There has been an important recognition in schools, particularly at the junior grades, that we need to be doing more to keep kids active. In British Columbia Action Schools BC have been leaders in this effort. They are, in part:
a best practices whole-school model designed to assist elementary and middle schools in creating and implementing individualized action plans to promote healthy living while achieving academic outcomes and supporting comprehensive school health.
Daily physical activity is a regular part of schools and “action breaks”, among other strategies, are regularly employed. All of these physical activity initiatives are popular with educators, and they are also supported by research in: Spark – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey. The good news is — it may be just working. Last week the Globe & Mail reported on a recent US study that teen obesity rates could be leveling off and young people may be doing more exercise. This is all excellent news.
But, back to my question — can they throw a ball?
With all of our efforts focussed toward increasing physical activity, some are lamenting the”sports” part of the physical activity is taking a backseat. From baseball to soccer, basketball to tennis, schools are now seen less as places for young people to acquire sports-specific skills and that we are turning, instead, to the community for the development of sport-specific skills. Of course, community sports are nothing new, but “school” sports like volleyball and basketball were, only a generation ago, exclusive to schools and are now taught at younger ages primarily in the community. As well, groups like KidSport help bridge the financial barrier for some families when kids can’t participate in community sports. Still, some will argue that sports aren’t a necessary part of our school system, but I think most would agree that the fundamental skills of running, jumping and throwing a ball are core skills we want for all young people. Canadian Sport for Life describes this in its Long Term Athlete Development Plan.
So, looking at our elementary schools, one key challenge is the lack of teacher training for sports skills. PE specialist teachers are exceptionally rare in the province and teachers either have to teach their own PE classes or swap with another staff member (e.g. Teacher A takes Teacher B’s art class while Teacher B takes Teacher A’s PE class). Without the training, many elementary PE classes are high on activity but not so high on skills-acquisition.
Our district is part of a program trying to change this and is investing and partnering in programs that support physical literacy. Diane Nelson, who is the Principal-lead on our Sports Academy Programs at secondary, is working with others in Metro Vancouver on a program partnering our Grades K-3 teachers with coaches who have strong skills in teaching sports-specific skills. The three-lesson progression helps both teacher and students. Chartwell Elementary Principal, Aron Campbell, recently blogged about the program, Physical Literacy: The Other 3 R’s . . . Running, Jumping and Throwing. And, over the course of the year, our K-3 teachers will have the opportunity to work side-by-side with Jesse Symons who is a head coach / teacher in the district’s Premier Soccer Academy. To quote from Aron’s blog:
Although some of the basic skills such as walking, running, jumping, hopping, throwing and catching may seem natural or innate in children, for many kids, this is not the case. Developing basic “Physical Literacy” is critical for kids to acquire in order to build an ongoing sense of athletic confidence, as they are exposed to more and more opportunities to be active and involved in sport throughout their years at school and beyond. Whether it is organized soccer, t-ball, or games in a PE class or at recess, a firm grasp in ‘physical literacy provides the motivation that can be invaluable for kids in the future development of self-esteem and the pursuit of a physically active lifestyle.
And once students have these core skills at the primary level, it is a goal for our intermediate classrooms to continue the partnership with local sports organizations. It is not a new idea, but part of a systemic plan for elementary schools to partner with the local soccer clubs or tennis organizations in offering programs to students. It is a win-win opportunity since most community sports organizations are struggling to attract young people and are facing declining numbers; by partnering with our schools, they can offer their expertise to all students and can ignite the passion of a student who will pick the sport up in the community. To me, it is an approach that has some real opportunities and we should try to tap into it.
It is absolutely important to recognize the great work being done to help our kids to become healthier, whether it is eating better or being more active. While some (albeit mostly south of the border) were recently bemoaning the narrowing of the curriculum that saw a reduction in physical activity, there is a realization young people being active is a key part of improving student success.
That said, the time is right to invest in sports skills for all young people in schools — not only because we are taking on the training of the next Olympians, but because these skills are also life skills and they are best learned at a young age as they expose students to sports and games they might not otherwise try. And, we can’t solely rely on the community for them.
Thanks to Diane Nelson, District Principal Sports Academies and the driving force in our district behind this work, and to viasport for their financial support.