unizeit Schriftzug

Checking primary school students’ physical activity level

Do children in Schleswig-Holstein need more physical exercise? And how can we measure their fitness level? This is being investigated, on behalf of the state of Schleswig-Holstein by sports scientists from Kiel University in cooperation with Europa-Universität Flensburg.

Skipping with a skipping rope is one of the exercises used to examine the movement skills of third graders
© Johannes Wohlers

Skipping with a skipping rope is one of the exercises used to examine the movement skills of third graders. Fridolin, Jelka and Ole (from left to right) master the task for the photo easily.

Physical activity and exercise are important – especially for children. “Walking, running, climbing, jumping, balancing, throwing or catching balls and every other form of exercise contribute a great deal to children’s healthy physical, mental and psychosocial development,” Professor Manfred Wegner said. Together with his colleagues, Dr Johannes Wohlers and Sven Rüsbült, the sports scientist at the Institute of Sport Sciences at Kiel University investigates the movement skills of children. However, today’s school kids do not have much time for physical exercise. All-day primary schools offer lessons and supervision in both mornings and afternoons, while digital learning – as we saw during the Covid-19 pandemic – requires the students to sit in front of the PC. And computer games, mobile phones and television also dominate a lot of the free time school children have. “Some kids do not get enough physical exercise,” Wegner said. And this has consequences for the development of motor skills, which are important for their overall development: “Some kids can barely walk backwards or balance along a beam,” the sports scientist explained. “As a result, children firstly lack basic cultural techniques and secondly, they lack access to exercise as a prerequisite for physical health,” Wohlers added.

And still we have no established tests for motor diagnostics, which is why no comparable and reliable figures and indicators describing the athletic abilities of primary school children in Schleswig-Holstein are available. But that is about to change: “The Kiel’s and Flensburg’s universities have been commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Science and Cultural Affairs in Schleswig-Holstein to check the physical activity levels of primary school children and to draw up recommendations to provide targeted support for the very sporty as well as the more inactive pupils – and all those in between,” said Wegner. On behalf of the ministry, the sports scientists from Kiel, together with a team from Europa-Universität Flensburg, are investigating how these tests can best be conducted to highlight the needs with regard to physical activity. In a next step, third grade pupils across the northern region will be checked in a comprehensive study. This pilot project will be carried out over a time frame of three years (2019 to 2022), backed by state funds of EUR 300,000.

In the process, two test procedures that are both recognised and used in Germany will be reviewed. The EMOTIKON test concentrates more on stamina, assessing speed, strength and endurance. The MOBAK test, on the other hand, assesses basic motor skills such as catching, balancing or rolling a ball. “The pupils participate in exercises from both tests on different days,” Wegner stated. The final evaluation is supposed to show which test procedure is best suited to meet the targets set by the state.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to delays in primary school testing, but the first phase is expected to be completed in autumn. Followed by phase two: this consists of a recommendation to the ministry based on the evaluation and the development of concepts for teachers, together with the IQSH, that can be offered as professional training and further education. At university, prospective teachers shall also be made more aware of athletic abilities in their school classes, on the one hand, while on the other hand also paying attention to movement deficits of children in this stage of development.

The “Bewegungschecks” pilot project is also supported by the state sport association “Landesportverband” (LSV). The LSV thus implements a requirement set out in the young athletes’ sports concept promulgated by the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB). “The LSV wants to use this sports test to recognise athletic talents in schools in order to better support their development through sports clubs. We also work together with the LSV to check available potential at sports clubs and regional activities that can be used for those students who are in need of more support,” Wegner explained. This makes the project a driving force that provides new impetus for already established ties between schools and sports clubs.

Author: Jennifer Ruske