In this article we are going to discuss the benefits of having morning fitness clubs in your school. We are going to touch on the social, physical, & academic aspects and then I’m going to share with you the many different morning clubs I have ran in the past 23 years.
In a normal school day, students are with the same 24 children for roughly six hours a day, five days a week, for nine months. Only during recess, double class physical education, or a mixed class rotation will they can socialize with any other child. At our school, every morning of the school year, every child is encouraged to go outside and walk, run, skip, gallop, talk with any other student in the school from grades K-5. Students begin arriving at 7:30 AM for their regular school day. Walkers, bike riders, bus riders, and car riders all arrive between 7:30-7:50. They are to go to their classroom hang up their back packs, turn in the homework, select their lunch preference and either begin their morning school work or let their teacher know they are going outside to Running Club.
We have two teachers who meet the first three students at the back door and they let the hall monitor know they are heading down to the track. One teacher stands on one corner of the track and the other teacher stands on the opposite corner. The hall monitor stays inside and lets the students know we are having running club and head on down. Every morning we will have 125-200 students walking, talking, jogging, laughing, skipping, socializing with students from different classes, different grades, different neighborhoods, different sporting teams. When the temperature drops, we come inside and begin our Morning Cup Stacking Club. It is such a wonderful, beautiful sight to see all these children moving and enjoying coming to school.
Besides from the observed benefits of smiling faces and seeing students are excited to wake up early and come to school. There are many research studies who have the data to support morning fitness for children. In an article published by Gretchen Reynolds, in the New York Times, researchers at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital studied the participants of a program called “Build Our Kids Success (BOKS)” from 24 different schools out of Massachusetts. BOKS is a before school program.
“For 12 weeks the students played and ran before school. At some schools, the program was offered three times a week, at others twice. Students were placed in two groups, those participating in BOKS and a controlled group who did not participate in BOKS. The researches measured everyone’s heights, weights, body mass indexes and, through brief psychological surveys, general happiness, vigor, and other signs of well-being.
Results found that the students who participated in the three times a week program almost all improved their BMI’s and reported feeling deeper social connections and a greater happiness and satisfaction with life. The students who participated in the two times a week programs said they felt happier and more energetic, but researchers found no reduction in their body mass. Control group students had same or higher BMI’s and had no changes to their feelings and well-being.” (Reynolds, Feb, 14, 2018)
These results are what I have observed with my own students. Students appear to be happier, energetic, healthy and excited to start the day.
When I first started at my school 17 years ago I had a Kindergarten teacher who would not send her children down to our Morning Fitness Clubs. She felt her students were better served by coming in and sitting down and getting right to work. I couldn’t change her mind. Then May came along and we celebrated Project ACES (All Children Exercise Simultaneously). Project ACES is a global initiative to get all students up and moving for 15 minutes. Every year we go outside and play a huge game of Freeze Tag. Grades K-2 play inside the running track, Grades 3-5 play down on the soccer/lacrosse field. One grade level starts off as the taggers and the other grade levels work together to stay unfrozen.
Every 3 minutes I get on a loud bull horn and change the grade level that is now the new set of taggers. It is so much fun. On the years it is raining we all meet in the hallways and we blast favorite dance songs over the school wide intercom system. At the end of this first Project ACES 17 years ago, I went down to this Kindergarten teacher and asked her how her students did and if she had a good time. Her response was comical. She was mad at me because her students were energized and focused and her class finished all that she had planned for them earlier than what she had planned. She was upset that her students were engaged. The next morning, she came to me and asked if I would take her students down to Morning Club since they had never done it before. Her students have been coming down ever since. WINNER!!!
Everything in education comes and goes. Here today gone tomorrow and in 10 years reappear with a different acronym attached to their name. The basic premise of my Morning Clubs has always been the same. Every morning, every student, every grade from 7:30-7:45, weather permitting. If its raining or cold we don’t go out. During the winter months we go inside. Once spring breaks, we head back outside.
