Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Students + Physical Activity - Do Schools Need to do More?

The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada report card came out and the results are, well, interesting to say the least.  It grades Canada, as well as 14 other countries, United States included in their physical activity levels.  And our overall grade?  D-.  Ouch.  (D- for my American friends as well)

Here are some interesting facts from the report card :

- 95% of parents report availability of local parks and outdoor space and 94% report availability of local programs and facilities that promote being active

- 75% of children aged 5-19 participate in organized sports or physical activity

- 84% of children aged 3-4 are physical enough to meet guidelines, but that number drop significantly to 7% of children age 5-11 and only 4% of children age 12-17

- Children age 5-11 spent a whopping 7.6 hours a day being sedentary (5.8 hours for children 3-4 years and 9.3 hours for children 12-17 years)

- Only 37% of parents actively play with their children and 82% agree that the education system should place more importance on physical education

So my question today is : Should the schools be doing more to promote physical education among students?

And if the answer is yes, then we must see what we are doing differently now than we were doing 10-20-30 years ago that made children stopped playing sports.  

On one hand, the studies show that when children start school, their sedentary levels go way, way up and their physical activity level drop dramatically.  But can we definitely say that starting school = lower physical activity level, I'm not so sure.  There might be a definite link, but you can't say that because children start school, they are not as active.   

Recess when we were younger were always a lot of fun.  I played outside, a lot.  We would organize skipping contests, basketball games, Red Rover, Tag (and the many thousand variations of the game), tether ball, soccer-baseball and so, so, so many other games I can't even think of them all right now.  Not only that, but we always played sports after school (soccer, basketball, volleyball, badminton, cross country, etc) and we loved our physical education class.

Nowadays, recess look a lot different than they did when I was younger.  So many games are not allowed anymore for various reasons. I remember being aghast when my students didn't know how to double-dutch (I definitely had to teach them!) and they often try to stay inside at recess instead of getting some fresh air.  

Unfortunately, recess also has a lot more rules.  Now, the large open field is only available to certain grades on a rotation basis, to allow everyone a chance to play in the field.  Every grade level has their own "section" of the yard to play in.  Even the monkey bars aren't available to all students in the younger grades anymore, they must wait their turn.  

The stats show that there are plenty of opportunity for children these days to play and be active, but they aren't taking advantage of these opportunities.  They aren't playing anymore.  And we need to get them playing again.

But I don't believe that we will achieve that by adding more "rules" about how many physical education classes students need to take, or by imposing even more physical activity time at school.  I think we will achieve that by letting them play.  

In fact, in the report, they mention 4 elementary schools in New Zealand (who scored a B overall) that banned all playground rules.  That meant children were allowed to go out and PLAY.  Can you guess what happened?  Children became more active and reports shows drops in bullying cases, injuries and vandalism. 

That's worth repeating : take away the rules surrounding physical activity and children will start playing, cooperate with one another and take care of their equipment.

To go back to my original question - Do schools need to do more? Actually, I think they need to do less! Remove some of the rules during recess, and we might just see an increase in physical activity. Let's boost our rating for next year, let's go above and beyond the pack, and let's PLAY!

Here are the results :

Get out there and PLAY :)

Have you ever thought about selling on Teachers pay Teachers?  Sign up using my referral link!