Michelle Obama will be remembered for being possibly the fittest First Lady so far and for her ‘Let’s Move’ campaign, which was aimed at raising a healthier generation of children through healthy eating and fitness. Her famous quote at the launch of this campaign: “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”
This may sound a little intense, but it brings us to the point that children must do sports at school as this is where they spend a major part of their formative years.
There is no doubt that healthy physical activity is an absolute necessity for a child. Countless studies across all strata of society and various continents regardless of race, gender and social class has proven that physical exercise and participation in sport not only offer the obvious physical advantages, they also – more importantly – provide emotional and social benefits.
There used to be a distinctive disparity between state or government schools and private institutions when it came to the sporting opportunities students were offered. State schools, particularly in rural, inner-city and underprivileged areas, just did not have the space, funding or adequate staff to cater to the academic and sporting needs of the children.
Obviously this is slowly changing as educationalists, both in the government and the private sector, realise that producing wellrounded students requires regular physical activity – even if it’s just running around a field or a casual game of football.
WHAT DO INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS OFFER?
We are lucky in Malaysia to have the option of sending our children to a private or international school where an integral part of the curriculum is physical education (PE) and games, which take the form of lessons conducted several times per week. Then there are the extra-curricular activities (ECA) where everything from football and rugby to martial arts and gymnastics are offered at both beginner and competitive levels.
The process of selection for school teams occurs on a termly basis with children trying out and being chosen to represent their school on various levels of competition. A major advantage of an international curriculum is that ultimately every student is expected to do some sort of sport and take part in an event, whether it be for your house at the school sports day or in Bangkok for your school cross-country team – participation being the key word here.
Most international schools regularly compete against each other both locally and regionally which gives participants the incentive to become better, instils healthy competition and most importantly, teaches them about teamwork and sportsmanship.
Team sports is also a fantastic way to make friends especially if a child is new to the school or country, as is the case with expatriate children. Matches and games are also a good way for parents to interact and get involved in their children’s activities – the culture of the over-enthusiastic parent ‘loudly advising’ on the sidelines is alive and well here!
All parents harbour the secret hope that their child is an Olympian in the making; at the very least they should represent their school! The international schools in Malaysia are active in this arena, where weekends are filled with inter-school/club games and meets. The selection process for school representation can be pretty tough as there seems to be quite a high proportion of students who are sporty and are very keen.
International schools have dedicated PE teachers and specialist coaches to ensure standards are maintained and children learn the correct techniques and rules. Good sportsmanship should also be on the top of everyone’s agenda from parents and teachers to the players. This is not always very evident in the heat of the moment, but it is a lesson for life that must be instilled.
DO SPORTS AND THE MIND WILL FOLLOW
It has been proven on every level – physical, mental and emotional – that people who regularly do some form of physical exercise at whatever age are more successful at school and work.
Discipline, respect, camaraderie, patience, learning to lose and control emotions, dedication, resilience and team work are learnt, which then leads to a happier, more fulfilled child. These are building blocks that form the foundation of better grades, friendships and lifelong good habits like eating well, sleeping enough and having less of an addictive nature.
In an age where the lure of the electronic device is a daily battle for parents, getting the children out and doing something physical is the best way to combat a sedentary lifestyle. Obesity in children is a very real, worrying problem and the percentages are only getting higher. The realisation that schools play a vital role in combating this has led to many programmes and incentives being introduced, all aimed at making children more active.
John J. Ratey, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, founded a popular international movement and wrote a book called Sparking Life, whose aim is to encourage schools to establish curriculums based on the scientific research that confirms physical exercise enhances brain development, improves mental health and reduces addictive behaviour.
Doctor Ratey states that physical activity is a health imperative and exercise transforms our brains; and he has years of scientific studies to prove what we as parents have always known – get the kids out, make them run around and they will come home happy.