Last summer, Canadian professor Ron Weese realized his grandson had a problem.
“At the age of 9, he couldn’t hold his own body weight on the monkey bars,” says Weese. “That was a watershed moment for me. I said, ‘Okay, let’s work on this.’”
They did, and by the end of the summer, the child could happily haul himself back and forth on the bars. “He became far more confident on the playground,” Weese notes.
“It’s natural for kids to want to play, but it’s also natural for them to be uncomfortable if they don’t have those physical literacy skills to help build their confidence.”
Weese — a professor in the applied health sciences program at Seneca College in Ontario — knew his grandson wasn’t the only kid that needed help.
So he decided to switch his research from adults to kids.
He’s now one of the creators of the college’s new Fitness and Health Promotion program, which will launch in Fall 2014.
Why Seneca College? “It trains the largest number of early childhood educators in Ontario,” he says.
The two-year diploma program will collaborate with two of the college’s four-year bachelor degrees — Child Development and Therapeutic Recreation — to determine how those programs can integrate physical literacy to help children with special needs.
After graduation, new teachers will be able to conduct fitness and lifestyle assessments, collaborate with parents and children to develop healthy strategies for change, and develop fitness and physical conditioning programs for all ages and developmental stages.
Ideally, graduates of the program will become front-line workers battling childhood obesity and inactivity.
“Teachers are bright and energetic and enthusiastic people,” he says. “But without adequate information and training, it’s difficult for them to have the opportunity to make a difference.”
Yet they need to make a difference, Weese notes, adding that he is especially concerned about recent teen fitness statistics. Only 3 percent of senior high school students meet Canada’s minimum fitness recommendations for their age group.
“We have a generation of children who haven’t learned how to enjoy physical activity,” says Weese.
And they’re being set up for serious long-term health problems. According to Statistics Canada, about 29 percent of Canadian adolescents are obese; the resulting health problems can include type 2 diabetes, bone and joint issues, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more.
“The 2009 numbers from Statistics Canada suggest that for the first time in the history of the human race, the lifespan for our children is actually less than it was for our parents. That’s unnerving,” he says.
“We need to work with these kids in order to prevent them from having a dire prognosis as adults.”
Weese has been a professor at the college for the past 33 years; before that, he was a high school physical education teacher. He holds his national coaching certification, and he’s worked extensively with the International Gymnastics Federation.
“I figured maybe it was time to go back and look at my physical education roots, to start to develop a program that would be helpful for children and youth.”
Teaching educators how to invest in kids’ health will make a big difference in a short time, he hopes.
“Educators just need a little supervision, and a little bit of direction,” he says. “Then they can go back to their schools and deliver programs that are highly meaningful and highly healthy.”