Activity Breaks

Young children need to play. They have a deep, evolutionary need to do so. This urge to play goes well beyond ‘having fun’; it develops important pathways in the brain involved in creativity and empathy. Children in Primary School often struggle to maintain their concentration in the classroom, which leads to fidgeting and disruption. Research has shown that short bursts of playful activity can boost children’s focus and attention span whilst also satisfying their urge to play.

Activity Breaks can be used at any time in a classroom when attention is waning. They consist of a variety of physical actions which are fun and energetic. They can be performed beside a child’s desk, take three or four minutes and need no equipment. Studies have shown that children love doing them and that teachers report a significant improvement in focus and engagement afterwards. The few minutes taken from a lesson when performing an Activity Break is recovered by the subsequent increase in attention. Other benefits include an improvement in physical fitness and the association in children’s minds with exercise and having fun.

The activities are cognitively engaging. In other words, they require thought, imagination and reaction. Research has shown this type of activity has a greater benefit than a simple aerobic exercise, like running on the spot. However, simple aerobic exercise is considerable better than nothing.

All Primary School teachers should have a pack of Activity Breaks cards in their desk for those moments each day when their children are flagging.

Of course, parents can use Activity Breaks at home with their own children and when they have children’s parties.

The activities are presented on A4 sheets as downloadable PDF files. When they are printed on to white card and cut into quarters they become 14 individual activities on A6 cards with a 15th card as a set of instructions.


Fit children finish first in the classroom

Classroom-based high-intensity interval activity improves off-task behaviour in primary school students. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2014

Classroom-Based Physical Activity Breaks and Children’s Attention: Cognitive Engagement Works!

Exercise in schools can help children pay attention in the classroom

Fit children finish first in the classroom

The title of this post is the same as one of the chapters in my book, Stop Feeding Us Lies. The rest of this post, between the lines, is an excerpt from that chapter.

         In today’s politically correct world, you are unlikely to hear anybody in public office saying, ‘Physically fit children are academically superior to unfit children’, which is a problem because research from around the world has proved this to be true. As I explained in Chapter 3, physical activity increases the production of nerve-growth factors in the brain. One of the reasons we possess elaborate brains is because our ancestors, over a long period of time, were chasing animals for food. It has recently been discovered that the process of enhancing brain function by exercise produces rapid results in the development of children.

         In October 2013 Professor John Reilly, from Strathclyde University, and Doctor Josie Booth, from Dundee University, published their findings from a study which is following the lives of 5,000 children born in 1991 and 1992. This group is known as the ‘Avon Cohort’. The researchers examined the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity the children were doing at the age of 11 and compared this to their academic performance in English, mathematics and science. Their results showed that the children with higher levels of moderate to vigorous exercise had better academic performance across all three subjects, and this was true for both boys and girls. The children were assessed again at both 13 and 15 years of age, when it was found that their academic achievement was still linked to how much energetic exercise they had taken when they were 11.

         Professor Petri, from the University of North Texas, studied 1,211 children of very diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. As well as testing their fitness and academic achievement, he also took into account other influences like self-esteem, social support and economic status. At the end of the study he said, “Cardiorespiratory fitness was the only factor that we consistently found to have a positive effect on both boys’ and girls’ grades in reading and maths tests.” So, the frequently quoted idea that children from poor families, given little support, are always going to struggle in school because of their backgrounds is not proven in this study.[3] In fact, physical fitness was shown to be the most important factor relating to academic grades.

         There are many similar studies, by different universities, which also found a direct link between physical fitness and performance in school, but at the University of Michigan they went a step further and showed why this happens. Professor Art Kramer studied a group of nine and ten-year-olds by testing their ability to use oxygen while running on a treadmill. This is a standard measure of fitness, which is often used by athletes, and he discovered that the physically fit children were much more efficient at using oxygen than the less-fit children. When he tested their mental capabilities, it was clear that the fit children had a greater ability to remember and integrate various types of information than their less-fit peers. He knew that a part of the brain called the hippocampus is particularly important for the formation of memories, so he gave these children an electronic brain scan to measure the relative size of structures in the brain. When he analysed the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) data, he found that the physically fit children had a bigger hippocampus than the out-of-shape ones. On average, it was 12% larger which is clear evidence that physically fit children perform better in academic tests than unfit children. This happens because the physical exercise, which has made them fit, has also enlarged the parts of the brain that improve memory through the production of nerve growth factors.

