Simply walking back and forth in the hallway – at least once during the day – someone jumps up and flexes their biceps a couple times.
Even I can pull off 3 chin ups at a time on a good day.
My daughter regularly uses it. I remember how in 8th grade, she was determined to beat the school record in chin ups. And she did. Although one boy pointed out to her that the lumps she called biceps were impossible for girls. “Girls don’t have muscles, they just have fat,” he explained matter of factly.
Of course she enlightened him. And went on to protest the rule in her high school that girls couldn’t compete in the Winter Festival’s chin up contest. But that’s another story . . . Back to the chin up bar . . .
The reason I’m telling you about our beloved chin up bar is because while it’s a fixture in our household . . .
It’s disappeared from our children’s school.
Last year at my children’s elementary school decided to do away with fitness testing.
They keep testing children for reading skills, math and writing to make sure they’re meeting an agreed upon standard.
But fitness? That’s been nixed.
It would be bad enough if it was simply cut due to limited funding . . .
But I’m sorry to say, the reason is even worse.
The reason the school offered for why they stopped assessing children’s fitness levels is that some children felt bad about their scores.
Now certainly, I have no tolerance for teasing and making someone feel bad.
But honesty is different. You don’t protect children’s self esteem by hiding failure from them. It’s an unforgiving world out there. Are you waiting for your children to grow up and get creamed by this reality as adults?
And when it comes to self-esteem, the most important ingredients in this equation is fast disappearing from our American landscape: Giving your children challenges, allowing them to face failure and figure out how to overcome it. That’s what childhood is for – learning to manage this emotionally-charged journey and keep moving forward.
Removing a healthy challenge from school – any challenge, not just fitness – because some children feel bad they can’t meet it is a huge mistake.
But this kind of coddling has even worse ramifications for children . . .
This kind of failure is one that leads to even worse failures as these children grow older – some of them deadly.
Of course I don’t need to get into the rising tide of adult-onset diabetes in children or heart disease or a whole host of other health issues that used to be reserved for adults. You know about this.
The way fitness helps children stave these off is pretty clear. But what a lot of parents and educators don’t realize is this:
Failing in fitness undermines children’s (and adults’) abilities to perform in so many areas of their lives – not just health.
Did you know the many ways fitness helps your children succeed?
Kid’s Fitness Powers Up The Brain
Exercise is one of the best brain boosters in the world. It stimulates neurons to grow, literally increasing the capacity of your brain. It also has been shown to increase the size of your frontal lobe, a key part of the brain for solving math problems and reading.
(Warning for parents – video games do just the opposite: Not only do they grow your kids’ waistline but it also seems to shrink frontal lobe development.)
I’ve written extensively about the science behind exercise and the brain in these articles:
When Kids Exercise, They Gain Confidence
Any parent know that the big challenge in school is not the homework or tests, it’s the thorny briar patch of peer pressure. Your children are heading towards an environment where every shred of self-esteem will be challenged.
Exercise boosts confidence. And the beautiful thing is this effect has nothing to do with slimming down or gaining a skill in a sport. The change in mood and self-esteem happens within days of exercising regularly.
You can read about this phenomenon here:
Exercising Relieves Stress
No matter how much confidence your child has, stress is hard to avoid with school starting. Exercise is what our body is programmed to do in response to stress. Our whole physiology is geared towards fighting or flight when stressed. But even when stress isn’t coming from a predator, we can still help our body respond to stress better by exercising.
You can read more about how this works here:
Don’t Forget To Pack Fitness Into Their Backpack
Finally, with schedules getting packed, all of us – parents and children alike – struggle to find ways to spend time together.
The simple, obvious solution is to make exercise a family activity that you fit into your back-to-school schedule.
And by staying active together, not only will both you and your children get the full benefits of exercising . . .
You’ll enjoy the hidden advantages . . .
More time to listen, talk and guide your children – amazing the conversations that come up during a bike ride or basketball game
More time to keep those bonds strong – while they may be building their independent life as they grow up, your children desperately need the assurance that you’re there for them and that they are loved.
More time to laugh, build memories and build a life outside of the frenzy of work and school – something all of us need in our hectic lives.
So when you plan and shop and pack as you get ready to send your children back to school . . . don’t forget the most important thing you can send them back to school with . . .
Fitness as an integral part of their lives.
And these last few days of summer are the perfect time to do so. For some ideas on how to do this, check out this article:
And if you want to add a great dose of brain-boosting power to your back-to-school plan, check out this excellent program by one of the thought leaders in natural brain health, Dr. Mark Hyman:
Don’t set your child up for a tougher year than need be. Make sure fitness is in the invisible backpack they take with them that contains your support, your guidance and your love.