Over the past decade there has been increasing concern over the growing number of children and adults suffering from obesity, so much so that we now recognise this as an 'obesity epidemic'. In Australia alone the pervasiveness of obesity has doubled since the early 1980's due to a marked decrease in participation in physical activity and an increase in sedentary lifestyles full of activities which require little motivation and movement (Medical Journal of Australia, 2003).
Alongside the lack of physical activity children and young people are undertaking there has also been a decline in the level of participation Australians have in 'social institutions' such as their family, church or community groups (Kusche & Greenberg, 1994). Over the past century, as families became busier they are spending less time together and this has resulted in 'increased demands on schools to fulfil the social and emotional needs of children' (Kusche & Greenberg, 1994). Schools have since needed to include more focussed programs to accommodate for such learning to assist in the growth and development of children socially and emotionally (Kusche & Greenberg, 1994).
There has been a push, nationwide for schools to adopt more health and wellbeing programs to benefit children and young people as healthy children are seen to learn more effectively when participating in physical activity and wellbeing learning (Department of Health, Victoria, 2012). If we as a nation don't jump on board these wellbeing initiatives the children of today will grow to be sedentary adults with suffering an increase in disease and illness and lack the resilience to deal with negative experiences.
At St Paul's Ballarat (name changed) a school of approximately 300 children, they have adopted both the Bluearth program to account for the Movement and Physical Activity aspect of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards and the P.A.T.H.S (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) program to fulfil the need for children's social and emotional development (School Website, 2012). These programs have been adopted at a whole school level and are implemented on a weekly basis to ensure consistency.
This report will compare and contrast the Bluearth and PATHS program and its effectiveness both generally and at St Paul's Primary School.
Bluearth is a national, not for profit organisation which was founded in Australia in 2000 by Malcolm Freake who wanted to make a contribution to the overall health and wellbeing of the nation by increasing children's participation in physical activity (Bluearth, 2009). His team of trained health professionals conceded that "the greatest long term benefit to any individual's health and wellbeing would be achieved through influencing critical habits and attitudes at a young age" (Bluearth, 2009).
Bluearth was created with the overarching determination to improve the health of children and 'prevent disease [caused by] sedentary living' through a program which assimilates 'body, mind and spirit' through shared involvement in physical activities (Bluearth, 2009).
Where sport lessons of the past were focussed on learning a particular game or skill for example soccer, Bluearth differs by focussing on the whole child by creating 'meaningful experiences which contribute to lifelong habits' (Bluearth, 2009).
In an article published in the Surfcoast Times, Queensland following the implementation of Bluearth programs in the state's schools, Griffiths (2011) wrote that Bluearth 'not only teaches children the enjoyment of being physically active, it also draws on their feelings, reactions and thoughts that stem from their participationâ€¦and [links] key developmental learning back into the classroom settings and their lives'.
P.A.T.H.S (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies)
PATHS, a social and emotional learning program began in 1982 in America when a need arose for a more active curriculum which would empower and encourage children, teachers and families from a school for the deaf to reach their fullest potential. Kusche and Greenberg (1994) began the PATHS pilot project with a small number of children in a Deaf school and their results were so pleasing they altered the program to be suitable for use with children with special needs and in mainstream education.
The PATHS program is geared towards educators to 'facilitate the development of self-control, positive self-esteem, emotional awareness, and interpersonal problem solving skills' (Kusche & Greenberg, 1994).
The PATHS program focusses on the health knowledge and promotion aspect of Health and Physical activity from VELS by aiming to increase children's self- control, self-esteem, ability to recognise and communicate feelings and increase their skills in social problem solving and conflict management.
The nature of the PATHS program and the way it is structured means it lends itself to being both a prevention and intervention program, according to Kusche and Greenberg (1994) its 'dual functions add practical value to educators since today's classrooms generally include a mixture of children'. In this report we will be referring to PATHS as an intervention model used in a mainstream school.
While the Bluearth and PATHS programs began for entirely different reasons their place now in primary school settings serve the same purpose: to support the holistic development of children socially and emotionally and to build their understanding of self.
Both the Bluearth and PATHS lesson structure lend itself to be easily implemented in a school setting. Both programs provide teachers with adequate training by trained professionals with Bluearth moving in 2005 toward certifying teachers as Bluearth instructors to ensure the longevity of their program remains (Bluearth, 1994; Kusche & Greenberg, 1996).
Bluearth sessions are normally run for between 40-60minutes at least once a week by a Bluearth Coach or trained Bluearth teacher and incorporate a combination of activities taken from each of the six key areas; coordination and agility, skill activities, movement challenges and games, dynamic movement control, Parkour and core movement (The Bluearth Approach, 1996).
The way that Bluearth is set up provides ease of access for teachers as every skill, activity or game is already created and explained in detail in the Bluearth handbook and online at wwww.bluearth.org.au which encourages teachers to continue with the approach as opposed to leaving the lessons out altogether because they cannot think of an activity to play with the children. The structure puts the onus back on the classroom teacher to be responsible for the creation of a series of interrelated activities as well as the overall involvement of their children in physical activity.
PATHS also provide teachers with resources aplenty however theirs includes sequential lesson plans which are scripted (Kusche & Greenberg, 1996). Again, the responsibility of implementing a lesson lies with the teacher but the creation of said lesson is already done for you. Can a scripted lesson written by someone in another country over a decade ago be beneficial to the children of today? The answer is both yes and no. The lessons provide excellent starting points, leading questions and extra resources such as illustrations of feelings faces and stories relating to each emotion taught so these can be useful tools for the teacher however the scripts for each lesson are quite lengthy and follow the same steps each time which can become repetitive and thus uninteresting for children. The strength however of this program is that it provides a running sheet for when each emotion or behaviour should be taught across the primary years so teachers can implement them when they see fit over the school year in a way that it is engaging of children and with their own personal touch.
