Today, I’ll log onto a forum I’ve looked forward to for ages - Women in Sport and their discussion on primary age girls and physical activity. Even before the pandemic, I banged the drum that we need to help children, and especially girls, get and stay active and we need to start helping them at a much younger age.
Now, my drum has become a full on orchestral percussion section.
Here we are, heading towards the end of Lockdown 2 and stumbling into winter. The seriousness and longevity of the pandemic’s effect can not be understated. The losses and sacrifices that people have made over the last year are immense. Some families have lost everything and we won’t know - for months or even years - the exact extent on the mental, emotional and physical health of the nation.
We can NOT sideline the impact the pandemic had, is having and will have on our children and the role that physical activity can have in their recovery. As a nation, validated by research from organisations like Women in Sport, Youth Sport Trust and Sport England, we started to fully recognise the powerful impact movement has on the health and wellbeing of our children, so much so that OFSTED and the UK Medical Officers updated guidelines to stress its value.
At the same time, studies have shown the negative impact the lack of physical activity has had on children during lockdown and how important is that we get children moving again.
So why is it that physical activity is being placed at the bottom of the list of what is important in the recovery?
Over the first two lockdowns, children's grassroots activities stopped and I can see first hand the effect that this is having on my own children. With no routine, colder days and no access to their peer support in whatever grassroots activities that they do, the motivation to do anything is waning (even with the super motivating talks that I give!). If I am seeing the effects of this in my own family with my own 9 and 7 year old, what are other families experiencing?
While I’ve understood the rationale behind these decisions, where we’ve failed is in providing the schools the support, guidance and resources needed to fulfill all the roles we as a society have asked them to take on. We’ve deemed schools a safe space for children - to learn, to socialise, to grow.
At the same time, we’ve placed this massive load on schools to fix all of the issues that have arisen from the lockdowns. Make sure every child has caught up with the 6 months of schooling that they lost, handle the daily unknown of what the pandemic will bring, support children as they adapt to the new type of school life.
By being asked to be everything to the children and the institution that is going to fix everything that the pandemic has done, why are schools not being given every opportunity and resource to fully help their children in their recovery, including through play, games and physical activity?
Despite the work done pre-pandemic, it feels that we, as a society, have taken a huge step back from understanding just how important physical activity will be in our children’s recovery. If school time and after school activities are the only time where children experience any form physical activity, shouldn’t we be doing our utmost in supporting schools to provide this, rather than placing restrictions in place to prevent it?
Schools are in the perfect position to embrace and deliver the power of movement and activity in a safe way, not only benefiting their students but their staff also. Over my past 5 years of leading Mini Mermaid Running Club UK, I’ve seen just how much physical activity contributes to a child’s confidence, resilience and sense of worth. That strong sense of self flows through all aspects of a child’s life. Rather than turning away from physical activity, now more than ever we should move full steam TOWARD it.
But we need to - and can- do this in a way that releases and reduces the pressure on schools and staff, rather than adding to it. If we, society, local authorities and the government can support schools as they continue to thrive in their new normal, they can be at the forefront to support our children to be as active as possible to not only improve their physical health, but their learning and mental health.