Children who play sport can be winners in the classroom [Scotland on Sunday]
(Scotland on Sunday Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) CHILDREN who play sport and exercise can improve their academic performance, experts have claimed.While boosting health and fitness are often promoted as the key benefits to increased physical activity, growing attention is now being given to its potential to impact across all areas of life.Gregor Henderson, who advises the UK government on public health and wellbeing issues, said there was now good scientific evidence that taking part in sport boosted educational achievement, increased confidence and improved mental health.But he said these benefits were not always recognised, which made young people less likely to take part if they believed only winning and being good at sport were important.One example of the wider benefits of sport is in the field of educational achievement, with growing scientific evidence that activity boosts learning ability. A study by researchers at the universities of Strathclyde and Dundee last year found links between exercise and exam success in English, maths and science.They claimed that every 15 minutes of daily exercise improved performance by an average of about a quarter of a grade, meaning it was possible that children who carried out 60 minutes of exercise every day could improve their academic performance by a full grade - for example, from a C to a B, or a B to an A.Another project in Scottish schools - Better Movers and Thinkers (BMT) - is also taking different approaches to physical exercise using rhythm, balance and movement to improve performance in the classroom.The issue will be discussed at the Winning Scotland Foundation's (WSF) Your Personal Best event this week in Clydebank, where Scotland's top athletes will meet schoolchildren from across Scotland to discuss their own challenges and achievements.The aim is to inspire young people to succeed in whatever they choose to do by demonstrating the importance of hard work, sustained effort and learning from mistakes.Henderson, a WSF board member, said they were keen to promote the wide range of benefits that sport can bring."We are beginning to drill down into what participating in sport brings to children and their families but also communities," he said. We are trying to improve educational outcomes, health outcomes and community wellbeing."There is a lot of really good evidence about the links between participation in sport and physical activity and what that might be for children and young people. It increases pro- social behaviour, improves physical and mental health, and helps achieve fundamental life skills."Andrew Dalziell, who helped develop the BMT programme, said there was no question the benefits from physical activity stretched beyond health.Dalziell, a PhD research student at Edinburgh University, said BMT was now being rolled out across Scotland following the success they had seen in the classroom."The pilot study we did found there were links between BMT being used in schools and improvements in things such as working memory and spelling," he said."So definitely there is a link with getting kids more active, but also the nature of that activity can also have effects on improved confidence and self-esteem, social integration as well as academic learning itself."Case study : 'I decided to be an explorer when I was 12'When Craig Mathieson was at school he admits he spent a lot of time staring out of the window rather than focusing on his studies.Now, after leading the first Scottish expedition to the South Pole, he is trying to help young people make the most of education and improve their lives through physical activity and learning new skills.The 45-year-old explorer is currently preparing ten Scottish youngsters for a trek in Greenland. When they return they will be expected to tell their story to thousands more pupils."I made the decision to be an explorer when I was 12. When you mention this to a career adviser you get laughed at," Mathieson said. "She said 'people like you don't do that'. She was a very inspirational woman!"Mathieson got to the South Pole in 2004 and then lectured in Scottish schools, where he looked to inspire youngsters whose own futures looked uncertain.He said one student, Christopher, who had no self-belief, ended up skiing with him to the North Pole and in the process turned his life around, becoming the first in his family to go to university before moving to New Zealand, where he is training to be a teacher.Mathieson's new Polar Academy will take a group of 14 to 18-year-olds to Greenland next year. "When they come back, as a minimum, they will be speaking to 24,000 high school kids," he said. "It is a proper expedition."
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