Friday, August 27, 2010


Kristi Bachelder Part II

In my last posting about my background I spoke about how spending time at a Shriners Hospital (as a burn patient in one of their orthopedic hospitals) and having my first encounters with children and adolescents with profound physical challenges, gave me: 1. gratitude for my able body and 2. an interest in pediatric health care.

Fast forward to today…. I have a career devoted to helping children with challenges (physical and otherwise) and still have an intense sense of gratitude for my ability to move my body. There are not many things that make me feel more grounded, competent, and happy than spending a few hours running, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, weightlifting, or gardening and I am extremely grateful for my ability to do so. The point I am trying to make is that: 1. I have a soft spot in my heart for helping kids who are physically challenged and 2. I place an extremely high value on my own ability to be physically active. Given my personal interests, I acknowledge that perhaps I am somewhat over-reactive in my extreme frustration about the sedentary, screen focused, lifestyles I see able-bodied children adopting as younger and younger ages. So, I apologize in advance if anyone finds my opinions offensive or wrong (though, if this happens, perhaps it will spark conversation which is the whole point of a blog anyway right?).

I find it distressing and at times, infuriating that between the academic demands of school and the lifestyles of many families, countless kids are sitting most of their day in school and then sitting in front of a screen at night and on weekends. Is it a coincidence that the majority of children I service through their special education programs prefer video games, TV, and movie watching to any other activity? Children NEED TO MOVE. They must run and jump and touch and spin and lift and pull and push and carry and roll and… you get my point. (Some children cannot physically move, are sensitive to movement, or have a sedentary disposition. If this is the case, then they need some type of intervention to help them be more comfortable and capable of moving.) ALL CHILDREN MUST MOVE AND SHOULD SPEND MOST OF THEIR DAY MOVING!! This is true whether the child is 1, 9, or 18. They should move in ways that they see as fun, comfortable, and meaningful to them. They don’t all have to “move” in the same manner or with the same intensity, but they should all be moving most of the day. This includes big movement activities like games, sports, playground equipment, or chores and also quiet movement where the body may be relatively still but the hands are busy creating and touching and exploring and building (not pushing game controller buttons!) and the eyes are moving from object to object and from what is in front of them to the things going on around them (not fixating on a screen!). There are so many physical, cognitive, social, and emotional reasons why this is important that I would have to write a small book to cover them all.

As an occupational therapist I place a VERY high value on what motivates and is meaningful to an individual or group and what is culturally, socio-economically, or personally relevant to an individual or group. Since TV, movies, video games, and the internet are all motivating, meaningful, and relevant parts of society today, I have to (and happily do) provide intervention that takes this into account. I also acknowledge there are many ways where technology is beneficial to learning and helping students to succeed.

BUT, screen learning deprives children of using their movement and touch senses (proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile senses). The younger the child is, the more detrimental excluding these senses from the learning experience can be. What about the Wii? Sure, it has its advantages over sedentary gaming, but children who play a “sport” on the Wii are not engaging all of the senses and often using abnormal movement patterns (anyone who has ever played a game on the Wii where “jumping” or “running” is involved understands this). There is no pounding of feet on the pavement, wind in the face, or weight of a real ball or racquet in their hands. It is a far cry from real-life physical activity.

I could ramble on forever about how strongly I feel about this topic but, the bottom line is: as a collective population we cannot expect our children to reach their maximum potential for physical health, psychological health, or intellect unless they learn to value an active lifestyle and they frequently engage in real-life activities that provide them with the same pleasure as a screen. This seems to be an enormous challenge, given the commercial appeal of screen based activities to children, the sedentary lifestyle most adults are accustomed to (and modeling for children), and the current trends in many schools (less time for movement and more time for sit down tasks to prepare students for standardized tests). In part 3 of this blog series I’ll attempt to provide my ideas on how to provide education, opportunities, and access for families and children to be more active. I certainly don’t have all the answers. I hope that by writing about this topic other parents, professionals, or community members will be prompted to share their successes with getting kids active, and/or their successes with educating others, and/or the obstacles that are preventing them from doing so.


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