Early morning activity boosts learning for students at Ridley College

Early morning activity boosts learning for students at Ridley College

Rise and shine!

As the new school year got underway, students at one Ontario school rolled out of bed and started their academic day by breaking a sweat.

Last year Ridley College, an international boarding and day school in St. Catharines, ON, moved the start of their school day from 8:15 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. to provide its Upper School students in grades 9 to 12 a chance to be active before class.

“Really, if you want the kid to get the biggest bang for their physical activity buck, they need to be doing it before school starts,” says Jay Tredway, director of Athletics at Ridley College. “Those effects last essentially through the day if you’re doing it in the morning.”

The decision for the schedule shift was prompted by a 2015 “deep review” of how students were spending their time at the school and the cognitive research into when and how to put them into an optimal state of learning, explains Tredway.

Part of the evaluation, and what ultimately drove the modification to the school schedule, were the results from Passport for Life, a program that assesses the development of physical literacy among students and teachers. The assessment tool gave families feedback on a child’s strengths and physical literacy development and also provided a broad snapshot of the school in general.

“One of the starkest things that came out when we started doing this research was that at a school that does sport every single day, our cardiovascular fitness, as it relates to the markers in the passport, was poor,” explains Tredway.

While every single student at Ridley College had been doing sports 3 to 6 times a week, it has always been done after school.

Tredway and staff knew that implementing the shift to active mornings and motivating students to participate could be a challenge.

“It was a calculated risk,” he explains. “Asking teenagers to change their routine – I get up, I go to school and then I maybe do sports or attend clubs after school – is generally not a normal part of their experience.”

The key was taking the time to help students understand the cardiovascular component of physical activity and at the same time teaching them an essential life tool: how to be more selective on how they use their time. Daily participation was not mandatory but the school provided a menu of offerings so that students could try out an activity without having to commit, easy access points, and a support network to encourage a social atmosphere.

Kids didn’t have to choose to play a sport before school, notes Tredway. Although students could participate in team sport options like basketball or soccer, the 20 to 30 minutes could take place outside of a classroom or gym in the form of a boot camp, TRX class, or going for a run.

“Just going for a brisk walk before school starts can make a huge difference in your awareness or recall and memory,” he adds.

The initial buy-in was encouraging, says Tredway.

School administration performed two assessments during the first year, surveying students about their experience. They found that 78 percent of high school students were exercising at least one morning a week and more than 50 percent were doing it two or more times.

“More than half looked at this opportunity and said there is something here for me and I want to do it,” explains Tredway.

Even more encouraging was the anecdotal information suggesting that students have noticed a difference on the mornings where they’ve exercised compared to the mornings that they don’t.

“Even that self-awareness will enhance how they approach their learning,” he notes.

For most Canadian students, the school day starts in class. Here are five easy at-home activities to get you and your family active before the bell rings:

  • Roll out a mat in the living room or head outside for yoga in the backyard.
  • Choose a 5- to 10-minute activity to play at home.
  • Fidget spinners may not be allowed at school, but there is a fun way to use them to get moving at home in the morning.
  • Walk, scooter, or bike to school.
  • Head to school 20 minutes earlier with a soccer ball or basketball or a skipping rope to get some movement in before the school day starts.

Busy mornings may not seem like an intuitive time to move with your kids, but getting in some activity before school will set kids up for a great day and help establish a healthy habit.

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