Fun fitness

Narelle Eather believes encouraging children to be more active is easier than people think - it's all about giving them the right tools.

Narelle Eather

Despite pessimistic talk of a generation of computer-obsessed kids doomed to grow up unfit and overweight, Eather is encouraged by the early indications from an eight-week physical activity intervention program she has been delivering to primary school students.

The physical education lecturer, former national league netball player and mother of two young girls is three years into a PhD project aligned with the Faculty's new Priority Research Centre in Physical Activity and Nutrition. It is designed to improve the skills, knowledge and attitudes of children towards physical activity and boost their fitness levels.

Called Fit 4 Fun, her program for children in years five and six was prompted by the former secondary school teacher's observations of her students' lack of confidence and competence in physical skills.

"I found that even fundamental movement skills were poor in a lot of the kids I was teaching and fitness levels were low, largely because what they were doing in sport and physical education at primary school was not of a high enough standard to set them up for the rest of their lives," Eather says.

"It has been shown that attitudes and behaviour developed in primary school carry through to adolescence and adulthood, which is why I decided to target my program at younger children, so we are getting to them before those attitudes are cemented."

Eather recognised that primary school teachers were often ill-equipped to deliver quality physical activity programs, either because of their lack of knowledge and confidence or the absence of relevant teaching aids. Consequently, one of the aims of her project is to build a resource that can be used by any classroom teacher.

Eather has this year delivered her tailored physical activity program to four schools in the Hunter Valley, working with about 250 students. She took baseline measures of each student's fitness at the start of the year, accompanied by a questionnaire to gauge their attitudes to physical activity, and will complete two rounds of follow-up tests at staggered intervals.

While the program was delivered at school, the children were also given "homework" to involve their parents.

While Eather is still assessing the data from her program, the feedback from a feasibility study she did with 50 children last year was promising.

"I saw that attitudes had changed and fitness had improved in just eight weeks," she says, "which suggests to me that it is really not hard to make a difference to kids' activity levels."