PRIDE FOR PLAY: PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY IN DAILY EFFORT FOR PARTICIPATION
IN LIFELONG ACTIVITY FOR YOUTHS. A SINGAPOREAN CONTEXT
Physical Education and Sports Science Academic Group, National Institute
of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
14 March 2007
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2007) 6, 374 - 379
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|Singapore, a developed city state of four million people is experiencing
the pitfalls that come with rapid modernisation and economic progress-
elevated disease risk factors among adults and young people. Weekly
compulsory physical education classes of 70 minutes in schools and
the associated sports activities after classes are inadequate to meet
emergent physical activity guidelines of a daily accumulation of at
least 90 minutes of physical activity of at least moderate intensity.
Daily play sessions that are exclusive of an active daily recess,
physical education classes taught by trained specialists and after-school
sport sessions, can provide many developmental and holistic health
benefits that may carry over into adulthood. A school environment
that is play-encouraging, play-enabling and play-inviting can be a
useful, innovative and natural way of inculcating a love for movement
and help redress a serious trend of physical activity insufficiency
while youngsters engage electronic gaming activities. Pilot initiatives
for the PRIDE (personal responsibility in daily effort) for PLAY (participation
in lifelong activity for youths) programme is a radicalised approach
in a number of primary schools in Singapore to infuse daily physical
play of between 20 to 45 minutes during curriculum hours. The hope
is that PRIDE for PLAY will reap benefits of improved holistic health
of youngsters- better physical, social, emotional and mental attributes.
While PRIDE for PLAY is no panacea to all of the ills of modernisation,
it will go some way in helping the students of tomorrow to be physically
healthy, socially more engaged and tolerant of others, mentally more
apt to problem-solve and emotionally more proficient to embrace working
life in adulthood.
WORDS: Daily play, physical activity, children, Singapore.
In Singapore, it is the Ministry of Education policy for schools
to have at least 70 minutes of physical education per week for pupils
in primary schools and for students in secondary schools and junior
colleges. The majority of schools adhere to these guidelines and
at least one primary school has embarked on daily physical education
sessions. Some schools have extended time for physical activities
and sport on some days of the week. The aims and objectives of physical
education (PE) are laudable- the development of the young person
in the physical, psychomotor, cognitive and affective domains (PE
MOE) in the school setting. However, the PE teacher struggles for
time to adequately focus on the accomplishments of these aims and
objectives. A key expectation of physical education in Singapore
is that it equips young people to be well-prepared starters in taking
ownership and responsibility for their own health and well- being.
Yet, the 70 minutes of compulsory PE sessions per week per se fall
short of the paediatric and youth guidelines for a daily accumulation
of physical activity of at least 90 minutes or more, in order to
have a meaningful impact on health. In Singapore, as in many parts
of the developed cities in the region, progress, globalization and
affluence has resulted in the increased prevalence of physical inactivity
and concomitantly, an earlier onset of hypokinetic lifestyle diseases
in the population. Already in Singapore, though the prevalence of
overweight among school- going children and adolescents hovers nationally
at between 9-10%, (MOE, 2006),
the prevalence of school children with increased concentrations
of low density lipoprotein is apparently on the rise and Singapore
apparently has the highest rate of increase in adult-onset diabetes
in the world (Chia, 2006).
offers a lot to the holistic development of a child. Child-directed
play fosters creativity, problem-solving, social interaction,
motor development, physical fitness and enhances parent-child
relationships. However, the amount of time set aside for play
in kindergartens and primary schools requires a rethink. Play
can make a significant difference to imbuing a love for lifelong
physical activity whilst at the same time providing a viable
mechanism for weight maintenance, stress release and vibrancy
in young people. Juvenile obesity is an emerging epidemic
in the developed and developing nations of the world and physical
inactivity has serious consequences on the future health of
nations. Physical activity guidelines for infants, toddlers
and children need to be publicised and promoted and sedentary
activities balanced by physically active behaviours as both
are necessary prerequisites for the healthy development of
young people. Physical fitness and the functional capacities
of overweight children and children with special health care
needs can be improved by individualising the exercise mode
and making physical activities meaningful for each child.
