It was brought to our attention recently that Rick Cluff, host of the CBC’s Vancouver morning show “Early Edition,” had a segment on this year’s ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.
Rick spoke with Allana LeBlanc, an exercise physiologist, who works with ParticipACTION. Here are some of the main points we were able to take away after listening to the podcast ourselves and looking at the highlights from the ParticipACTION report.
“The Biggest Risk is Keepings Kids Indoors.”
The report explains that children need 60 minutes a day of physical activity, but their surveys on how much activity kids (5-17 years old) actually get indicate that only 9% of Canadian children meet the criteria.
This is a complex situation because it’s not just about the lack of physical activity, but the increase in sedentary behaviour. Kids just aren’t moving around like they used to with more access to television and video games.
“Get out of the way and let kids play.”
One of the findings of the report is an increased fear of allowing children to play outdoors unsupervised. We want to protect our kids and keep them safe from harm. Yet, when our children do play outside unsupervised, they take more risks, independence increases and physical and social skills can improve. There is a difference between “danger” and “risk” and certainly no one is advocating dangerous or reckless behaviour. But children need to be allowed a certain amount of freedom to test their personal boundaries.
ParticipACTION has also written a “Position Statement on Active and Outdoor Play,” and makes recommendations for children to have access and freedom to outdoor play and to play in nature, in all childhood situations from home to day care to school. This statement applies to all children from 3-12 years old.
Children who play outdoors, in a natural playground that includes dirt and sticks, are more active than when playing on a pre-fabricated playground. In fact, children who take PE outside, are more active than when they play indoors.
Sometimes we think it’s safer and healthier to keep our children inside where we can closely supervise them. But it’s not. There are many risks to staying indoors: our children will not learn the fundamental movement skills of running, kicking, throwing and jumping. They need these skills for their healthy growth and development; without physical activity, there is an increased risk for health concerns down the road. We need to teach our kids positive health habits for their life time.
Click here to hear the original CBC podcast.
We’re very fortunate at Ridgeview to have a natural playground. Located beside our adventure playground, the natural playground has a variety of shrubs; a long, shallow, meandering creek with slow moving water and rocks for crossing, and large trees with overhanging branches providing shade and cooler temperatures during these warm days.
In the beginning of the school year, our classes use only the adventure playground during the morning and lunch recess, with adult playground supervisors in attendance. When school starts in September, we typically have 40-44 four- and five-year old children between our two classes. Since the full-day Kindergarten program started, our children have their own recess time in the morning, after Grades 1-7 have finished their playtime. We’re fortunate to have school administration who understand the needs of young children and have specifically allotted resources to enable this to happen for the entire school year.
The children still have their lunch recess with the rest of the school and when we take an afternoon recess playtime, we are often joined by some of the other classes. Our school population is currently > 400 students.
As part of learning to play, inside or outdoors, we establish classroom rules and routines, create a self-regulated classroom environment and directly teach the expectations and behaviour we want first, and we teach them as a whole group. Kindergarten children come to us with a wide variety of preschool, daycare and home experiences. Kindergarten is the first opportunity to develop a constant model for self-regulation and behaviour for the next eight years at our school. Our teaching experience has taught us that when we have the respect, rules and safety expectations in place, then our students can have freedom within those boundaries, and we can all have a fun and enjoyable time.
Our only rule for the natural playground is that the children who want to play in the creek wear their rain boots, so they can still have dry socks and shoes to wear in class. You’d be impressed to see how quickly children can change their shoes and boots when the recess bell rings.
Now here we are in June, and we’ve seen some amazing outdoor play.
We’ve seen children crossing the rocks across the creek, arms outstretched for balance.
Children are scrambling up the banks of the creek, clinging to shrubs.
We have children endlessly filling up and emptying containers and ziploc bags with creek water.
We noticed that a group of children has engineered a shallow trough down the length of the creek, right in the middle.
We see children running, jumping and negotiating their way around big tree roots.
Yes, we’ve had some tumbles and lots of scrapes, but nothing that a hug, a band-aid and a drink of water couldn’t fix.
And we also know that the closer the connection our children have to nature and the outdoors when they’re young, the more likely they will want to protect and look after their environment when they grow up.