This past spring we had a mom come in every Monday & Wednesday morning. She led a morning yoga class in addition to the running club. I have had the students count their own laps and write them on a sheet of paper on their desk. Once a week the teacher logs their laps into a school based excel spreadsheet, and I recognize the students with the most laps. I have recognized them by adding paper leaves to a bulletin board tree, feathers on a turkey, pumpkins in a pumpkin patch, snowflakes, hearts, Olympic runners, Olympic rings. We have honored class totals with hikers climbing a mountain, thermometer rising, miles crossing a US Map starting in Virginia and ending in California. We have recognized individuals on the morning show and school newspaper. We have even experimented with the latest QR codes scanned from different iPad scanning stations.
In the end I personally have found it all to be too much work for the classroom teachers and myself for very little additional results. From
what I have found, the kids who want to run are going to run and the kids who want to walk are going to walk. For me the desired outcome is to come out and participate. My participation numbers didn’t change when I had a prize dangling for them to achieve verses exercising for the simple joy of being with our friends. For some student these extra hoops they must jump through can diminish their enjoyment of participating because they are not measuring up to the peers. Students will resort to cheating and lying to score the same as their peers and their peers know they didn’t run the same amount and start calling them names and harassing them. This is a big mess and an unnecessary major headache. My children enjoy exercising for the joy of exercising, AND socializing. Let’s not kid ourselves, the socialization aspect is a major contributor to any successful exercise program.
Having an early hours club never has fit into my personal schedule. I have a wife and two boys, and getting up extra early never has sounded like a good choice for myself. After school I can’t dedicate myself to three days a week all school year. My boys have their own sports that I usually help with coaching, my wife works late hours, we have community groups we participate in. Bottom line is that I’m busy. I can’t dedicate myself to an early morning before school or after school club.
For some schools these are options. PTA’s/PTO’s will organize classes where the families pay, for example, $50.00 for a 10-week session and the PTA/PTO will keep $25 and the instructor will get $25 per child. I run a few of these throughout the school year but they are only one day a week. For physical fitness we need to encourage the students to move/play/exercise every day. Every day may not work for your school. I’ve heard of grades K/1 coming on Monday, 2nd on Tuesday, 3rd on Wednesday, 4th on Thursday, 5th on Friday, but I’m sure you see the downside. They are moving and getting some benefits, but more would be better. Grades K-2 on odd number days and grades 3-5 on even number days.
This is a better approach and easy to remember. When the months change over you will occasionally get your K-2 groups on back to back days (31st then 1st), but it’s better to stick with the same K-2 odd, 3-5 even schedule. Don’t change it up, keep it the same. During winter months we have had hula hoop clubs, jump rope, cup stacking, walk/run around cones, walk/run zig zag obstacle course style. Outside, on occasion, we will take out the hula hoop rack or jump rope rack and students can have a choice of run/walk the track or jump rope or hula hoop inside the track.
In planning your morning clubs for your school and community, keep your end goal in mind. The goal is to get your students moving. How you accomplish that goal is up to you and your school. If one day a week, early hours, for 25 students, for 10 weeks fits you then go for it. That is more than what they are currently receiving. If doing five days a week, every week for the whole school frightens you, then back it down. If building the mountain visual and having students add a climber for every five miles they run is up your ally, then let’s do it. Success is determined by you. How much time and effort do you want to add? Do you want to integrate your teachers? Do you want to add to their workload or keep it simple? Only you know your school, your students, your teachers, your administration, and your community.
I encourage you to begin this upcoming school year by adding something. Anything! I see my elementary physical education students three days a week for 30 minutes. That’s only 90 minutes a week. Research suggests 60 minutes per day. What can you do to encourage your students to move outside your class, before school, recess, afterschool, and home?
Eric Turrill has been teaching Physical Education for 23 years in Virginia at Round Hill Elementary. He has been published by GOPHER, PE Central, Great Activities Magazine, and VAHPERD Magazine. He has presented for GOPHER Webinar on Disc Golf, Educating Physically for classroom teachers and Utilizing Technology in Physical Education. Eric is the 2008 VA Elem. PE Teacher of the Year. He enjoys teaching, announcing baseball and spending time with his wife, two sons, and his dog, Bishop.
Round Hill Elementary; Round Hill, VA
YouTube Channel: RHEPE
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