       This is very significant information for the education of our children. I have studied the National Curriculum and it contains no requirement to improve the physical fitness of children during PE lessons. There is no mention of a raised heartbeat or increased strength but children are expected to be able to explain why exercise is good for them. There is a great opportunity here for schools to improve the performance of their children. Other research in the book also shows that increased exercise and fitness is likely to improve their general health, mental health, self-esteem and long term prospects.

Is a vegan diet safe for children?

The simple answer is no. A quick internet search reveals that parents from all over the world have been convicted in court of causing either the death, or severe malnutrition, of their own young children as a result of their vegan diet.

In Canada – Religious Vegan Parents Convicted in Starvation Death of Son. This boy was fed a strict vegan diet and died at 14 months old. At the time of death, the child suffered from a rash on 70% of his body, gangrene, hypothermia, and a staphylococcus infection.

In Belgium –  Baby Death: Parents convicted over Vegetable Milk Diet. The baby, Lucas, weighed just 4.3kg (9.5lb) when he died aged seven months, dehydrated and malnourished. The parents ran a ‘health food shop’ and fed him for four months with milk made from oats, buckwheat, rice and quinoa.

In America – Vegan couple sentenced to life over baby’s death. The couple were found guilty of malice murder, felony murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children for the death of their malnourished 6-week-old baby boy, who was fed a diet largely consisting of soy milk and apple juice.

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Breakfast Cereal

Have you ever wondered where breakfast cereal came from? Nearly everybody eats it nowadays and we are told it is a wholesome way to start the day, but who invented it and why? It will probably come as no surprise to learn that the first breakfast cereal was invented by a man called John Harvey Kellogg in 1878. It will probably come as quite a surprise to learn why he did it.

Kellogg was an American medical doctor of some renown and you may be thinking that, as a doctor, he devised Corn Flakes for sound nutritional reasons. Sadly, you could not be further from the truth. As well as being a doctor, he was also a religious zealot in the church of the Seventh Day Adventists. They take Christian scripture literally and have a strong emphasis on diet and health. Dr. Kellogg took these beliefs to extremes. Like many other members of his church, he regarded passion and sexual arousal as sins and the greatest sin of all was masturbation. He went to great lengths to try to stop it. He wrote a booklet entitled ‘The Rehabilitation of Masturbators’, where he described the extreme measures, even mutilation, he used on both sexes to curtail this ‘sin’. He was an advocate of circumcising young boys and applying phenol to a young woman’s clitoris to make the dreaded habit much more difficult. He sometimes sowed silver thread into the foreskin of boys so that erections were painful. He had a wife but never consummated his marriage because he thought it was sinful and they adopted their children.
Corn Flakes were invented as part of his strategy against self-gratification. He strongly believed that completely bland foods would decrease, or prevent, sexual arousal and that strong (nutrient dense) foods like meat would increase physical excitement. So, Corn Flakes were designed from the start to be as bland as possible in the belief that a lack of taste and nutritional quality would diminish normal human passions. His brother, William, who was less of a zealot and more of a business man, started the Kellogg’s company to sell bland, processed flakes of corn. William wanted to add sugar to the flakes to make them palatable but John wanted blandness above anything else. Eventually, William got his way and they now come sprayed with sugar. To make them slightly more nutritious than the cardboard box they come in, they are also sprayed with a few vitamins. This allows the Kellogg’s Company to make the dubious claim that dried flakes of corn might be healthy.
I find it ironic that millions of families all over the world give their children Kellogg’s cereals every morning without realising the sinister intentions behind their invention. The real irony is, that in a much less dramatic and obvious way, he is still managing to damage children’s health and well-being with a daily dose of sugar laden junk food.