Physical Activity & Health in Elementary Schools
Simply put, children are not active enough and spend too much time using screens and being sedentary. Despite many programs in place to encourage physical health along with the known benefits of physical health, we continue to be challenged with getting enough exercise whether it be in a structured or unstructured setting. What does this mean for children in elementary schools?
2018 ParticipACTION Report Card
The results are in…
We have been given an overall physical activity grade of a D+ as a country. Curious as to how this grade was decided? The overall grade is based on varying daily behaviours, individual characteristics, settings and sources of influence and strategies and investments. The following results have been retrieved from the 2018 ParticipACTIOn Report Card.
Working in an elementary school in Winnipeg,MB, I have been witness to students who fall into this average or below (inner city location) and students who would fall above the average (southern part of the city). It is a concern of mine that the overall grade is so low, yet I have taught students who would fail at all indicators.
On a positive note, many of our Canadian children are participating in organized sports, getting enough sleep and have support from the community. Now that we know where we stand within the rubric of the report card, how will we determine the next steps?
Understanding the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines by age category is a helpful tool to use as we begin to figure out what the next steps in promoting physical activity could be.
For my role as a teacher in a Nursery to Grade 6 school I am most interested in the guidelines for children aged 5-17. In 2018, the ParticiPACTION report card gave our children an “F” for this category. Only “15% of children and youth in Canada meet all three recommendations within the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth” (2014-15 CHMS, Statistics Canada). We can do better for our children. We need to educate our children and youth and help them to make decisions that will take them from healthy children to healthy adults.
Physical Activity Linked to Overall Health
Being physically active has more benefits that we might realize. Besides helping to keep our body healthy it also helps us keep a healthy mind. It is super important to keep active to boost our overall health!
- Children who are more physically active show better academic performance.
- Regular physical education classes in school will keep kids active through their teens and help them control their weight.
- Children who are more physically active have a better self-esteem and body image.
- Regular physical activity improves children’s mental health and contributes to growth and development.
- Regular physical activity reduces the likelihood of obesity. Both obesity and inactivity increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Daily physical activity improves children’s skeletal health. This, in turn, reduces their risk of developing osteoporosis in the future.
- Regular physical activity in children can become a habit that carries over into adulthood.
- Regular physical activity leads to better behaviour and a healthy lifestyle.
- An increase in youth participation in physical activity will cut health care costs by decreasing future risk related diseases.
Tools in Manitoba
The Manitoba Healthy Schools initiative provides many resources to help promote health and wellness to all children. There are many different tips and tools to be found if you are looking for ways to boost the level of activity in your students, your children or even for yourself. There is also research to back up these ideas if that is what you are looking for as motivation to get started. I’m unsure whether or not people are aware of these resources as they aren’t something that I had realized were there before actively looking. If we are serious about improving physical health then maybe we need to make sure people know they are being support and that there are already resources to get them started.
The Healthy Schools in Motion Physical Literacy Toolkit has been created to help Manitobans become more physically active. But what is Physical Literacy? Physical and Health Education Canada (as retrieved from the Physical Literacy Toolkit) describes Physical Literacy as “Individuals who are physically literate move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person” (Page 7). In order to becomes physically literate, individuals need to have learned fundamental movement skills from an early age.
I work for the Winnipeg School Division. In this division, each student from Kindergarten to Grade 5 is assessed on their fundamental movement skills in the first term of the school year. The outcomes that are assessed include: ball bouncing, catching, dynamic balance, galloping, hopping, jumping, kicking, overhand throwing, rolling, running, skipping, static balance, striking and underhand throwing.
Students are assigned with either an “M” for mature or a “D” for developing as for their performance assessment. Students who are within the developing rating will include instruction for that skill as their next step. Students who receive an overall “D” rating will be reassessed in the Spring to ensure the proper growth has been made. Schools have a trained physical education teacher who performs the assessment and teaches the fundamental movement skills. In my opinion, our physical education teachers are accurately able to assess each student and plan accordingly.
The Healthy Schools in Motion Recess Toolkit has been created to share important information about recess. This document serves as a good reminder of “What Recess Is Not”. Recess is not an opportunity to keep children inside to catch up on work. Recess is also meant to enhance physical education and is not considered to be a replacement for physical activity. There are educators that need to read this type of information because they still use recess as a reward system for students. I understand how challenging it can be when students are behind in their work or seem unmotivated, but taking away their recess is not the solution and may even exacerbate issues if the student is not getting enough physical activity.
PLAY Tools or Physical Literacy Assessment for Youth, is designed to improve physical literacy and help close the gaps that individual children (aged 7+) may have. There are several resources provided to help guide physical literacy such as PLAYbasic, PLAYcoach, PLAYfun, PLAYparent and PLAYself.
Winnipeg in Motion is all about providing tools for all ages in order to achieve physical activity goals. Here they have a section called @school which provides great tips for teachers to help encourage their students to be active while at school and also on the way to school.