Only then can the future health and vibrancy of young Singaporeans
and the citizens of economically emergent nations be adequately
and sufficiently ensured.
OPTIMAL DEVELOPMENT AT A YOUNG AGE
Play is very important for the optimal development of the child
in the formative years. The importance of play is recognised
by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as
a right of very child (General Assembly Resolution 44/25,
1989). In Singapore and elsewhere in many developed countries,
the right for play is threatened by hurried and pressured
lifestyles, sedentary pursuits and a lack of awareness of
the protective benefits of child-driven play. As a consequence,
in the absence of adequate amounts of child-directed play
and extended periods of physical inactivity, adult conditions
like cardiovascular disease and altered glucose metabolism
begin in infancy and childhood.
In Singapore, paediatric growth charts had to be revised in
the late 1990s to take into account the increased body mass
of children aged 1 to 6 years, where there was an average
increase of 0.5 kg of body mass for all ages without any corresponding
increase in stature. These changes were attributed to increased
energy storage because of better nutrition but equally could
be attributed to reduced energy expenditure at the paediatric
Another indirect consequence of the lack of activity in childhood
is also one of the highest incidence rates of adult-onset
diabetes in the world among Singaporeans. In addition, since
the 1990s, heart disease and stroke continues to be the leading
cause of premature death in adults (Singapore Heart Foundation,
These health warning signals in the adult population are a
wake-up call for action that much more needs to be done to
motivate our young towards a lifestyle of activity. All children
must be given the opportunity to develop their full potential.
Teachers and child advocates must press for circumstances
that allow all children to reap the benefits of play and physical
OF PLAY AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Modern living lifestyles continually threaten and curtail play.
So the arguments for play are based on the premise that play is
essential to the physical, cognitive, emotional and social development
of children. Time set aside for child-directed play and time spent
doing physical activity should not displace entirely time spent
in sedentary activities. Academic enrichment opportunities and sedentary
activities like reading and writing, group discussions and even
time spent on the computer also promote healthy child development.
However, the greatest barrier to play and physical activity is passive
entertainment. Though the amount of physical activity tends to track
from late adolescence into adulthood, relative inactivity tends
to track even better than increased activity (Raitakari et al.,
Next to sleeping, television is probably the most common activity
among children. No local or international published data are apparently
available on the number of hours of TV viewing by toddlers and young
children but some data on older children and adolescents show that
children who consistently spend in excess of 10 hours per week watching
TV are more likely to be overweight, aggressive and lower to learn
in school. However, not all data on the matter are unequivocal.
For instance, data published by Wang et al., 2005
in the Singaporean context on 780 children (285 boys, 482 girls
and 13 children did not state their gender) and of normal body weight,
aged 11 to 14 years, showed that sedentary behaviours among boys
and girls could be clustered and were distinctly different. Thirty-six
percent or 103 boys spent much of their sedentary time in technology-based
entertainment (e.g. computer/internet), while 38 % or 108 boys reported
substantial amount of time spent studying and doing homework. The
remaining 74 boys spent their time being physically active but they
also played a lot of video games. Among the girls, time spent socialising
with friends, studying, as well as, engaged in physical activity
amounted to 57.3 % or 276 girls. Fifteen percent or 72 girls reported
spending most of their time studying and doing homework. A group
of girls reported little study time, little socialisation as well
as low engagement in physical activity (27.8 % or 134 girls) compared
to their peers. Interestingly, 70 % or 546 children in this age
group spent 2.3 hours per day or up to seven hours a week doing
homework while only 5 % of boys and 6% of girls spent more than
4 hours per day watching TV.
These results demonstrated that sedentary behaviours and physical
activity behaviours among normal weight children were not inversely
related. This relationship shows that even though children spent
substantial amount of time engaged in sedentary activities, they
compensated for that by spending time being physically active as
well. The results of Wang et al., 2005
support the findings of an earlier study by Chia et al. (2002)
that showed that the increased use of information and communications
technology among normal-weight children and adolescents did not
have a negative impact on self-reported physical activity. It appears
that young people of normal body weight knew how to balance physical
inactive behaviours with physical activity and exercise (Chia et
Nonetheless, the amount of accumulated daily physical activity on
weekdays and on weekend days as assessed using heart-rate monitors
was inadequate and fell short of physical activity recommendations
enunciated by two international consensus statements by between
53 to 83%. A major challenge is to identify these clusters of youth
who are predisposed to 'unhealthy lifestyle behavours' and to intervene
sufficiently early before these behaviours become entrenched.
