How to keep your kids from a failing grade on this important report card

It should have been a pretty normal walk home from school; my daughter giving me the scoop on her day, me sighing as I noted her backpack was lighter, meaning she had again left her lunch at school.

But today she was silent, miserable, scowling. Going gently down the list of things that could have upset her and receiving grunts and eye rolls, we weren’t getting anywhere until I had a thought. It had been raining all day. “Honey, did you guys get to go outside for recess, or lunch?”

Her answer cleared up everything: not only were they struck indoors for all periods, where apparently people mostly read or drew, (no options for physical activity were encouraged or provided) but it was a non-gym day and the only activities she’d had were sedentary. Deprived of the opportunity to be active or physically stimulated, she had become another child entirely.

While I may, as her mother, think my kid is unique and special: in this way, she is no different from any other children.

The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth [PDF] backs me up in my diagnosis, noting that children need to be active, and particularly, must have lots of free unstructured play to thrive. Unfortunately, the report, you will be horrified to read, gives our Canadian kids a “D-” for physical activity for the third year in a row. Yikes.

I’m sure some of you are baffled, thinking that your Johnny does hockey, and little Lisa is on the soccer team, but how often are we making sure they get time to run around a park, jump in the snow, climb hills, or go exploring through different terrains?

Clearly not enough, and the report has a theory that I am embarrassed to say that I relate to:

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 … this protection paradox means we overprotect kids to keep them safe, but keeping them close and keeping them indoors may set them up to be less resilient.

We seem to be doing better with the kids under 5 who are getting their required amount of physical activity, but the 12- to 17-year-olds are particularly failing. Kids at the elementary stage aren’t meeting their quotas, either, and then they carry this inactivity into their older years, perpetuating the cycle

The report card stresses getting kids outside and letting them take risks and explore for themselves. If more of us can let go and give our children the time and space they need to play and move outdoors, perhaps we can change that grade, and more importantly, change their lives.

We encourage you to read the report card, check out the Active for Life resources on our site, and suggest your own tips.

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