Movement matters in a healthy school culture

September 12, 2016 Chris Fenlon-MacDonald

When school leaders set out to create a healthy school community, they often do so by focusing their efforts in a few key areas. Environments that support healthy eating, positive mental health, positive social and physical spaces, and daily physical activity have all been proven to support the healthy development of children and youth — especially so when these efforts occur through a comprehensive school health approach. Healthy environments, matched with curriculum, are integral elements that encourage student and school health.

Implementation of quality health and physical education, in healthy school communities, is shown to be critical to the development of healthy citizens who positively contribute to society. This quality implementation of curriculum could even be viewed as Alberta’s greatest health promotion strategy, and the largest group to advocate for physical literacy are students and their parents.

It is important to note that physical literacy lives beyond the walls of a school gymnasium and those teaching health and physical education — school culture can also play an important role.

School culture that allows for and promotes physical activity will yield strong physical literacy outcomes. After all, the environments we operate in provide cues, nudges and incentives that influence our actions in subtle yet pro-found ways. The creation of activity-permissive learning environments is one way to automate or reward healthy behaviours. For example, hallways with well-placed, colourful floor patterns will see an increase in active student movement between classes, and teachers whose lessons are embedded in physical activity will yield strong academic outcomes in additional to increased physical literacy that supports student well-being.

Children and youth with a strong sense of physical literacy are confident and motivated movers with a daily desire to be active. Movement is foundational — research would argue a necessity — to learning. At a time when our children are facing a movement deficit, finding quality opportunities for them to move during their school day is important to the health of our schools and, equally important, the health and academic outcomes of our children.

Chris Fenlon-MacDonald is the provincial education co-ordinator for Ever Active Schools.

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