Doing things together, pupils and adults

The fruit tuck shop at Longniddry Primary in East Lothian, featuring a mouth-watering collection of strawberries, watermelon, pineapple, bananas and other fruit, is a key component of the health and fitness initiatives that recently won the school a special award from Sportscotland.

Longniddry's two young active primary school co-ordinators, P7 pupils Paul Thomson and Rebecca Hall, put a lot of effort into keeping fitness at the top of the school's agenda.

"Last month we organised a whole week of activities for everybody in the school," says Paul. "We called it Fit for Health, and we had dancing, skipping, swimming, a fun run and an obstacle course for the Primary 1s. We also ran an aerobics session out in the playground for everybody, including the teachers."

"Since then," says Rebecca, "the Primary 3s and their teacher have been skipping regularly and jogging around the park every morning before their lessons."

"I play a lot of sport," says Paul, "but keeping fit doesn't have to be about sport. Even walking the dog can help."

Younger children are more inclined to act on the fitness message when it is delivered by pupils rather than adults, Rebecca believes. "They get to know us because we're their older buddies when they first come to school. So they listen to what we have to say."

The two pupil co-ordinators, who won their posts "because we had a lot of ideas about how to get people fit", have raised hundreds of pounds from local businesses to aid their efforts. They have organised and run sports tournaments for charity. They have mapped out safe routes for walking to school in collaboration with pupil road-safety officers, and persuaded East Lothian council to install a pedestrian crossing near the school gates.

Depute headteacher Shona Larnie, while accepting that all this is helping her pupils acquire good habits for later life, also believes that the more immediate gains should not be ignored.

"One of the most effective ways of dealing with a difficult class is to take them out for a run before lessons," she says.

To the sceptical this sounds implausible. "No, the blood is pounding and their brains are much more active," she insists. "You can even get them to do maths. They settle down and work a lot better after exercise."

This is what is behind a new national initiative, explains June Murray, Sportscotland's active primary schools co-ordinator at Longniddry and four other schools in the area. "Class Moves will be rolled out across Scotland in June. It's all about improving children's attitude and concentration by getting them to do simple physical activities in the classroom for five to 10 minutes before getting back to work."

Ms Murray is one of three dozen former teachers working as activity co-ordinators in 250 primary schools across Scotland. Their remit is to encourage children to become more physically active, in school and out, and they employ a variety of imaginative methods to do so.

"One that I'm particularly keen on," says Ms Murray, "and have introduced at all the schools I work with, is old-fashioned playground games. A lot of them are almost lost now but the kids love them. We get the older children to teach the young ones, which helps those who are a bit shy and gives them more confidence."

One of the most striking aspects of the physical activities that have become an integral part of the school ethos is the social and personal returns for everyone involved, from the classrooms and staffroom to beyond the gates.

"When Paul and Rebecca organised the Fit for Health week a lot of parents came," says Ms Larnie. "It was wonderful to see the tots running around and some of the parents joining in with the fun run and aerobics. All our teachers have entered the Race for Life charity run. And when we took the children on a school trip to Haddington we decided to walk the six miles or so back.

"We are doing all these things together and it's really nice for the teachers and children."

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