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OUR CHILDREN ARE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF 90%
An epidemic number of Canadian children (age 5 -17) are not active enough to maintain their health. Health Canada and other international standards mandate 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity for boys and girls, and 90% of Canadian children fall short of this mark daily (http://www.activehealthykids.ca/ReportCard/2014ReportCard.aspx). This increase in sedentary lifestyle coupled with the increased use of processed foods in our diets, has led to the largest rise in non-communicable disease in human history, and the first generation in our country’s history who may not live as long as their parents’ generation. To quote Dr. Dean Kriellars from the University of Manitoba, “The biological origins of disease (sedentary behavior and over-consumption of food) have started to outstrip the ability of our health care system to cope.”
An increasing contributor to sedentary behavior in children is their decreasing physical literacy as a population. The building blocks of movement like running, catching, throwing, jumping, skipping etc., are not naturally being developed through play as we over-protect outdoor play and over-subdue the youngest in our population with screen time and technology. Study after study shows us that movement competence has a tremendous, positive impact on overall personal confidence. That confidence not only allows children to become activity-seeking adults, but it also influences their ability to build positive relationships, persevere in difficult situations, and take on responsibilities in and for their communities.
DAILY PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
At Ridley College in St. Catharines, we have remained true to the 1889 founding principle of the school that daily physical activity is a must for every student. To that end, the modern Ridley (JK-grade 12) is made up of both curricular (Physical and Health Education) classes and co-curricular sport activities. The co-curricular program ensures every student is actively engaged for 60 minutes, four to six days a week. This can take the form of a very competitive boys or girls hockey, rowing, basketball or soccer team, or it can take the form of a yoga class, boot camp, or learn-to-swim class. Because our schools are the only venues we have to reach every child, we believe it is crucial that education takes responsibility for doing its part to contribute to the development of a life-long habit of physical activity.
IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL SPORT
The significance of positive sport experiences on children is best understood in their own words. The following is a reflection of a student from Ridley on her winter sport experience. “I have seen a great improvement from the start of the season and feel more powerful than I have ever felt before. I feel motivated to push myself beyond my limits even when I am not at school, which has helped me with all aspects of my life”. To a person, they express that they know more about themselves and what they are capable of because they took the risk and the opportunity to play sports. Competitive athlete or not, sports unify us, sports teaches us lessons about teamwork, success, failure and getting back on our feet again. Sports can inspire us to be better versions of ourselves, but none of these growth experiences are possible without children having the competence and the confidence to move and be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
We need to remove the shackles that our prolific media culture has placed on our minds about the dangers of allowing our children to play and explore outdoors. Whether it is finding like-minded parents in your community to develop a supervision network you are comfortable with, or if it means taking the uncomfortable leap to allow your children the same play radius you had as a child, we must work together to make unstructured, acceptably risky play a priority again. Their lives may depend on it.