While at St Paul's I had the opportunity to teach both Bluearth and PATHS lessons; I had never seen a PATHS lesson and had viewed only half a dozen Bluearth lessons over the past couple of years however the very nature of these programs makes creating and teaching a lesson seamless. By incorporating several of the six elements of the Bluearth program children were taught about being attentive to self, focussing on their own actions as well as working in teams and cooperating. By referring to the Bluearth Approach handbook creating the sequence of activities was not a tedious task. Similarly with the PATHS lesson, children learnt about the feelings nervousness and anxiety as well as tense and calm. The scripted lesson did not lend itself to the integrative way in which I teach so I took parts of it and related the feelings back to stories the children had read that week which included the said feelings and to children's own experiences. This opened up discussion about the emotions at a level suitable to the children.
The overall structure of these programs is effective in busy schools where teachers may have limited time to create a sequence of interrelated lessons from scratch however they also lend themselves to personal choice which in turn means the lessons will be more closely related to where the children are at. Likewise, these programs support the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework which under outcome 3 assert that 'children have a strong sense of wellbeing' and that students working toward VELS level 2 become strong in their social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing taking an increasing responsibility for their own physical and emotional wellbeing gaining skills which allow them to 'identify the feelings and needs of others, resolving conflict, describing what they like about themselves and others and engaging in moderate to vigorous activity (VEYLDF, 2009).
Pedagogy and Philosophy
Bluearth and PATHS both assert a holistic philosophy which focusses on the whole child and how they develop physically, socially and emotionally by providing curricula which is easily integrated into all facets of the learning experience and by teaching skills for life- not just for now (Bluearth, 2009; Kusche & Greenberg, 1996).
Bluearth adopts a Psycho-Social approach to teaching and learning with the underlying belief that 'lifelong choices to participate in health promoting physical activities are dependent on perceptions of enjoyment, competence and satisfaction' (Bluearth Approach, 1996).
As such their lessons are based on the Self Determination Theory which asserts that social environments such as schools have the ability to determine the motivation of children and in turn support or counter effect their positive development (Bluearth Approach, 1996). This incorporates three basic human needs
Competence: children are driven to be proficient and attain certain skills and are rewarded by their accomplishments
Autonomy: children want to be in control of their own actions
Relatedness: children want to feel as they belong.
Bluearth provides children with skill attainment in individual and group activities, they focus on self and our need to be in responsible for our own actions and they include all children and appraise all efforts and personal achievements (Bluearth Approach, 1996).
Bluearth adopts the psycho social ideas of Participation Motivation, that is a person's decision to 'begin and maintain involvement in physical activity' with the intention of enabling change in behaviours 'toward lifelong patterns of active living' (Bluearth, 1996).
Similarly, the intrinsic philosophy of the PATHS program is to educate the whole child and to enable the growth of children's 'self-control, positive self-esteem, emotional awareness and interpersonal problem solving skills' (Kusche & Greenberg, 1994).
The theoretical model behind the PATHS program is, like Bluearth, about integrating learning and as such they use the ABCD model of development looking at the Affective, Behavioural, Cognitive and Dynamic aspects which shows itself through lessons about understanding your emotions, controlling behaviours, independent thinking and responsibility toward solving our own problems and increasing positive self -esteem (Kusche & Greenberg, 1994).
This theoretical model is evident in the 5 conceptual domains of their curriculum being self-control, emotional understanding, building self-esteem, relationships and interpersonal problem solving skills.
Although the theory underpinning the creation of each of these programs varies the overarching values they wish to instil in the children are the same- they are those of being aware of and in control of our actions, taking responsibility, increasing self-esteem and understanding our emotions and those of others. Each program is built upon the knowledge that these skills are not stand-alone skills used only during a PATHS or Bluearth lesson but rather they are those which can be integrated across all learning and through all life experiences. They are building stable, emotionally and socially content and physically active people for the future.
Any program has the ability to be implemented effectively but it requires the support and effort of the people executing it to ensure that it is engaging across the whole community in which it is being taught and that it is being taken on board by all staff and students.
According to the Channing-Bete company which provides the PATHS program, results from previous clinical studies has shown to reduce aggressive behaviour, increase self-control, increase students vocabulary for communicating about their emotions, increase results on cognitive tests and improve conflict resolution, reduce poor behaviour and increase academic engagement in students in deaf schools, special needs students and mainstream schools (Channing-Bete 2012).
St Pauls has shown that both programs have the ability to affect students, teachers and their ability to teach and learn in a friendly, wholesome and socially inclusive manner. In each class there is a PATHS child of the day who has special privileges and undertakes extra jobs to help the teacher making them feel competent and needed, they are given complements on a take home complement sheet and they are supported in how to receive and give complements- the children viewed do this not only at the designated time but throughout the entire school day, encouraging and giving praise to their peers. Students are in tune with the changes in emotions and behaviours of their peers and regularly check how the others are feeling.
Similarly in Bluearth sessions children are attentive and are able to focus on centring themselves to focus on their own movements and actions as individuals and alongside others. 'Bluearth provides an environment where children [are given] the opportunity to understand themselves from a first person perspective and from the feedback and input provided by others' (Smith Family, 2012). If there are any negative aspects of the Bluearth program it is that children are not taught how to accept loss and failure due to the lack of competitive games and activities. The children at St Paul's participated in Olympic races in teams and were seen to struggle with the loss associated with some tasks and although they were good sports the loss affected them more than one might have thought it should.
Across the entire St Paul's community children are respectful, empathic, and friendly and have a resilience not seen of children at other schools all because of the teachings of Bluearth and PATHS which interconnect seamlessly across their curriculum to provide the skills necessary to be positive people of the future.