At BIS we know that a child’s love of both their body and mind is what keeps them active in the world. You would think this was a simple goal but school sports often tell kids that failure to be the best means that their physical self is not okay. They lose confidence to be physically active in the group for fear of this judgement which soon seems them stop trying at all and they retreat into the safety of watching not playing.
The baleful cries against the indolence and laziness of teenagers has been a consistent complaint in all educational environments in the last 20 years. A study found that 70% of children drop out of sports activity during their adolescence . As home computers and gaming became a ubiquitous part of children’s lives educators and parents watched with concern as they simultaneously spent less time in nature doing active play that taught them the parameters of their body. This combination of inactivity produces children who are closed off from their physical selves.
The challenge to this belief that technology equals idleness is that not all children go down this path. Many kids still play sport, climb mountains, ride bikes and challenge themselves to dance or master the techniques of a martial art. Why do some continue to be active and others not?
An important study from George Washington University in the US found that children could easily identify the reason they liked or did not like doing sport: fun .
The list below highlights some of the findings that the children in the study shared and it gives us some really powerful advice. A child’s definition of fun is complex and about learning to love the interaction of body and mind working together. Their connection to their friends and the team is fundamental—they need to trust in their team to take risks and have fun.
- Trying your best
- When the coach treats the player with respect
- Getting to play on the field
- Playing well as a team
- Playing tournaments
- Getting pictures taken
The full list available at Project Play
(The Project Play website has some wonderful resources for parents and teachers to help us make sure that we keep children connected to their bodies and engaged)
At BIS we have used these findings as a basis for our sports program. Our kids engage in yoga, jiu jitsu, and morning personal HPE goals. We design our grounds to give them the chance to explore their physical risk levels with climbing, jumping and balancing challenges. We want them to know that they are both their body and mind. A few weeks ago as we held our annual Olympics I watched with joy as it showed the effectiveness of our strategy.
Our children prepare for the Olympics for the term before, practicing various sports and team skills to feel confident in participating on the day. We also formed the kids into houses for the sole purpose of letting them practice making war cries and to e
xperience the notion of belonging to a house. We only had 2 (very fun activities) that were team against team. We also offered competitive races for the children who were hungry for this opportunity. This is usually a focus for the Dolphins class, who are at the stage where they love trying to use their skills to win.
The focus remains, always, on fun and participation.
On the day I watched and helped ease the children into giving it a go. The children who had recently arrived from other schools were the ones who found this the hardest. They had all been teased for not succeeding at sport—the notion of having fun was absent from the conversation. There were many discussions and hugs that afternoon to reassure them, with the help of their classmates, that no one would judge them and no one would yell at them for making a mistake. These children had experienced so much judgement at their previous schools for not being “good” at sport that they had removed themselves entirely from that risk. They had learnt far too early that their bodies were not okay, and would not give them what they needed. They had learnt to stop trusting it and to stop loving it. It was a huge journey for them.
After 12 activities the children were covered in their multicoloured participation ribbons and all laughing and smiling. The final event was the cross country, an event that they could all choose to participate in or not. Those who had started the day with fear didn’t even hesitate. They decided to give it a go with a lot of laughter and passion.
The moment that I knew our model was just right occurred near the end of this event. I saw one of my students curled up near the slippery slide, crying. I raced over and asked her what was wrong. This little sprite was a prolific writer, gifted and academic, who tried to sneak into the classroom to write or read at every possible opportunity. When she first came to us, crippled with anxiety, she was fearful of taking her shoes off, let alone running.
She told me how she was running and suddenly got this pain, not like a stitch but something else. I held her hand while she steadied her breath and I told her she had done the right thing to stop because her body knew when to tell her to have a break. I suggested that maybe since she didn’t run much it was just a bit spooked, and needed some more practice. As her breath steadied, she told me her pain was gone. She added, “maybe I could run around my park a few times a week over the next year and then my heart would be used to it so I could just run and run.”
I held her hand, swallowed my tears and nodded agreement. She smiled and ran off to join her friends. I sat with the pride I felt over the opportunity we had given her to experience the freedom to love her physical body. A love she had gained to match the love she had for her mind.
This had changed her life trajectory. She knew her body and mind were one, were her, and she loved them both.
Not much to ask from your childhood really. I love BIS!
 Eitzen DS, Sage GH. Sociology of North American Sport. 8. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers; 2009.
 Visek, Amanda J., et al. “The fun integration theory: towards sustaining children and adolescents sport participation.” Journal of Physical Activity & Health 12.3 (2015): 424.