Collectively, these studies show that young Singaporeans are highly
inactive over the weekend and are substantially insufficient in
their daily accumulated physical activity on weekdays. These data
are affirmed by other research information that show that among
young people, it is the total basket of sedentary pursuits (e.g.
reading, sitting and talking on the phone, sleeping) and not merely
television viewing or computer use that is responsible for juvenile
obesity (Jago et al., 2005).
Consequently, reducing the time young people spent in all sedentary
behaviours, coupled with attractive physical activity alternatives
might get young people to be more physically active. Formal and
informal play, indulged daily hold such a potential.
THE BARRIERS TO PLAY
Barriers to play include our modern lifestyles where excessive
energy expenditure to complete tasks is no longer required, and
the curtailment of freedom to move about the neighbourhood unsupervised,
because parents or caregivers do not consider the neighbourhood
sufficiently safe. In contrast, parents may consider that the safest
place for young children is in front of the TV. As a consequence,
many young children grow up not recognising or experiencing the
simple joys of play or daily physical activity.
Opportunities for play at break time (recess) in elementary schools
and kindergartens in the USA, showed a reduction in schools and
kindergartens from 96% to 70% over a period of 10 years from 1989
to 1999 (Pelligrini, 2005).
It appears that in the USA, in a move to improve academic standards
in elementary schools have led to reductions in time committed to
recess, the creative arts and even physical education.
In Singapore, sagacious educational policies implemented in schools
at ensuring that all children develop holistically have enshrined
recess time and time for physical education and physical recreation
and sport as important. However, more is being done. Indeed, the
Ministry of Education announced in September 2006, a commitment
of $690 million dollars, over the next 10 years to build covered
sports halls in schools so that there will be increased opportunities
for children in schools to be engaged in sports all day long. An
Inter-Agency Task Force, chaired by the Senior Parliamentary Secretary
for Education on healthy and active children has also been set up
to promote and increase physical activity among young children (MOE,
via personal communication, author is a member of the Steering Committee,
2006-2007). Physical Education and Sports Science researchers at
the National Institute of Education, with funding from the Ministry
of Education of under half million dollars are researching on best
practices in PE and looking at how lifelong physical activity and
physical fitness of children and adolescents in schools can be institutionalised.
The MOE is also stepping up efforts to equip primary schools with
specialist PE teachers and also ensuring that trained specialist
PE teachers in schools are properly deployed.
The inclusion of play and physical activity in the daily lives of
young children seeks to strike a balance and create a child environment
that is conducive for all-round development so that Singaporean
children are well-prepared, well-balanced, healthy and active citizens
of tomorrow. Cogent anecdotal evidence among parents of pre-schoolers
suggest that at least in the first six months of primary school
life, nearly all parents polled cited that outdoor play, a daily
routine in pre-school was sorely missed by Primary 1 pupils upon
enrolment in primary school. From 2007, a pilot scheme, PRIDE for
PLAY (Chia, 2006),
is underway to include unstructured and structured play within the
school setting where young children will have an additional 20-45
minutes of time set aside daily, over and above formal physical
education classes, active recesses, before and after-school play
and co-curricular activities.
AND GAINS OF PLAY
Play is natural and is a simple joy that is a cherished part of
childhood. Play fosters creativity, promotes imagination, practices
dexterity and encourages emotional, cognitive and physical strength.
Indeed play is important for the healthy development of the brain
(Tamis- LeMonda et al., 2004).
Through play, children can explore the world, interact and engage
with peers and adults, practising mastery and resiliency and acquiring
competencies that will help them to face future uncertainty.
Play that is undirected by adults allows children to learn to share,
to care, to negotiate, to get along in groups, to resolve conflicts
and also to learn self-advocacy skills (Hurwitz, 2003).
