Less than a quarter of elementary students are meeting the province’s guidelines when it comes to daily movement in the classroom.
A new study published in BMC Public Health shows only 23 per cent of students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 across Ontario are engaging in some form of physical activity during academic instructional time. The Daily Physical Activity (DPA) policy was implemented in 2005 under the then-Liberal government.
“One of the places that children have the greatest opportunity to be physically active is in schools because they spend so much time there,” said Barbara Fenesi, an education professor at Western University and co-author of the study.
“This Daily Physical Activity policy is intended to help children get more active during the school day.”
The policy says children must receive 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each school day, which can be broken up throughout instructional blocks. For example, students could engage in one form of activity for 10 minutes during a morning math class, then another 10 minutes during an afternoon science lesson.
Time constraints and low confidence among teachers about their ability to implement the policy are part of the reason why so few are following the guidelines, according to the study.
“I think one of the biggest struggles that teachers can have is trying to identify, ‘What can I do with my students?'” said Fenesi. “It can be as simple as getting up out of your seat. Even playing something like Simon Says is not considered super high intensity, but it gets the body moving.”
With the advent of smartboard technology, Fenesi also suggests teachers could find resources on YouTube that are tailored to classroom activities.
LISTEN | Barbara Fenesi talks about the state of physical activity in the classroom on CBC Afternoon Drive:
Afternoon Drive7:53Physical activity at school
School boards are responsible for the implementation of the policy and for related training, according to the guidelines.
“All activities must be adapted, as appropriate, to ensure that all students, including students with special education needs, can participate in them. Such adaptations must be consistent with the accommodations and/or modifications outlined in a student’s Individual Education Plan,” reads the policy.
The policy states physical activity during a scheduled health and physical education class would also meet the daily physical activity requirement.
The last time researchers surveyed how many teachers were implementing the guidelines was in 2015, when about half were getting their students moving.
Fenesi said the benefits of getting students more active during their school day go beyond just physical health.
“Academically, they seem to score better, but also mentally, they seem to have a lot less mental health issues, and they’re also more joyful and motivated to learn, so those are definitely the benefits,” she said.
The next step for researchers is to build and implement a physical activity toolkit for teachers that would include resources, activity suggestions and ongoing support from school boards and principals.