Students at Montrose School
The grade is in…
We know that in 2018 we were given a D+ when it comes to physical activity levels, but what does that mean for Montrose School? I’m in my fourth year of teaching at Montrose and as I look at the “rubric” for the participACTION “test” I notice that the students in my school would not be given an overall grade of a D+. For example, in my current class I have 25 students. 2 of the 25 do NOT participate in an organized sport outside of school. One of those students is a newcomer to Canada and with a little time and some information to the parent I think this is something she and her siblings will have the opportunity to do. The other student has a challenging family situation and his lifestyle has been directly impacted by that and furthermore his physical health has had a negative impact. The students who do participate in organized sports do things like dance, soccer, basketball, martial arts, swimming, hockey, etc. and most belong to multiple “teams” throughout the year. 23/25 would be a higher grade than a B.
The students have a physical education class taught by a physical education teacher for 90 minutes per school cycle (we are on a 6 day school cycle here), they get 30 minutes of Yoga from a trained Yoga teacher and participate in 60 minutes of teacher led gym, which gives them 180 minutes of physical education and movement time per school cycle. On top of that, each class has 60 minutes of outdoor education time (which we call Friluftsliv) and 90 minutes of Performing Arts (Music, Dance and Drama). We have recess before school (whenever students arrive until 8:55), two 15 minute recess breaks (morning and afternoon) and 35-40 minutes at lunch. We have a lot of movement happening throughout the school day and cycle and a lot of emphasis on being physically active, which would likely score higher than a B-.
One area of “weakness” for Montrose students would be the Active Transportation piece. Over the years we have noticed that many students are being driven to school for various reasons. Some students are brought to school very early and dropped off at daycare as their parents drive to work, some live quite far away and are unable to walk or ride their bike and some prefer to get that ride and not have to walk or ride their bike. The Winnipeg weather can also be a challenge for people. Last year we started an initiative called “Walk-tober” where students were encouraged to walk or bike to school. A colleague and I participated for the month and the walking group continued to walk to school for the rest of the year! Encouraging families to participate in active transportation and either walk with their children, set up a walking group or simply allow them to go on their own is still something we are challenged with. We live/work in a safe community, yet many parents are not comfortable with the walk to school.
Connection with Sustainability
The overall statistics are scary. However, if we ignore these results they are sure to be worse by the next time the report card comes out. The emergence of screens is a big part of the problem. We are becoming dependent on our devices and the time once spent outdoors playing is being replaced by a sedentary lifestyle in front of a screen. This is where a focus on sustainability could be of value. If we get outside and leave our devices indoors, we become more active and also appreciate our surroundings. Seems like a winning combination to me! When I do my “teacher led gym” I take my students outside (unless the weather is too severe). I can structure an activity (a walk or a game), but can also give the students choice and allow them to figure out their own activity or even have them facilitate an activity with the group. I participate with my students while also supervising the group. It is my goal to show them how being active outside has many positive impacts on our health and that in order to continue to have this outdoor space we need to ensure we are taking care of it. We pick up garbage when we see it, we respect the plants and animals that share the space with us and we USE the green space we have instead of admiring it from the inside!
Playing outside has many benefits. The Positon Statement on Active Outdoor Play reminds us that playing in nature is essential for development and that even the risks children encounter are beneficial to them. Being sedentary indoors poses problems such as overeating, lack of fundamental skills, being unmotivated, exposure to violence through what we consume on devices, etc.
In order for schools to achieve the desired outcome for health and wellness of their students, there needs to be continued emphasis put on the education and implementation of physical activity. We cannot assume that families are taking the responsibility of ensuring their children are active. When we work together with families to educate the children about healthy life choices, share our own practice of being active and find ways to put this into practice at school and at home we will foster positive lifelong choices.
“2018 ParticipACTION Report Card: The Brain + Body Equation” (YouTube video). June 19, 2018. As retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0zB29eXw80
Fundamental Movement Skills Assessment. The Winnipeg School Division as retrieved from: https://www.winnipegsd.ca/Education%20Services/Curriculum/physical-education/Documents/Fundamental%20Movement%20Skills%20Guide%20-%20English.pdf
Healthy Schools in Motion: Physical Literacy Toolkit. As retrieved from https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/activeliving/tools_resources/school/physical_literacy_toolkit.pdf
Healthy Schools in Motion: Recess Toolkit. As retrieved from: https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/activeliving/tools_resources/school/recess_toolkit.pdf
Manitoba Healthy Schools. Government of Manitoba as retrieved from:
ParticipACTION Report Card as retrieved from: https://www.participaction.com/en-ca/resources/report-card
Physical and Health Education Canada as retrieved from: http://www.phecanada.ca/resources/resources
Physical Literacy: PLAY Tools. As retrieved from: https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/activeliving/tools_resources/school/physical_literacy_toolkit.pdf
Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play. As retrieved from: https://www.wrha.mb.ca/community/publichealth/files/PosStateActiveOutdrPlay.pdf
Winnipeg in Motion as retrieved from: https://www.winnipeginmotion.ca
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority as retrieved from: https://www.wrha.mb.ca/community/publichealth/services-physical-activity.php