Making a Difference:
More Than Child's Play
'Schools say they can't have 15 minutes for recess because they need it for math. But is there a way to teach math while kids are being active? Or if I give kids a break and they come back after 15 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, will they be better able to learn? We learn on our feet and not our seat!
Practical living specialist,
Jefferson County schools
When Donna Benton looks at trends in education, she's dismayed by how academics and exercise are often portrayed as polar opposites. Why, asks the Jefferson County public schools practical living specialist, can't they have the same goal?
"Here's Michelle Obama over here with her whole 'We gotta get healthy,' and over here is Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, 'We've gotta reform schools.' They're always separate."
A veteran home economics classroom teacher before taking on her current district-wide role, Benton uses KET's documentary More Than Child's Play: Why Physical Activity Matters as a professional development tool to help classroom teachers erase that disconnect.
"My epiphany is that these two have to come together," said Benton, whose responsibilities include supporting teachers in the instruction of health and fitness, career education, financial literacy, and consumerism.
"We know kids learn better if they can be active and not sitting all day or, if they're kinesthetic learners, they learn with their bodies," she said. "And if they're healthier, they won't be absent as much."
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More Than Child's Play: Why Physical Activity Matters, which premiered on KET in January, closely examines the causes, the serious consequences, and the possible solutions to children's sedentary lifestyles. It also looks at the role of community initiatives and policy changes in creating more opportunities for children to be physically active.
"It's very thorough in all aspects—and we've never had anything like this," she said. "Things like best practices and success stories and why this is important. So it was a humongous boost for me in my work—and I really think it will continue to be in the future. I've been very intentional about maximizing its use."
The causes, issues, and solutions presented in the program, Benton emphasizes, are research-based—important in a world where schools are judged on academic performance.
"The research is important because principals are getting hired and fired based on test scores. So they choose academics over health because this is where the pressure is. Schools say they can't have 15 minutes for recess because they need it for math," she said.
"But is there a way to teach math while kids are being active?" she asks. "Or if I give kids a break and they come back after 15 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, will they be better able to learn? We learn on our feet and not our seat!"
By using More Than Child's Play as a professional development resource, she gives teachers concrete examples of how they can turn this witticism into a change in culture. And her sessions are so popular— and valuable—that they're attracting teachers from other districts.
In addition to use in a classroom professional-development setting, Benton offers teachers the chance for credit if they view the program online and then answer a series of questions. The response has been overwhelming—250 Jefferson County teachers have viewed More Than Child's Play online, when it is convenient to them. And many say they can put ideas they learned from it into immediate practice.
"This KET special report was excellent!" said Louisville teacher Jennifer Buhl. "I watched it twice and have recommended it to others. I work with teens and young adults who could benefit both physically and emotionally from more activity."
"I really enjoyed this video/PD," added Kristen Benner, a primary teacher in Louisville's Johnsontown Road Elementary School. "It has impacted me personally, as an educator and as a parent. It was very informative and inspiring. Thanks for offering this!"
Changing the Culture
While getting the word out to classroom teachers might be a challenge, once they're exposed to ways of incorporating fitness into their classroom they're eager to implement them. Her next line of attack is to encourage schools to view More Thank Child's Play during faculty meetings. Then she wants to get PTAs on board.
A larger task, says Benton, is changing a school's culture—which she believes can be done, thanks in part to the testimonials in the program.
"This is possible to replicate in other schools. I use the KET DVD so I can say to the teachers, 'Look, these are your colleagues, and they're doing it.' The comments of the teachers and the principals in the video lend a lot of credibility."
More Than Child's Play: Why Activity Matters is a KET production, Laura Krueger, producer, and is funded, in part, by a grant from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.