No other medium allows for so much gain for so little investment.
When play is child directed, children practise decision-making,
move at their own, discover their own interests and children ultimately
engage in the passions that they wish to pursue. When play is adult-directed,
which is common, children acquiesce to adult standards and this
sometimes compromises creativity, leadership and group skills (MacDonald,
Play builds active and healthy bodies and encouraging unstructured
play everyday of the week that is interspersed throughout the day
could increase the habitual physical activity of children and help
ameliorate childhood obesity or delay it, helps with stress alleviation
and allows for 'good mood' hormones, which are released into the
circulation when physical activity thresholds are achieved, to take
effect (Chia, 2006).
Parents who spend time at play with young children get a glimpse
of the world through the 'child's eyes' and apart from opportunities
to offer gentle and nurturing guidance, the interactions also promote
enduring relationships between the child and parent (Smith, 1995). Interestingly, play is also used to foster academic
and social-emotional learning. Play help children to adjust to the
school environment, heightens children's readiness to learn, enhances
positive learning behaviours and fine-tunes problem-solving skills
OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY INSUFFICIENCY
The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that obesity should
be considered as a disease rather than a lifestyle problem. The
prevalence of obesity is on the increase in children worldwide,
especially in developed cities. A sedentary lifestyle, decreased
physical play and over consumption of foods have increased childhood
obesity to alarming levels. Data on children aged 6 to 11 years
in the USA showed that the prevalence of overweight has increase
nearly 200 % from 1984 to 1994- i.e. from 6.5 % to 11.4 % in boys
and from 5.5 % to 9.9 % in girls (Wadden et al., 2002).
The situation of childhood obesity in the UK is also pronounced.
In a sample of 2 630 English children, 22 % were overweight at age
6 years and 31 % at age 15 years. Obese children comprised 10 %
at age 6 years and 17 % at age 15 years (Reilly and Dorosty, 1999). Similar trends in increased prevalence were observed
in Australian children. In 1985, the prevalence of overweight and
obese children was 9.3 % in boys and 10.6 % in girls, with a further
1.7 % and 1.6 % obese in boys and girls respectively. Ten years
on, the prevalence of overweight children were 15 % in boys and
15.8 % in girls. The prevalence of obese children was 4.5 % in boys
and 5.3 % in girls (Magarey et al., 2001).
In Singapore, the School Health Survey showed that the prevalence
of obesity in the year 2000 was 10.8 % in children aged 6-7 years,
14.7 % in those aged 12-13 years, and 13.1 % in those aged 15-16
years (School Health Services, 2000). Press reports in 2005 suggest that the prevalence of
overweight in youngsters is 9-10 %. Nonetheless, concentrations
of the bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, LDL) in young children
appear to be rising and Singapore apparently has the highest rate
of increase in adult-onset diabetes in the world (Chia, 2006).
LDL is often known as bad cholesterol and high levels of LDL in
adults are known to cause heart disease and stroke, which are the
leading causes of premature deaths in Singaporeans. Even though
the relative incidence of juvenile obesity among Singaporean schoolchildren
may appear small and mild, in comparison to countries like the USA,
UK or Australia, prudence dictates that preventative measures and
programmes must be enforced to prevent a potential problem from
escalating (Parizkova, et al., 2007).
CONSEQUENCES OF CHILDHOOD OBESITY
The main cause of insulin resistance in childhood is obesity.
Insulin resistance is singled out as a precursor to a cluster of
adverse cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure,
high blood fats and alterations in the way the body utilise blood
sugar, known as metabolic syndrome X (Andersen et al., 2006).
Although short-term mortality is seldom associated with childhood
or adolescent obesity, childhood obesity is considered as a significant
predictor of long-term morbidity and mortality. Obesity is a complicated
disorder that involves many organs in the body, which can lead to
many health problems. In children, the common complications arising
from obesity include psychosocial problems, hyperlipidaemia, carbohydrate
metabolism abnormality and these conditions will usually persist
into adulthood. Other rare complications are orthopaedic problems
such as joint pains in the feet, knees and hip, which are exacerbated
by excessive body weight, sleep apnoea (disrupted sleep due to obstruction
of the airflow because of too much fat around the neck).
