Boosting fitness skills with PE homework

Written by: Tania Swift | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The homework debate does not often stretch to PE – but should it? Child development specialist Tania Swift discusses introducing PE homework to boost the activity of our pupils out of school

Every September, after six weeks of “freedom” and a break filled with activity, every child should be in the right frame of mind to approach the next term with enthusiasm. Well, that has always been the idea.

Technology has thrown a virtual spanner in the works; nowadays children are surrounded by devices and it is almost impossible for them to switch off. Instead of being active and practising core skills they have been taught in PE, children might well have spent their summer holidays glued to screens. Children aged between five and 16 now spend an average of six-and-a-half hours a day in front of a screen, compared to three-and-a-half hours a day in 1995, according to research by ChildWise.

One of the main side effects is that it could lead to a reduction in children’s fitness and affect the development of fundamental movement skills. A study by ukactive and Premier Sport revealed that British school children lose 80 per cent of their fitness during the summer holidays. More than 400 children were tested in 14 UK schools over a 13-month period, before and after the summer holidays. The children, on average, were able to run 740 metres in July, but could only run only 605 metres upon their return to school in September.

As physical educators, it is our responsibility to promote physical activity and literacy, enabling children with the confidence, motivation and understanding to take responsibility for engagement in physical activities throughout the rest of their lives.

The benefits of exercise and physical activity are plenty – kids who participate in regular physical activity are less stressed, more focused and perform better academically. They also have a reduced risk of becoming obese and developing related illnesses such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes now and in later life. In addition to this, individuals who engage in activity during childhood or adolescence have a greater likelihood of being active during adulthood.

The case for PE homework

In an ideal world, improving PE in schools would be the magic bullet that reduces inactivity, but there are times when teachers can’t help pupils, including after school and during the holidays, meaning that perhaps we need to adopt a different strategy to ensure that children are active.

Fundamental movement skills (FMS) are essential for physical development. They create the foundation for every type movement and skill used in mainstream sport and activity. However, FMS aren’t learned naturally through free play, which means children need specific instructions in order to learn them.

The Department of Education in Victoria, Australia, in a manual on teaching FMS, states that it takes approximately 240 to 600 minutes of instruction time to master one single fundamental movement skill. With this in mind, what about using PE homework to help pupils to enhance the development of FMS.

In addition, there is also increasing pressure for headteachers to demonstrate how they are spending their Sports Premium funding. Schools not only have to publish a statement of what they have spent, they also have to evidence the impact it has had on the pupils.

That’s where PE homework comes in, introducing physical activity as an after-school assignment bridges the gap for when teachers can’t be present and gives children a sustainable way to uphold their fitness. You do not have to be a PE specialist to create and deliver effective PE homework, but you do need to ensure that it involves FMS, as well as being enjoyable to complete.

Getting parents involved

Instructing young children to complete activity homework can be a challenge at times. The best tool you have at your disposal is getting parents on board before you roll this out. Ensuring that parents are supportive is the most important part of making sure PE homework is a success.

Unfortunately, PE is not given the same attention as core academic subjects which means that sometimes parents can dismiss its importance. As PE homework is a new concept, you need to convince parents of the benefits and long-term improvements it could have for their child.

One idea is to write an informal letter to all parents to explain why you are introducing PE homework to your school and the impact it will have on their development. It could outline the national curriculum requirements for the class’s average age and discuss how just 10 minutes of extra activity a day could significantly improve the fitness of each child.

Getting the support of the parents is only the first step – you also need to make sure the teachers delivering the homework are enthusiastic about the cause and also convince the children to stay accountable.

Instruct teachers to set PE homework at least three times a week in order to be effective and encourage a sustainable lifestyle. The length of homework should be around five to 15 minutes and should be ability and age appropriate for every child, which includes some personalisation on the teacher’s part. The content should be easy to digest and accessible, for example using a simple video tutorial that can be accessed online.

The key is to make it seem like fun. Here are a few tricks to help teachers introduce PE homework in an enjoyable way.

Yoga cards

This works exceptionally well across a number of ages and abilities. It is simply a set of cards that contain instructions on how to complete a yoga pose/exercise (one pose per card) along with a picture of the pose. These are great to hand out to the class and very simple to complete at home. Parents can oversee and engage with children to make sure they are performing the move safely. The progression is simple when working with an older class, pupils can suggest how they would develop the exercise to make it more challenging or combine the cards to create a sequence of movement. You can create your own cards or download templates online.

Using music

Young children love music. A great way to encourage children to get more active is to ask them to create a short dance to a particular piece of music using a series of specific exercises. They can create the dance and either draw out the movements with the help of their parents or video it and email it to the teacher.

Competition

If your class is particularly competitive, take advantage of this and set some challenges. Of course this will depend on the accountability and honesty of the parents, but setting children specific tasks, for example how many star jumps they can complete in a minute, and adding a competitive element will make activity far more exciting.

Video tutorials

There are thousands of great video tutorials for kids to follow at home, but if you can’t find exactly the one that you want, there’s no reason why teachers can’t record their own. This doesn’t have to be a professional production, shooting the video on a SmartPhone/tablet is fine. Make sure filming is in a bright setting and features a full range of movement.

Teachers can narrate the instructions while completing the exercise or accompany the video with written instructions. Then they can simply upload the video to YouTube, or email it to pupils.

Active games

Active video games, such as WiFit, are an effective way to seamlessly blend activity and enjoyment. It is worth investing in an active game and holding a games club after school and challenging students to complete 30 minutes of the game per session.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a variety of ways that you can go about setting PE homework depending on your school’s individual teaching style and your teachers’ level of creativity. Whichever way you choose to go about it, make sure that your pupils understand the value of activity in order to secure the greatest chance of a active adulthood.

  • Tania Swift is a child development specialist at Amaven, who create personalised exercise plans and fitness software for schools.


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