This week the Toronto Star referenced a journal report that pointed out how the Toronto District School Board was failing to meet the Daily Physical Activity Policy requirements introduced in 2005.
My own response? Let it go. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the requirement that Ontario elementary schools engage all students in at least 20 minutes of sustained moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) as part of each instructional day doesn’t make sense. It’s not that the hope, or even the expectation, that every child will engage in a reasonable amount of physical activity each day is misguided. In fact, if it were to happen, it would likely make a big difference in the lives of many.
It’s just that there is little room in most schools for the policy to be fully implemented. On the one hand, there isn’t the physical space for students to engage in the type of activity necessary to count as MVPA. Most schools only have one gymnasium and classroom spaces are not designed for 25 kids of any age to be engaging in 20 minute workouts.
There is also a lack of curricular space to accommodate the requirement, especially when juxtaposed with high demands around literacy and numeracy results, not to mention the other initiatives, campaigns and programs that are vying for time and attention.
Ironically, many schools actually provide a counter-message to students during the period of time where this type of vigorous physical activity should really be taking place. Students are provided ample time during the day to be outside moving around. Most schools still have two 15 minute recess periods, in addition to a full hour of time at lunch. Yet, for a growing number of students, concerns over safety and its close cousin, liability, have forced administrators to limit the amount of physical movement, use of equipment and the type of all-out rambunctiousness that used to work up a sweat and leave hearts pumping as the school bell beckoned classes back inside.
Now, “walk and talk” recesses, the elimination of playground equipment and the banning of spherical objects of any type have contributed to free time that more closely resemble coffee breaks than school recesses. Couple that with the fact that more and more parents insist on driving their kids to the front door of the school instead of allowing them to walk, bike, or run to school and you begin to understand where the disconnect in messaging comes into play.
But before sounding the death knell on the well-intentioned but somewhat impractical policy of requiring that 20 minutes of each day be set aside for MVPA, I would like to hear from schools that may have found a way of getting this to work on a whole-school basis? How have you managed to build DPA into your schedule? What changes have you had to make? What have you been forced to “give up” or put in a different perspective? Have you seen a benefit for your students? I may be wrong, but I suspect that DPA in most Ontario schools has never really taken root. And my suspicion is that it never will. So, instead of framing this as a failure on the part of schools, why not admit that, as currently constituted, most of us hope that the policy will just walk, if not run, away!