I am typically not a fan of organizations using the “Report Card” device as a way to draw attention to their reports. Usually, I see organizations produce a report lamenting the work in a specific areas, looking to generate headlines like, “Organization X Gives Y Failing Grade.”
The recent ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth does do some of that, but is far more nuanced. While yes, it does give a D- to overall physical activity, there are good grades for a number of areas including youth participation in sports, support of parents, government and non-government investment and the role of schools. The report lauds the physical education curriculum in each province, with special mention of Manitoba.
The most powerful part of the report was the focus on getting kids outside and letting them play. Quoting the report:
We may be so focused on trying to intervene in our children’s lifestyles to make sure they’re healthy, safe and happy, that we are having the opposite effect . . . We overprotect kids to keep them safe, but keeping them close and keeping them indoors may set them up to be less resilient and more likely to develop chronic diseases in the long run.
The report relies on a variety of studies that have a number of conclusions that, while not surprising, run counter to many current practices including:
- pre-schoolers spend twice as much time being active when play is outdoors
- students take 35% more steps when physical education class is held outdoors
- Canadian kids who play outside after school get 20 more minutes of heart-pumping activity per day than those who don’t
One conclusion that I found particularly striking is that children and youth are less likely to engage in higher levels of physical activity if a parent or supervising adult is present.
With my Superintendent view, some of the takeaways for me include:
- We are on the right track in our district (and others in BC) with outdoor learning programs – and we need to continue to encourage their growth
- The growth of urban agriculture courses and school gardens is an important trend – outdoor learning does not just have to be about physical activity
- We need to be careful that safety and liability concerns don’t unnecessarily block wonderful outdoor learning opportunities
- We need to be sure that recess and other outdoor learning opportunities are valued and we need to remind parents that kids should get outside even when it is cold or rainy
- There is going to be increased emphasis on natural elements in playgrounds moving forward
- The urgency around physical literacy is inclusive of doing a better job with structured opportunities and also ensuring kids have unstructured free play opportunities
The report takes the bold position, “Access to active play in nature and outdoors – with its risks – is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings – at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.”
My hesitation in reading the report is that some will suggest that we just have to go back to the “way it used to be when we were young”. I am always concerned with this view. The world today is different for kids than the one their parents grew up in – it is not as simple as turning back the clock; we also often have a habit of romanticizing our youth. The answer around getting kids active is not telling people we just need to go back to how things used to be it is about building something new rooted in our current reality.
The entire report is worth reading, and there are some great resources to share with teachers, parents and others in the community (e.g. this Infographic and this tip sheet) . Reading the report, and reviewing the data there is a strong case for broadening our current thinking about how we encourage young people to be active.
And as we embark on summer it is a good reminder that we need to model the way with our kids and get outside!