We should use physical activity to integrate children into society!

Impact of physical activity on learning and integration?

Some 100 invited guests from the worlds of education, science, sport and healthcare attended the Muuvit Conference at the Felleshus of the Nordic Embassies in Berlin on 20 January 2015.   Marko Kantomaa, researcher at the Finnish Research Center for Sport and Health Sciences, gave a talk on the topic of "Physical movement for learning success".

During the podium discussion that followed, experts discussed physical movement, learning and integration. The following is a brief summary of this round of talks.

Why is physical activity important?

Marko Kantomaa (researcher at the Finnish Research Center for Sport and Health Sciences):

"Children and adults should get at least 60 minutes of exercise every day, yet only one in three people engage in enough physical activity. There is a positive link between children's physical fitness and learning outcomes. Some possible explanations for this link are increased brain activity, improved motor and cognitive skills, a better ability to concentrate and greater social interaction. Children who get enough exercise miss less school. Which kind of activity has an impact on which type of learning and what the ideal activity level is for learning are questions that have not been studied yet."

How are physical activity and integration connected?

Susanna Rahkamo (former Finish figure skater): "Sport is a good way to do something together and also to learn rules and social behaviour. Sport promotes the values of the Olympic family like solidarity, team spirit, fair play and helpfulness and aids in friendship development."

Prof. Dr. Heather Cameron (Professor of Integration): "We should use physical activity and sport to integrate children into society.  Especially those who are more likely to be on the fringes, such as children with an immigrant background. Those children need support. They need programmes that integrate them. Physical activity enables people of different nationalities to come together. We offer girls with a Turkish background an opportunity to learn boxing as part of our Boxgirls project. Not only do they learn how to box, they also learn about life in general. Sport is a way to get to know your body."

Physical activity and school?

Kathrin Bornschein (school teacher from Lower Saxony): "As far as I'm concerned, physical activity and learning should be paired every day. I consider it important for activity-based concepts to be supported by the teaching staff."

Dr. Thomas Poller (school sport advisor of the State of Berlin): "What's important is that schools acknowledge that this link exists and that it's vital to get schools moving. We're not talking about competitive sports here, simply physical exercise in general. It's a responsibility that schools should take on and they should also appeal to parents for support. While it works extremely well at some schools, we still haven't been able to achieve a more widespread adoption of this approach. Changes are needed at the political level. School sport and physical education are vital."

What steps are being taken?

Kathrin Bornschein: "Muuvit is all about everyday activity – not just sport. Integrating movement into classroom lessons is only natural, if you ask me."

Prof. Dr. Heather Cameron: "A large number of outdoor educational offerings is available including educational field trips, summer camps and other opportunities."

Marko Kantomaa: "Guidelines will be implemented into the Finish curriculum next year specifying how physical activity can be integrated into teaching. If excercise is a part of the curriculum, every teacher will have to think about it."

Dr. Thomas Poller: "Getting schools moving means opening schools up. I would love to see more proponents of the concept than just those sitting here in this room. Ideas are abundant but the networks have to grow. I highly recommend Muuvit."

Where would you start making changes?

Kathrin Bornschein: "I would schedule one hour of sport every day – that's a bit utopian, though. I think we have to start with the parents. If parents understand just how important physical activity is for their child's physical and mental development, that's already a big step in the right direction."

Prof. Dr. Heather Cameron: "Lots of people focus on the parents. But the real question is how can we create an open infrastructure, in other words how can we facilitate access to exercise opportunities, and ensure that everybody can participate? We need facilities that are accessible to everybody and supervised by qualified staff."

Dr. Thomas Poller: "I think it's important that the topic of physical activity be addressed as part of general teacher training, not just training for physical education teachers. I would also like to see the press writing not just about overweight children, but about effective ways to make changes."

Julia Reinking (General Manager at Duden Learnattack GmbH): "I also feel that it's up to the press to address the fact that physical exercise is completely normal and important. Positive reporting is needed to increase awareness of the topic among people of all ages."