Children in Singapore are getting chubbier! According to a recent Straits Times report, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan has warned that the rising obesity rate – from 2.8% in 1994 to 3.6% in 2007 – could one day become a big problem in Singapore. NIE’s Physical Education and Sports Science staff offer a potentially simple solution to this weighty problem – PLAY.
When Associate Professor Michael Chia and his collaborator Dr Patricia Wong started the pilot study for PRIDE for PLAY (Personal Responsibility in Daily Effort for Play for Participation in Lifelong Activity for Youths) in 2007, they were convinced that play is beneficial for all.
And the results from the pilot study, which involved Primary 1 and 2 pupils in two schools, reaffirmed their belief.
What is PRIDE for PLAY?
In 2006, a study revealed that children need a daily dose of at least 90 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise to stay healthy well into their adult years (Anderson et al., cited in Chia, 2007).
But the compulsory 70-105 minutes of weekly physical education (PE) lessons in our schools falls short of this requirement.
It seems that most parents would also prefer to keep their children at home after school, rather than let them out to play, because they fear for their safety. Most children end up watching TV, doing their homework, or playing computer games.
So, where and when can children find opportunity to engage in 90 minutes of healthy activity on a daily basis?
This prompted A/P Chia, Head of NIE’s Physical Education and Sports Science Academic Group, to come up with PRIDE for PLAY – an innovative and creative approach to keeping fit and fabulous.
As part of this study, 20-45 minutes of curriculum time was set aside daily for play. This was done by shortening each period for academic studies by 2-5 minutes. These extra minutes were then pooled to prolong recess time or to provide additional time slots during the school day for active physical play, over and above formal PE periods.
The benefits of PLAY
Playing is “a natural disposition” of all children and is an essential part of their development, says A/P Chia. But he believes that play can offer much more.
A/P Chia says that “play is a precursor to sports”, which is a more organised form of play. It follows that developing a play culture is a step towards achieving our national goal of creating a sports-loving culture (see Lin, 2008). Thus, it is important that young people have access to fun and safe play in the school context frequently, if not on a daily basis.
Daily play in a school setting helps with weight maintenance and provides opportunities for pupils to be themselves as they can express themselves through movement, physical activity, and sports.
It also provides a much-needed break from all the “important near-work” of reading, writing, and working at the computer. This would certainly help to keep the rates of myopia, another growing concern, under control.
“Play is just healthy and it can provide balance,” quips A/P Chia. “We certainly could have more of that in and outside of school.” This balance means that pupils can learn better!
At the school level, play can aid in building up interpersonal relationships. In one of the participating schools, the principal was concerned that their Primary 6 pupils were not developing better bonds with their teachers. When A/P Chia learnt about this, he immediately saw how PRIDE for PLAY could help to facilitate and develop these pupil-teacher bonds in a naturalised and fun setting.
The programme creates an environment where pupils and teachers can mingle informally and try to understand each other from a different perspective. PRIDE for PLAY also provides an excellent platform for pupil bonding among the different races, which was another concern of the school.
Using the example of table tennis, A/P Chia explains: “Through PLAY, the pupils suddenly see that this teacher also loves table tennis, and it spins off a conversation that has nothing to do with language or math. That is also a naturalised setting for peers who previously may not naturally mix together to suddenly discover commonality.”
The joys of PLAY
At the end of the trial semester, feedback from parents was positive. The schools were pleased because the programme has helped to boost school morale without suffering a dip in their academic standards. And the students, of course, are certainly not complaining.
A/P Chia revealed that even though the study has ended, the programme is still ongoing at both schools. PRIDE for PLAY has given these schools a greater momentum towards the holistic development of their pupils.
Encouraged by the positive results from the pilot study, A/P Chia hopes to share the joys of play with more schools. He has been awarded funding by NIE to do just that. This will allow him to collect more concrete evidence for the positive results of play from a wider range of schools.
A/P Chia is optimistic that more schools will subscribe to the programme. He hopes that this will, in some way, help our youths to enjoy an active lifestyle. “The time is ripe, and the school ethos is more open to different types of practices.”
Chia, M. (2007). PRIDE for PLAY: Personal responsibility in daily effort for participation in life-long activity for youths. A Singaporean context. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 6, 374–379.
Lin, X. (2008, May 7). Want a sports culture? Play! The Straits Times, p. H11.
Tan, J. (2008, March 17). Case targets obesity and unhealthy fast food. The Straits Times, p. 1.