Physical Development Issues in Middle School
From nutrition to hygiene to exercise, the issues are many and often uncomfortable for teacher and student alike when it comes to physical development. Here are some of the reasons for concern, along with suggestions for how we can make a difference, both as individual teachers and on school and district levels.
Issue #1- Middle level students need information on physical development
A comprehensive health education curriculum is invaluable. National and state standards are available that outline what 10- to 14-year-olds need to know about wellness, puberty and sexual maturation, and the dangers of substance abuse. A health educator is needed in every school—someone who is honest, straightforward, trustworthy from a student perspective, and accessible. Boys and girls should be separated at times to allow for more honest and detailed questions and answers.
Issue #2- Physical changes affect behavior
Not only do middle level students have a hard time finding answers, they can rarely define the question or problem when it comes to physical growth and changes. What is clear is that physical changes often lead directly to behavioral problems. Teachers serve students well when they recognize and accept a variety of behaviors that may result directly from the turmoil caused and/or aggravated by the biological aspects of puberty. When opportunities arise to address the unspoken questions and resulting behaviors, teachers should reassure students that their anxieties are normal, and even expected.
Issue #3- Rapid growth requires increased nutrition
If that nutrition takes the form of balanced meals, terrific! But there are two problems when it comes to a balanced diet. Body image worries scream “thin” to many middle level students. And then, when they’re hungry, their taste buds, along with peer pressure, often lead them to less nutritional food choices.
A comprehensive health program will include lessons on good nutrition. But the health educator can’t do it alone. All of us need to emphasize healthy eating. When we have a snack, let’s make it something nutritional like an apple or carrot. When we eat in the cafeteria, let’s model healthy eating habits. Middle level kids are often hungry. If, as a faculty, a decision can be made to allow eating during the day other than at lunchtime, then find a way to let kids have snacks, perhaps mid-morning or mid-afternoon, provided the snacks follow healthy eating guidelines you and your team/administration have established.
Issue #4- Children at this age level should not be stereotyped according to physical characteristics
Some middle level students experience athletic success as they mature. Others find themselves lacking the coordination and stamina they may have had in elementary school. Bone growth, muscle formation, balance issues—so many growth issues factor into physical ability. Let’s give middle level students the opportunity to explore athletics and find their talents and interests according to their own timing. Tall boys are not automatically talented at, or even interested in, basketball. Petite girls are not all gymnastics candidates. Keep in mind that while physical development may sometimes engender a child’s interest in a particular activity or sport, mental development or interests can also guide, to a certain extent, an individual’s physical development. An enlightened teacher will preserve those fragile egos from danger while encouraging the development of interests.
Plan ways to incorporate a variety of intramural opportunities that allow even less physically skilled students to participate in team and individual activities. Offer nongraded classes in exploratory time or after school that help students learn skills such as dancing, tennis, martial arts, and so on.
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