Family life

What you need to know about the Active at School initiative

A new initiative offers up a new idea to get kids off the couch, but Tracy Chappell wonders if it will make a difference.

1ActiveAtSchool-November2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

I love passionate people. One of the things I loved most about being at the BlissDom Canada conference last month was being surrounded by people overflowing with passion.

This week, I once again found myself in that kind of company at a Monday morning press conference for an initiative called Active at School (@ActiveAtSchool). They were pulling out all the stops to announce a new plan to combat childhood inactivity by making one hour of physical activity part of the curriculum in every school in this country.

We’ve all heard about programs to get kids moving again, to get their eyes off the screens and their butts off the couch and get them outside enjoying the power of play. We know the obstacles — kids sitting at school all day, worries over unsupervised outdoor play, parents trying to carve out activity time in the sparse hours after work and before bedtime (while trying to get dinner on the table and homework done). We certainly know the looming health dangers facing a generation of kids growing up with sedentary habits.

Clearly, something has to be done. But what? Active at School thinks it has the answer. A group of more than 60 sport, health and wellness organizations, including the Canadian Olympic Committee, Nike, Rogers Media, the Canadian Tire Corporation and the National Hockey League, are joining forces to combine their influence and resources for this common goal of making physical activity a part of every student’s day — because school is where they can reach every child from every background.

Duncan Fulton of the Canadian Tire Corporation called this an unprecedented initiative, harnessing the power of this group for a common goal. He acknowledged that it was just the start of a complex journey, because schools already have so many competing priorities, and each school board has its unique needs. But, he said, this group has the resources to make this happen, whether it’s to find the right type of programming, or supply equipment, or provide other types of support teachers and principals need. They hope, by getting kids in the habit of being physically active when they’re young, they’ll not only improve their health, but their concentration, academic performance, temperament and social relationships. Their goal: “Every day. Every kid. Every school.”

My favourite speaker at the press conference was Dr. Mike Evans, from Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, who said, as a society, “We’re looking for something new and shiny to solve this problem, but the answer is old — and hopefully dirty.” He said parents shouldn’t be gearing their kids up for pro sports, but instead, to join the beer league as adults — meaning, we need to drive home that activity is for fun, so it becomes a lifelong love.

“The couch and desk are our generation’s cigarettes,” he continued, emphasizing that we can’t undo the past, but we can start fresh today. “There’s a Chinese proverb that says, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago,” he said. “The second best time is now.”

As I said, I love their passion. And I can only hope that their collective power and resources can make a difference where other initiatives have failed, because I agree that daily activity will have a ripple effect on many other parts of the school experience for kids. Their plan is to meet with premiers, and education and health ministers from all governments within the next 90 days to present their plans and ask for support to help roll them out.

I hope a part of this plan will look at a broad scope of activity for kids. It’s good for kids to learn sports skills, but as they get older, interests and aptitudes change. I was never athletic, and never enjoyed gym class or joined sports teams, and I think the landscape needs to be blown wide open so that all kids can find activities that they truly love. It took me until I was in my 30s to discover that I loved Pilates, then running, then bootcamp. I wish I hadn’t always equated activity with sports, and decided it wasn’t for me.

I would love to see our kids have the chance to learn to snowshoe and rock climb; go swimming and skating; enjoy the benefits of yoga; go on treasure hunts and do obstacle courses. Hike. Skateboard. Dance. And run. And run. And run.

Do you think this group will be able to succeed in implementing an hour of physical activity into every child’s school day? Do you think it’s a good idea?