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Welsh families embrace college’s physical activity program

Janet Kiplinger Ciccone
May 09, 2019

Jackie Goodway’s physical activity program for preschoolers recently received a singular honor. The government of Wales recommended it be implemented country-wide to counteract an obesity crisis among its young children.

Twenty-seven percent of Welsh children aged 4-5 are overweight or obese in Wales, compared to 22.6 percent of the same-age children in England.

A professor of health, physical activity and exercise, Goodway created SKIP, or Successful Kinaesthetic Instruction for Preschoolers, nearly three decades ago. She has partnered with Nalda Wainwright, director of the Wales Institute for Physical Literacy at University of Wales Trinity St. David, for almost 10 years. They adapted SKIP to fit with the play-based approach of the Welsh Foundation Phase curriculum.

SKIP helps develop children’s skill in basic physical activity, but “increasing evidence suggests that children who move early and often in a program like SKIP have better academic outcomes, as well,” Goodway said. “Children have better test scores, they process information more efficiently, they have better concentration. Moving is absolutely critical to brain development.”

Goodway described SKIP as “a snowball that started small, and the more people who got involved, the more people wanted to get involved.”

The pair first taught SKIP in Wales as part of the Welsh Government’s Physical Literacy Programme for Schools (PLPS). PLPS was targeted in schools in areas of socio-economic deprivation, and many of the children needed extra support with their physical skills. “SKIP had an incredible impact,” Goodway said.

Part of the Welsh government physical literacy program included a strong emphasis on parental engagement, with parent bags being provided to engage families in physical activity. Incorporating SKIP-Cymru, as it is called in Wales, with the parental engagement was very successful.

“We said to parents, ‘Bring all your kids, babies, older kids,’” Goodway said. “In the gym, we talked about children’s development as they practiced the movements, how to see the differences in movement quality and how to track their children’s growth, which is important.”

While they were teaching, Goodway saw the principal standing over to the side, looking emotional. She went over to ask what was wrong.

“I taught some of these parents as elementary children, and I have never seen them play like this and be so happy with their children,” the principal said. “This is magical.”

“Being able to play with their children is not only supportive of the children’s development,” Goodway said, “but parents are getting back a part of their childhood.”

As moms and dads were trained, Goodway and Wainwright saw them becoming leaders in their schools. “Now they’re training all new parents to work with their kids,” Goodway said. “The school actually hired some moms who had never had jobs to help with the training. They don’t need me anymore. That’s a success story.”

The parent bags also brought people together. The bags contain hula hoops, bats and balls, polyspots for jumping from spot to spot, bean bags and a journal. Parents in Wales took pictures as they worked with their child and described what activities they did with the items. Then they passed the bags on to the next families.

In the process, parents started writing letters to each other in the journals about the fun activities they had created. “Kids would encourage parents to do the activities with them. Moms started getting together to play, with and without kids,” she said. “Parents said, ‘This is the first time our family has ever turned off the TV and played together.’”

The Wales government endorsement

SKIP develops basic movement skills, such as running and jumping. It also builds more advanced movement skills used in sports and games.

“We know from evaluations … that children make significant improvements in their motor skills, but more than that staff and parents have reported increased levels of confidence, increased physical activity in school and at home and higher engagement in learning,” Wainwright said at the launch of the report from the National Assembly for Wales’ Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.

Wainwright sees SKIP-Cyrmu as a means to positive health outcomes for children.

kids practice kicking balls with adult guidance

SKIPing around the world

Goodway first piloted SKIP when she was a graduate student at Michigan State University. She’s refined it at Ohio State during the last 20 to 25 years. Each graduate student who studied with her, each visiting scholar, would see SKIP in action and learn to teach it to teachers and children ages 3-8.

Today, SKIP is taught in many countries across five continents, thanks to Goodway’s former students and visiting scholars.

“Irmak Humeric teaches it in Turkey, Harriet Aumi in Ghana and Rhona Cohen in Israel.” Goodway listed names of alumni and countries with ease. “Ruri Familia taught it for her dissertation study in Indonesia. It’s also taught in England, Belgium, Germany and Japan.”

At the first Welsh school where she taught SKIP, she and Nalda Wainwirght began with two teachers. Others saw their young students not only develop their movement skills, but also their academic abilities. The teachers asked for training, too.

“The head teacher was blown away by what was happening,” Goodway said. “‘I want you to train every single teacher in my school,’ she said. They changed the whole landscape in their school to embed physical activity. They gave more access to the outdoors, they gave parents ideas of how to do SKIP at home.”

In Columbus, Goodway works with local Head Start programs. In her service-learning course, undergraduate students teach SKIP to children at the G-Tyree Learning Center.

The students contribute about 1,000 hours of volunteer time, bringing the benefit of physical activity to young children from under-resourced backgrounds.

SKIP is also at the college’s Schoenbaum Family Center, Ohio State’s childcare center and other sites.

Today, when Goodway visits a site where she trained teachers years ago, some show her the activities they’ve created for children in SKIP. “For me, that’s a sign of success when I’m learning from them,” she said.

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