manage physical activity through the Group Dashboard, which is exclusive to Zamzee for Groups. They can set up reports to organize classes and sub-groups in their Dashboard. With accurate movement data at their fingertips, leaders can have evidence-backed conversations with kids about their real physical activity habits and how to get moving. Of course, all Zamzee for Groups participants get Zamzee meters and access to Zamzee’s award-winning motivational website, which is designed to make moving fun. Continue reading

Zamzee at Greenfield Hebrew Academy – we’re going to make it to A Million Minutes of Activity!

By Sue Loubser, Director of Technology at Greenfield Hebrew Academy

This morning, when I looked at our Zamzee Program View, I saw we had passed 860,000 minutes as our middle school moves towards our goal of one million minutes of activity recorded on our students’ Zamzee meters. I took a few moments to reflect on our year. I am pretty sure we will reach our goal by the end of May – just before the end of our school year – which will be awesome.

Along the way, we have had a visit from Ellen LaPointe of Zamzee, CBS ‘Fit Kids’ did a segment on our program, the Hawks Development team came to exercise with us, and LaVon Mercer, the first African American basketball player to represent Israel came to talk to our students and play some basketball with them. It’s all been pretty cool.

We have also learned a lot along the way. Our most engaged users are our younger students and our teachers. We have a core group of students who are in a Zamzee routine, and who regularly do their 60 minutes or more each day. We have a core group of teachers who egg each other on to do Challenges while they work towards earning gift cards! It is not uncommon to see them hopping and bopping in the hallways during lunch or recess as they take their challenges.

GHA student Bella, also known as 13CantorB (with over 119,00 Pointz!) wears her Zamzee on her sandal in Israel.

GHA student Bella, also known as 13CantorB (with over 119,00 Pointz!) wears her Zamzee on her sandal in Israel.

Our students have also zamzeed (our new verb) around the world. Right now, we have students in Israel, measuring their activity as they walk and hike through Israel. (It is not uncommon for them to exercise over 120 minutes a day when they are not spending in time in a classroom). Students have walked in New York, run in Washington D.C. and they are looking forward to jumping at Jekyll Island, on our organized field trips. Our headmaster’s meter has accompanied him on many runs and a few marathons, including the Jerusalem Marathon. Continue reading

Zamzee at Hill Middle School

Zamzee_SchoolZamzee was designed to get kids moving. There are schools using Zamzee across the country, and we love hearing from program leaders about Zamzee’s impact.

Thanks to funding from the Cigna Foundation, Loretta Sander of the Chicago YMCA in Naperville, Illinois designed an after-school program at Hill Middle School using Zamzee to get a group of kids active. She’s working with Brad Sulkowski from Northern Illinois University and together they are doing great things. We recently interviewed her to find out how the program is going.

Zamzee: Thanks for taking some time to talk with us, Loretta! Can you tell us more about why you decided to use Zamzee at Hill Middle School?

Loretta: Absolutely! When I found out I was able to do a kids program with Zamzee, I knew right away that I wanted to work with middle school students. Middle school kids desperately need physical activity – exercise brings those positive endorphins that help middle school kids feel better about themselves and their life outlook. The problem is lots of kids don’t like being involved in big group activities like sports teams (my son included!). But just because some kids don’t participate in sports, that doesn’t mean that they should miss out on the benefits of exercise.

Zamzee: We totally agree. So what are the kids in your program doing to get active?

Loretta: We are doing a five-week program for fifteen 6th, 7th and 8th graders at Hill. We meet every Tuesday and Thursday after school to do cardio, calisthenics, circuit rotations and interval training. We use a room at Hill so the students don’t even have to travel anywhere. All students were given a Zamzee at the start of the program and have been using it all along to track their activity and (of course!) get rewards.

Zamzee: And how are the kids liking Zamzee?

Loretta: They love it! Actually, at the beginning, a lot of the initial draw for kids was that they could earn rewards with Zamzee – they love the gift cards. That made them want to work out and participate in the program. They think it’s pretty cool that they can earn these rewards on their own, without the help of Mom and Dad. It gives them a sense of empowerment, which is a great thing for kids at this age. And the more they started working out, the better their bodies felt. Continue reading