Woolworths, in association with the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, have joined forces with Virgin Active in an initiative to promote and enhance physical activity for South African children, through the Woolworths MySchool / ‘Making The Difference’ programme. The collaboration aims to contribute to the health and well being of South African children by making the latest expertise in physical activity available to schools. This initiative is a natural extension of a successful relationship with Woolworths and the Sport Science Institute, who over the last two years have been implementing the ‘Making the Difference’ programme which is aimed at Grade 4s and focuses on good food and nutrition. Twenty years ago, children's leisure time was filled with hours of bike riding, tree climbing, racing and chasing. This kind of play ensured adequate levels of physical activity needed to promote health, agility, vitality, energy and stamina in young, growing bodies. Day to day, moderate to vigorous physical exercise was so normal for children no one gave it much thought. But our 21st Century lives are very different. Children of today spend an alarming amount of time watching television and playing computer games. Recent studies have estimated that a shocking 40% of South African Grade 4 and 5 learners do not get enough physical exercise , and almost 8% of our children are overweight . The Charter of Physical Activity and Sport for Children and Youth in South Africa, which is to be launched in September 2005, aims to increase the physical activity levels and promote the health and well being of young South Africans. In essence, it states that all South African children and youth have the right to be physically active. The Charter specifically calls on parents, sporting organisations, schools and the private sector to join forces to promote and facilitate physical activity so that children can develop into healthy well-balanced adults. Woolworths has responded to this call by working with the Sports Science Institute of South Africa to produce a new, enhanced version of its ‘Making The Difference’ Edumodule 5 – ‘The Benefits of Exercise & Physical Activity’. This educator resource pack will be distributed to 1000 schools in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban for the 2006 school year. The project has been enabled through a generous sponsorship from Virgin Active South Africa. “We are delighted to be driving this project and together with our associates are taking up the challenge of promoting opportunities for our children to lead more active, healthier, happier lives”, comments Pieter Twine, Woolworths Project Head: My School. “The enhanced version of ‘The Benefits of Exercise & Physical Activity’ module will ensure that children will be learning about the benefits of good nutrition and being physically active at school level. Encouraging children to exercise and providing them with the latest expertise, perfectly fits Woolworths’ overall focus on promoting and enabling healthier lifestyles for all South Africans. It's important to remember that exercise can be fun. Taking part in sports and games, dancing and hiking, are all great ways of ensuring that the whole family gets the exercise that they need”, concludes Twine. The initiative utilises the expertise of leading sports and nutrition authorities, at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, to build the capacity of South African educators. Participating schools will be encouraged to provide opportunities for children to exercise during school hours and breaks, as well as before and after school. One of the practical recommendations is that schools build 1km walk tracks, to which several exercise stations are added, and implement monitoring by charts so that educators, parents and learners are all focused on the importance of the exercise. The programme specifically includes parents in the ‘Making The Difference’ journey, assisting them to be the appropriate role models. Sun Valley Primary, in the Cape, launched their walk track a couple of months ago and Principal, Gavin Keller has noticed a measurable increase in student focus and academic performance. “When long lessons are punctuated by a 10 minute walking break, learners are more energised and ready to get back to work,” says Keller. “Our teachers have noticed a dramatic improvement in task completion. And by adding a few activities along the circuit that force the brain to cross the midline, we have learners who are ready and able to learn. Completing the circuit with their teacher also provides learners with an opportunity to interact and communicate at a completely different level.” Overweight and sedentary children are vulnerable to both emotional and physical threats. Obese children suffer from psychological torment, and are at risk from life-threatening diseases such as high blood pressure, type 11 diabetes and heart disease – these are not exclusively adult conditions. The new Woolworths ‘Making The Difference’ Edumodule fits the curriculum of the Grade 4 Life Orientation learning area. Learners will know and understand the benefits of both informal and organised physical activity. Even more importantly, they will learn how to perform various components of an exercise session with the emphasis always on having fun and enjoying moving the body. Children will also take the message to their parents, through homework activities. This unique collaboration between Woolworths, the Sports Science Institute and Virgin Active aims to make a meaningful impact by getting more of our children moving now so that they can grow into the robust, healthy adults of the future.