Sixty minutes of physical activity can do a lot for a young child.
While lack of exercise has led to one and three children in America being overweight or obese, a new study published in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development shows regular exercise helps children to develop larger brain volumes that are associated with memory and thinking functions, including decision-making and behavior.
But, fitting in sixty-minutes of activity every day is often difficult for children.
Sangamon Principal Wendy Starwalt introduced 30 Polar Watches to P.E. teacher Melinda Douglas before Christmas break.
Douglas familiarized herself with the device with her daughter over Christmas break, and when she introduced them to her students over the course of the last two weeks, they loved them.
Douglas said that children who already had Fitbits, a similar device to the Polar Watches, would show her how many steps they took when they visited her classroom throughout the week.
With 30 Polar Watches at Sangamon, all students have been able to track their progress during P.E. class.
The watch, which can be programmed to the child’s name, has an avatar that mimics when the child is sitting, walking or running. As the child reaches their 60-minute goal, a capsule fills up, letting the child see how close they are to their goal.
But students are not in P.E. for 60-minutes a day at Sangamon. Each class only visits P.E. for 30-minutes twice a week.
On Wednesday night, Sangamon parents were notified via email that their child would be wearing a watch home for several days during the spring semester.
Within the email, parents were informed that the children have been “instructed to never take the watch off, and to wear it on their non-dominant wrist.”
The email goes on to say that “the watch is waterproof, so showering, bathing and swimming is fine with the watch on. (The students) should also sleep in the watch. In rare cases, students cannot fathom sleeping with it on their wrist, and that is fine, just please be sure they put it on as soon as they get up from bed.”
In an interview today, Douglas said that if children do not want to take the watch home, they do not have to. With P.E., recess and other movement opportunities throughout the day, Douglas believes that children may be able to fill up their capsule.
Once children arrive to school, the classroom teacher will download their data, which saves and resets each morning, through a device called Flow Link. Then students will be able to see their activity through a personalized fish in a virtualized classroom aquarium.
Students will wear their watch throughout the week for 4-5 days. Then the set of watches will be passed onto another class so that all students throughout Sangamon get a turn before the semester is finished.
Douglas said that at this time, unless requested by the parent, students will not have access to manipulate or decorate their aquarium. Instead, the entire class will work towards meeting their classroom goal together before Douglas visits the classroom on Friday with some sort of prize or celebration.
Douglas added that the Polar Watch is just another way to help kids get excited about physical activity.
Sangamon Elementary has encouraged healthy eating throughout the years with the Healthy Food of the Week program that retired Principal Mark Cabutti and local artist Lori Hogan started.
Each day at lunchtime children who have brought and tried the designated healthy food get to go out to recess early.
Douglas hopes as the watches excite the children that they will also learn more about how much physical activity they are partaking in each day.
Mahomet-Seymour Junior High and High School use Polar Watches during P.E. class each day to monitor whether each student is hitting their goal heart rate during each class.
Douglas said within the next year, Lincoln Trail will also have Polar Watches.