A boy jumps for joy in the classroom

If getting kids physically active increases their academic scores, why is it not being done in every Canadian school?

The science is clear: If you get kids moving throughout the school day, they will do better academically. That’s the case being made in the article “Building a better brain” recently published in the Globe and Mail.

The article quotes Harvard Medical School’s John Ratey, an internationally recognized expert in neuropsychiatry:

If you want to raise test scores, we have documented evidence — big time evidence – that the key is to include fitness-based activity in the day.

Not only do schools need to start incorporating physical activity into every school day, they need to make sure that their students are physically literate, so they have the skills necessary to participate and enjoy that activity. And we know that kids who are physically literate have the confidence to move and will seek out opportunities to be physically active.

Not developing physical literacy isn’t the only challenge. The article mentions another barrier to getting kids moving: we live in a “grade-obsessed” society. Comparing test scores between countries, provinces, school boards – and yes parents, with the kid next door – has become the norm.

When academic scores fall one of the first responses is to sit kids down for longer periods of time so they can study more. The problem is, that’s the wrong response.

At least that’s what four high schools in Simcoe County are discovering after implementing “Spark Breaks” that get kids moving for short period of time through the school day. Russell Atkinson, the principal of Barrie Central Collegiate, which first adopted the “Spark Breaks” as a teaching strategy comments:

We saw amazing results. The teachers said just the improvement in mood was worth it.

The evidence is unmistakable, yet very few school boards, schools or teachers apply this practice. Dr. Charles Hillman from the University of Illinois neurocognitive kinesiology lab captures the frustration of many:

Everybody comes back and says there are positive effects behaviourally, emotionally, academically, and asks, ‘Why isn’t everyone doing it?’ But the people making the decisions aren’t putting the practice into place. I don’t understand it.

The truth is, if we want our children’s schools to be more active, then we, the parents, have to take action. Because unless we ask for more and better quality physical activity, and ask for it in large numbers, it will continue to fall to the bottom of the priority list. So if you’re ready to add your voice to the cause, here are several things you can do:

  • Forward this article to the minister of education of your province and ask what can be done to get physically literate and moving so they acquire the foundation for many positive outcomes for them.
  • Forward this article to the principal of your children’s school and ask the same question.
  • Forward this article to your child’s teacher and ask to discuss the topic of physical literacy and physical activity.
  • Mobilize more parents through social media.

Though challenging, it’s definitely not impossible to get the system to change and increase physical activity in schools. It starts by making sure they get instruction in developing fundamental movement skills so they can be physically literate. Together, let’s give kids what they need to succeed and be healthy.

5 responses to “If getting kids physically active increases their academic scores, why is it not being done in every Canadian school?

  1. I think gym class is awful it does not allow kids to excel theres always that one kid who gets picked first. I was always picked last I remember being bullied because I was chubby. the activitys like push ups where not made for childern with a gut to lose weight. i think the should let people go at there own pace and the uniforms never came in my size. I think less PE = less bullying for less active kids

    1. Hi Patsie, I empathize with your experience. I also had a bad time with PE in grade school (read about it here if you want, activeforlife.com/traum…gym-class/). However the answer isn’t less PE. The important thing is for schools to design PE programs that are intended for all kids, with an emphasis on physical literacy and not on sports.

  2. I was thrilled to see this article. When I learned that my daughter was only getting PE once a week in her school I was very concerned. I started looking into what I could do as a parent and learned about a program called BOKS (Build Our Kids Success) which was in fact inspired by Dr. John Rateys book SPARK. BOKS is a not-for-profit program that promotes the impact that physical activity has on a child’s academic performance. BOKS is a non competitive physical activity program that’s run in elementary schools. The program focuses specifically on functional fitness movements incorporated into 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activities. BOKS offers a structured 24 week curriculum. Best part is that your school doesn’t have to fundraise a dime for it – ITS FREE! You simply need to coordinate a couple of parents/teachers to run it.

  3. Schools need to look at real activity not just the traditional sports that amazons excel at. I did not do well in PE except for ballroom dancing, badminton, long distance running and gymnasts in high school. Short arms, long legs, short and tiny in stature, PE teachers picked at me but hey were bullies and the program was designed to fail most of us. The best PE teacher taught us ballroom dancing and badminton. They were not part of her curriculum but she got our attention and respect by offering something we the non-traditional athletic builds could do well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *