Monday, February 13, 2023

Addressing COVID Isolation: Get Kids Moving! (Part 1)

Source: A World Fit for Kids

By Sam Piha

Many youth who returned to school this year were socially isolated due to the pandemic. While schools are concerned with academic learning loss, schools need to understand that young people may be fearful and anxious. How can we help? Get kids moving!

During the COVID shutdowns young people had few opportunities for exercise and playing with friends. 

Research suggests that physical activity can help young people recover from isolation experienced due to the COVID pandemic. Research also suggests that physical activity in nature can help young people recover from the isolation and fear experienced due to the COVID pandemic. To learn more, check out our LIAS Blogs on Play and Nature.

Source: Girls Inc.

“Our results suggest for those students that are returning to school and that were socially isolated ,” Enrique PĂ©rez-Cardona, a professor, and the chairman of the education department at the University of Puerto Rico said. “The school has to be prepared and define a good physical education program, so those children can try to release those negative effects of isolation.” - Sarah D. Sparks, Kids Are Feeling Isolated. P.E. May Help Them Bounce Back 

“At a time when recess and physical education programs may feel a squeeze from schools seeking more time for reading or math, studies suggest boosting students’ physical activity time also has an important role. It may help students rebound from the social isolation many have experienced during the pandemic.”Sarah D. Sparks, Kids Are Feeling Isolated. P.E. May Help Them Bounce Back 

To learn more, we interviewed three youth development experts: Ed Center from The Village Well and Brad Lupien and Bob Lund from ARC Experience. You can find a complete bio for these experts at the end of Part 2 of this blog.

Q: Research suggests that physical activity can help young people recover from isolation experienced due to the COVID pandemic. Do you believe this is true?

Ed- This is key in a biological and a sociological way. Stress itself is not a bad thing. Stressful events are part of life and can help us build assets and resiliency. Stress becomes toxic when we are unable to complete stress cycles, meaning that our fight-flight systems kick in with adrenaline and cortisol, but we don't move through them into safety, resolution, and calmness. 

The simplest way to complete a stress cycle is to move. A brisk walk is great, dancing is phenomenal, soccer is transformative. Physiologically, this metabolizes the stress hormones and brings us back to equilibrium. The social components of physical activity are equally important. Young people connect through physical play, whether through organized sports, dance, or skipping stones across an urban lake. 

Source: NHP Foundation

Every teacher and afterschool leader reports that we've seen a delay in social skills over the last three years. Outdoor play, supported by nurturing adults, offers a perfect environment for kids to build these skills and form the connections with peers and adults that are the hallmark of positive youth development.

Brad and Bob- Absolutely. We are seeing that, in addition to learning loss and socialization issues caused by the COVID pandemic, many of our students have seen downgrades in their physical fitness. Getting outside and moving around, especially with a group of friends, allows many of our students to not only improve their physical health, but also their mental health and feelings of connectedness as well.

Q: Research also suggests that physical activity in nature can help young people recover from isolation and fear experienced due to the COVID pandemic. Do you believe this is true?  

Brad and Bob- Outdoor education is a great way to experience the world around them while affording opportunities to socialize in a safe manner. When properly done, guided physical activity in the outdoors has a litany of benefits, including building community and trust with peers, reducing feelings of isolation as well as providing opportunities for self-control and to demonstrate grit.

Q: There is pressure for afterschool programs to divert their resources away from things like physical activities and outdoor ed to address academic learning loss. What are your thoughts on this?

Ed- Yes, we have a learning loss crisis and need to address that. What perpetuates that crisis? In large part, we have a mental health services gap, a connection gap, and a lingering malaise for black and brown youth whose families bore the brunt of pandemic sickness, death, and economic difficulty. My son goes to a tony private school. Are they freaking out about learning loss? No. They are giving themselves years to help their students catch up, in the meantime they continue to emphasize field trips, experiential learning, service learning, sports, dances, and social activities. Let's stop quantifying poor kids as numbers that need to be improved and start creating rich learning experiences to prepare them for life. These experiences include connection, wonder, play, and movement.

Brad and Bob- We’ve all heard the saying “what gets measured gets done” and this is often all too true in K-12 education. Unfortunately, this has meant a shift towards standardized testing and numerical evaluation of our students and those numbers—which get measured very precisely—become the focus rather than on building whole, well rounded individuals. 

Physical activity and exercise are important parts of the human experience, even if they aren’t as easily quantifiable as a math test. Programs that encourage students to move and play provide a wealth of positive results, including improving student’s mental health, and can provide a force multiplier effect, increasing the student’s performance in the other parts of their school day.

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2.


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Play comes natural to kids and to out-of-school time educators! Research across youth development and education fields have identified principles that define playful learning and the positive youth outcomes that can come from intentional play. In this webinar, we will explore this topic and learn about free resources you can use to incorporate high-quality playful learning opportunities into your programs and how to advocate for more play in the lives of children. To learn more and register, click here.

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