Obese and overweight children, including those in preschools (Chia,
experience weight-teasing by peers and children are bothered by
these teasing episodes. Bruche, 1975 summarises the deleterious psychological impact of obesity
in the young "The lot of fat children is a sad one. They
are bashful & ashamed of their shapeless figures yet unable
to conceal them. Wherever they go, they attract attention...Obesity
is a serious handicap in the social life of the child… Obesity does
not have the dignity of other diseases, and is not often taken seriously
by adults" (pp. 95).
Weight-teasing in schools is associated with disordered eating behaviours
that may place overweight children at risk for weight gain. In a
survey of 4746 young people in the USA, 63% of the very overweight
girls and 58% of the very overweight boys reported being teased
by their peers, while weight teasing by family members was reported
by 47% by these girls and 34% by these boys. The results also highlighted
that perceived weight teasing was significantly associated with
disordered eating behaviours among overweight and non-overweight
boys and girls (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2002), echoing a report published in the Straits Times on eating
disorders in all-girl-school in Singapore (Davie, 2006).
Chia and Wang (2003) sounded a warning in their published research among primary
school children where they reported that even children of a normal
body weight were dissatisfied with their body weight and voiced
the intention to lose body weight.
FOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY FOR TODDLERS AND CHILDREN
date there are no apparently no universally accepted guidelines
for physical activity that are promoted or accepted by all countries
for toddlers and young children. This is not surprising since there
is a dearth of relevant, reliable and substantial data on dose-response
benefits of physical activity (i.e. amount of activity that corresponding
results in health benefits) for these age groups. Moreover, the
nature and context of physical activity among different communities
in different countries are likely to be dissimilar.
Apparently, only the National Association for Sport and Physical
Education (NASPE, 2002) in the USA has enunciated physical activity guidelines
for infants, toddlers and young children. The guidelines were articulated
based upon the premise that adopting a physically active lifestyle
early in life increases the likelihood that infants and young children
will learn to move skillfully. In addition, promoting and fostering
enjoyment of movement and motor skill confidence and competence
at an early age will help to ensure healthy development and later
participation in physical activity.
The NASPE physical activity guidelines for infants (persons less
than 1-year-old) are:
should interact with parents and/or caregivers in daily physical
activity, which are dedicated to promoting the exploration of
should be placed in safe settings that facilitate physical activity
and do not restrict movement for prolonged periods of time.
physical activity should promote the development of motor skills.
should have an environment that meets or exceeds recommended safety
standards for performing large muscle group activities.
responsible for the well-being of infants should be aware of the
importance of physical activity and facilitate the child's movement
NASPE physical activity guidelines for toddlers (persons between
2 and 5 years old) are:
should accumulate at least 30 min daily of structured physical
activity and pre-schoolers, at least 60 minutes.
and pre-schoolers should engage in at least 60 minutes & up
to several hours per day of unstructured physical activity &
should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time except
and pre-schoolers should have indoor and outdoor areas that meet
or exceed recommended safety standards for performing large muscle
responsible for the well-being of toddlers and pre-schoolers should
be aware of the importance of physical activity & facilitate
the child's movement skills.
persons older than 5 years of age to adolescence, the current physical
activity guidelines for the promotion of lifelong physical activity,
the improvement in current health, physical fitness and well-being
(Pangrazi, 2001) are:
should accumulate at least 60 minutes and up to several hours
of age-appropriate physical activity on all or most days of the
week. The daily accumulation should include moderate-to-vigorous
physical activity of which the majority being intermittent in
nature. Brisk walking is considered as moderate intensity. Continuous
vigorous physical activity should not be expected for most children,
nor should it be a condition for meeting the guideline.
should participate in several bouts of physical activity lasting
15 minutes or more (Note: The majority of children's physical
activity will be intermittent in nature. For optimal benefits
to accrue, 50 % of the accumulation should be in bouts of 15 minutes
or more. These bouts can take place during recess, PE, play periods
or sports practices. Bouts of activities typically include activity
time interspersed with rest or recovery periods).
should participate each day in a variety or age-appropriate physical
activities designed to achieve optimal health, wellness, and fitness
and performance benefits.
important study by Anderson et al., 2006 showed
that a daily accumulation of at least 90 minutes of moderate-to-vigourous
intensity exercise or physical activity would be necessary for children
to prevent insulin resistance and to avoid a clustering of cardiovascular
risk factors in European 9 and 15-year-old children (N=1156 girls
and N=1045 boys).
