Preparing Our Nation’s Kids to be Active and Healthy

By Jo Bailey, Physical Education Teacher at D.C. Everest Senior High in Weston, WI; National Board Certified Teacher; Google Certified Innovator; and 2013 Midwest SHAPE America High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year

Imagine you had a time machine and set it to visit the year 2029. You arrive to see communities filled with bike trails and walking paths, all widely utilized by local families and residents. The playgrounds are packed with children.

In a local neighborhood, a group of kids are playing a game they just invented and still haven’t figured out the rules to. You notice one child watching another playing and overhear the child say “What are you doing? How do you do that? Can I have a go?” With complete confidence, and yet no experience, the child tries and fails repeatedly to master the same skill but doesn’t give up. Did I mention that it’s winter and there are several inches of snow on the ground?

This is the idea behind SHAPE America’s 50 Million Strong by 2029. It is a commitment to put all children on the path to health and physical literacy through effective health and physical education programs so they have the ability, confidence, and desire to be physically active and make healthy choices.

Elementary school-aged children today will have graduated from school by 2029. Many of the today’s high school students will be parents of the next generation of children by 2029.

Back in 2017, things are looking a little different. We have a lot of work to do if we want to fulfil our commitment to 50 Million Strong. Studies have warned that the current generation of young people may be the first to have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Only 21 percent of children are physically active for at least 60 minutes every day and only 21 percent of adults meet the federal physical activity guidelines.  So, what’s keep us all from being more active?

When we look at barriers to being physically active, adults cite lack of enjoyment, motivation, time, and perhaps most significantly, lack of self confidence in their own physical activity abilities. This is why putting kids on the path to being physically active and health-literate individuals is so important.  Health and PE programs are critical to the development of confidence and competence in every aspect of our being: physical, social, emotional, and mental.

Young children already have much of this figured out. They love to move and find great joy in moving, spinning, jumping, running, tumbling, etc.  As a physical educator, I help kids develop and piece these basic movement building blocks together to create something new, to create something that can evolve, and to create something that can be used in lots of different ways.

To have the ability to understand how to put these movement building blocks together and move in any way possible – in other words, to be physically literate – is an essential skill for all of us to develop. Connecting with how being active makes us feel right now, in the moment, today will inspire children to move and make smart health habits tomorrow and every day after.

I don’t go running because I am thinking about how much it will develop my cardiovascular fitness or reduce my risk of cancer. I run because it makes me feels good today, right now. I also get some really good ideas while running! I don’t swim because it helps improve my flexibility. I swim because it relaxes me and makes me feel calm today, right now. I don’t play Frisbee at the park because it strengthens my bones; I play because I love being active and socializing with my friends, today, right now. I don’t mind that today (so far) I have failed miserably at skim boarding, because I have been taught to embrace failure and because it feels good to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone.

My physical literacy journey has gotten me to this point and each day I put my physical literacy blocks together differently so they fit what I need or want to do, today. My health and well-being win because of my physical literacy.

If we want our children and young adults to say, “I can’t do this yet but know I can do it,” then I’m confident we will follow through on our collective commitment to 50 Million Strong kids…and we may even exceed it!

Learn how you can support this commitment in your own community and share your thoughts on social media to #Prepare50Million.

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