Fun & Fitness with Balloons

Article excerpt

The urgency to improve fitness levels and decrease the rate of childhood obesity has been at the forefront of physical education philosophy and praxis. Few would dispute that school-age youth need to participate regularly in physical activities that enhance and maintain both skill- and health-related physical fitness. Regular physical activity during childhood and adolescence is associated with numerous physiological and psychosocial benefits and has the potential to improve the quality of life for boys and girls as they move to adulthood and beyond (Strong, Malina, Blimkie, Daniels, Dishman, Gutin, Hergenroeder, Must, Nixon, Pivarnik, Rowland, Trost & Trudeau, 2005). Despite these potential benefits, numerous studies show that children and adolescents are not just far less active than their predecessors, but often completely physically inactive (Pate, Davis, Robinson, Stone, McKenzie, & Young, 2006).

Because of the current health state of children, the National Task Force on Community Prevention Services recommends modifying school physical education in order to enhance physical activity behaviors and improve physical fitness (CDC, 2001). This recommendation has prompted the development of new and creative approaches that provide an opportunity for children and adolescents to participate in regular, healthy physical activities. Currently, a trend yielding positive results in terms of fitness has been medicine ball (med-ball) training. One concern with med-ball training is that the actual med-balls were expensive and too heavy (primarily with K-2 students), which made it unsafe and too physically challenging for some elementary children to use. Although the med-ball activities and concepts were still applicable to elementary students, a simple modification is used to make it safe and fun for all students.

Balloon Training

In our elementary physical education program, durable punch balloons are used. While sizes may change based on the activity taught, we have found that using punch balloons, minus the rubber band, inflated to the size of a basketball worked best for students and are used for the majority of the activities discussed in this article. Due to their tendency to pop, using party balloons is not advised. The change to using balloons may make all the difference in the way your students engage in activity. Over the years, not only has the decrease in fitness been evident, but we have observed many instances when a child cannot control body movements and has problems decelerating or changing direction during class activities. There are also situations where a student has difficulty catching a ball or striking one with a racket. These examples highlight the importance of addressing individual needs and bringing to light the advantage of balloon training, not only for fitness conditioning, but also as a means for fundamental skill development.

Unique to most other modes of fitness training, balloon training slows down each movement to a controllable level, and thereby increases the likelihood that students will master new skills and achieve success. Elementary students, particularly in grades K-2, are still learning how to manipulate both their body as well as objects through space, and therefore must be provided with developmentally appropriate yet meaningful physical tasks and activities. With age-appropriate guidance and instruction, this type of training can provide all children an opportunity to gain confidence in both skill performance and fitness participation that may encourage activity outside of school. Additionally, when students are able to accomplish a task with a balloon using minimal effort, they will be better prepared to perform more difficult motor skills that require balance, coordination and a sense of rhythm (e.g., dribbling a basketball or kicking a soccer ball). In our elementary physical education program, balloon training serves as a precursor to medicine ball training and other skill related activities. …