Why physical literacy is helping Scottish kids move and think better

Why physical literacy is helping Scottish kids move and think better

Pop quiz. Do you know what goes on in your child’s PE class? If you answered no, you aren’t alone. Most parents have no idea what the PE curriculum is or how it’s being taught to their children. But it might interest you to know that PE has changed a lot since we were kids, and globally there are innovative programs helping them to move better, which in turn is helping them to think better.

An example of this type of program can be found across the pond in Scotland, where Thomas Dowens, formerly the Director of Coaching for Scottish Volleyball, John French, who was the Women’s Scottish National Volleyball coach, and Andy Dalzeill, a PE teacher who, over the past 12 years, has specialized in neuro-developmental therapy, have developed the Better Movers and Thinkers initiative (BMT).

BMT is a grassroots program for children, being taught in schools in the Scottish educational system ― based on ideas originally developed for volleyball at the elite level ― and focusing on emotional, social, physical, and cognitive development.

So what’s different about BMT?

Have you ever been in a yoga or exercise class and you think you’re doing exactly what the instructor told you to do until he or she comes over and moves your body into a completely different position, or you catch yourself in the mirror and realize that you’re not as close as you thought?

If this hasn’t happened to you it probably means that you have better than average body awareness, which is actually something that can be taught, and that’s where BMT starts.

Once kids are able to feel their bodies and understand how they are moving through space, they move on to coordination skills, balance skills, and activities that help them learn to control one part of their body at a time.

Pretty different than dodging balls and running laps, right?

We wanted to hear straight from the source how this program is being received by kids and parents, so we spoke with Andy Dalzeill and here’s what he told us:

Q. How are the children responding to BMT?

Well, we’ve done a pilot study and focus groups and the feedback quite frankly blew us away … what we got back was more positive than we anticipated.

One of the kids, who is diagnosed with dyslexia, by the way, told us that she remembers lessons she learned better than ever before. Her working memory really was enhanced. Another of the kids told us that after doing her normal PE class she would go to music and it would take her 5 or 10 minutes to refocus her attention. But as soon as she goes from the BMT session into the music lesson, she’s already switched on and engaged in the learning processes that help her in her music lesson.

And we’ve had a class teacher who’s identified that when she’s been on playground duty, where the kids through their own volition have chosen to take some of the activities from BMT and play them in the playground. More importantly, the teacher noticed that with the girls in particular ― who, as we know, internationally tend to buy out of being physically active as they approach the adolescent stage ― are engaged in a way that she’d never seen before, particularly given how body conscious they can become at that age.

So as far as we’re concerned, the value to the kids is massive.

Q. Have parents embraced the program?

We asked the parents to complete a questionnaire that also provided a little bit of their own personal experiences with PE, as well as what they thought about what their child was doing. And one of the quotes from a mother was, “The PE today seems so different than when I was in school. It seems to be more about trying to get the kids to move better because that will help them think better.”

A lot of the parents seem to feel that because we live in such a technological age, that children are not really being physically active in a way that they should with mother nature and the playground that’s all around them. And they recognize that school gives them an opportunity to at least get the bare minimum. And for some of the parents the program has made them feel guilty about not being as physically active for their children as they should be … and when they could be.

Empowering the parents means teaching them that being physically active is not just about being healthy, it’s about what it brings to the whole aspect of life. And if we can educate the parents to understand that it is different today from when they were young, and that there’s a better way of thinking about physical education and the value that it has, then this will encourage the parents to take more onboard about the advice we’re trying to offer them at home.

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These results are incredibly encouraging and should inspire educators and parents everywhere to push the boundaries of what happens in PE class. If you’d like to learn more about the BMT initiative, be sure to check out this article over at The Scotsman.

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