Singapore, the Ministries of Community Development, Youth and Sport,
and Education are silent on these physical activity guidelines and
in pre-schools, though physical activity sessions are encouraged,
there is at the present time, no requirement for specialist physical
education teachers to be deployed in pre-schools and in primary
schools. There are also no local data on the physical activity of
pre-school children in Singapore. However, a study conducted by
Chia et al. (2003)
in 120 boys and girls aged 9-11 years showed that they were mainly
sedentary on a weekday (a median of 86% of time spent at a heart
rate intensity of less than 120 beats per minute and on a weekend
day (a median of 96% of time spent at a heart rate intensity of
less than 120 beats per minute).
FOR CORRECTIVE ACTION AND INTERVENTION
PRIDE stands for personal responsibility in daily effort, while
PLAY stands for participation in lifetime activity for youth. I
am proposing that beyond physical education which has many noble
aims apart from developing physical fitness and encouraging physical
activity, young people in school should take personal responsibility
in daily effort for free play and structured play, which is over
and above that prescribed for physical education. It is recommended
that PRIDE for PLAY (Lee, 2007)
be a whole school project that all teachers can own and not be considered
as simply a PE project.
This can be done by taking two to five minutes from each of the
time-tabled periods for academic subjects and collectively pooled
it to a period of extended play, either as part of an extended recess
or just prior to recess. I am advocating a "Teach less, Play
more" concept that can collectively boost daily physical activity
in school, school morale, ethos and school tone, better interaction
among staff and pupils, better integration among the various races,
higher school attendance and even better academic results. Importantly,
PRIDE for PLAY will go some way in allowing young people to accumulate
a sizeable proportion of the current recommendations for an accumulation
of at least 90 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous daily physical activity.
In some instances, young people may have forgotten how to play
or may be ignorant of the joys of movement and intervention programs
e.g. novel games, free access to safe playing equipment, and playing
spaces, game markings on the playground, or initially, instructor
or peer-led activities may be necessary to kick start the PRIDE
for PLAY initiative. Alternatively, schools may consider setting
aside 20-45-minute slots for free or organized play for all- before
school, during school and after school, every day of the school
Qualifying and quantifying the success of PRIDE for PLAY is important
to ensure that beyond the novelty of the program, there is sustainability
of the programme and that the opportunity and academic costs of
it are negligible or even non-existent. Contrarily, it is important
to craft out questionnaires or use research tools to record improved
attitudes toward play and physical activity, better school tone,
enhanced integration of the various races, pupil-staff interactions
and no significant drop in academic standards.
Education in schools in Singapore is taken very seriously and
can be considered as a 'high stakes' activity. After all, staff
advancement in school is more easily justified from academic results,
which are easier to measure than the holistic and balanced development
of the pupil. Any drop in academic standards can be interpreted
as serious warning bells that must be immediately rectified; often
at all costs- this translates as more time on task in terms of academic
subjects and higher stress for both pupils and teachers. Hence the
scheme may find great resistance at the onset. However, a certain
amount of "managed and considered messiness" may be necessary
in the initial stages for the success of PRIDE for PLAY. However,
I am confident that when the full programme rolls out, there will
be many takers and the pupils who take PRIDE for PLAY will be better
for it and something Singapore can be proud of.
Physical play is natural among young people and a daily dose of
play can help young people meet daily requirements for accumulated
physical activity of at least 90 minutes and at least of a moderate
is critical for child development and provides a healthy balance
for many sedentary lifestyle activities.
care-givers and teachers should emphasise and partake in daily
play with young people.
Employment: Associate Professor and Head, Physical
Education and Sports Science. National Institute of Education,
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Degree: PhD, BSc (Hons).
Research interests: Paediatric exercise physiology,
health and well-being of young people.