As we all know, there is more to a child’s education than what they are taught in the classroom – it is also about preparing them to live a healthy, successful life. Key to that is ensuring physical fitness is a core piece of their school day.
Jay Tredway, the Athletic Director at Ridley College, takes “physical literacy” seriously. The St. Catharines, Ont.,-based independent school has developed a Sport for Life program to promote physical activity among its students.
Ridley’s physical literacy effort includes an assessment of students from Grades 3 to 11 to establish a baseline for their physical literacy, measuring fitness and movement skills, a Zero Hour Fitness program creating opportunities for students to be physically active before school, and Teaching Games for Understanding, which puts a focus on skill development for students participating in team sports.
Jay will be speaking at The Canadian Sport for Life National Summit in Gatineau, Que., at the end of January, and I had a chance to ask him some questions about educating children about physical literacy.
Jay has kindly offered to answer any questions that you might have. Just ask away in the comments section, and he will respond.
What is “physical literacy”?
Physical and Health Education Canada defines physically literate people as “Individuals who … move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.” The key is the development of fundamental movement skills like running, jumping, throwing, catching and striking that give kids the confidence to play and keep experimenting and trying new things.
What was your inspiration for starting the programme?
When I became the Director of Athletics at Ridley in 2008, I took over a program that was very active. The opportunity that we saw was the ability to serve better what we termed at the time the “recreational” population of the school: the students who did not really feel like sport was their thing or were not talented enough to make any of the competitive teams. The first thing we tried to do was broaden the program and expand the offerings by adding things like sailing and golf and ultimate frisbee. Formally termed “League Sports,” the first year of this new Sport For Life initiative saw participation rates increase and many more students became significantly more active daily. In the following year, I was first introduced to a national movement serendipitously called Canadian Sport For Life. With the support of Sport Canada and other non-governmental agencies, this movement to improve the quality of sport across the country had developed an annual National Summit in Ottawa, Ontario. I was there in 2010 to learn about Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) plan and witness CS4L make their first pitch for Physical Literacy. All of a sudden, I had a language to explain many of the things we held dear at Ridley but had been unable to articulate or build on. I also came to see just how dangerous our sedentary lifestyles had become, how they create a burgeoning crisis for the Canadian health care system. Now, we see it as our great privilege and opportunity to provide an example to the nation of how physical literacy and daily physical activity can be built into the elementary and secondary school system to serve the mental, physical and social development of our school-aged population. From our point of view, the more healthy, capable and knowledgeable students we all graduate, the healthier, more capable and more productive Canada will be. We want to contribute to finding a sustainable way of meeting that goal in our 21st-century society.
How have you put the Sport for Life programme into place at your school?
From its founding in 1889, Ridley has always believed in daily physical activity. So, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, every student in the school is engaged in a minimum of one hour of sport at either the recreational or competitive level. We have three sport seasons and over the course of the year more than 80% of the school plays on a competitive team. At any given time, however, 40% of the school is in the Sport For Life programme. Our current incarnation provides students with a core sport or game that they play three times a week that is then supplemented with other games or fitness classes on the other two days. The students rotate through these offerings each week. At the beginning of each term, the students that do not make a competitive team get to choose the rotation that they would like to be a part of and we sort them into groups of 10-12. This winter the sport offerings include, curling, badminton, futsal, dance, yoga, spin, suspension training, core fitness and Zumba.
What has the response been from students and parents?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. At the beginning of each term we have students who are forced a little out of their comfort zone in activities that they do not have any experience with. By and large, once they have had a chance to try these new activities and become accustomed to them, they really enjoy them. The parents really like the diversity of the offerings and appreciate that we are trying to expose the students to different sports that they could very well play for life.
How about the response from other teachers?
The Faculty have been extremely supportive of this initiative. At Ridley, all of the teachers coach athletic teams, and the Sport For Life program is where a number of them get to build relationships and even participate with the students in the various activities.
Do kids perform and behave better in the classroom after the Zero Hour?
We are going to find out. A tremendous amount of research has been done by Dr. John Ratey and his colleague on the significance of physical activity and its positive influence on learning and memory. This is why daily physical activity is so crucial in the Ridley experience, but we don’t normally do sport before school starts. We will be starting our first research project with this Zero Hour or “First Thing” fitness in January 2015. The science says that physical activity prior to learning enhances the productivity of the brain providing the students with better attention and ability to focus and stay on task. We will see if this holds true for the boys and girls at Ridley. If it does (as I suspect it will) it will encourage us to continue to consider alternative ways to maximize the physical activity effect throughout the school day.
How can parents supplement or complement what you do with their kids at home?
One of the best tools that has been developed for physical literacy in the last two years is the Passport For Life by Physical and Health Education Canada. These are assessment tools the Physical Education teachers and coaches can use to create a profile of a student’s physical literacy. The assessments are not used for marks but provide a picture of students’ physical abilities and deficiencies. The results are totally individual. The feedback that these tools provide allows teachers to modify their instruction to address deficiencies or provide varied levels of difficulty for students as they are developing their fundamental skills. These assessments are online and students and parents have access to their child’s data. PHE Canada has also developed a great range of tools for parents to help them plan activities or make suggestions on what sports to get their children involved in to support their specific child’s physical literacy needs.
We have just completed our baseline testing with the Passport tool this October with all students from grade 3 to grade 11. The data were very interesting and really gave us some clear areas to focus on as a teaching/coaching team. The students also enjoy the feedback and no doubt it is a motivator to see if they can move up to the next level when we assess them again in the spring.
How do you create life-long physical literacy?
The million dollar question! It comes back to confidence and competence. If we develop basic competencies in children and they build the confidence to participate in sport no matter what it is or what environment it is in, we go a long way to building individuals who are not afraid to try new things or think they are going to look silly in front of others. That resilience and those skills built early in life create the fertile ground for life-long physical literacy.
Is the motivation intrinsic or extrinsic? Are you providing the kids with reward incentives to be active, or are you teaching them how to pay attention to the benefits of being active?
It needs to be both for maximum success. You want the intrinsic motivation to be based on the right information: an understanding of healthy calorie intake and burn, knowing what movement skills you can improve on the most and the right amount of sleep to make your body work efficiently. All of these things contribute to your intrinsic push to improve your physical literacy. The extrinsic motivation is also very useful during those periods where even self-starters get a little haggard. Being surrounded by a community of people who are motivated to stay healthy and vibrant allows them to pick you up when you need a boost and you will be able to return the favour. This positive re-enforcement circle lifts everyone in the group to sustainable levels of wellness.
How can you help send kids out into the world who will continue to pay attention to their health and fitness after they have left the structures of home and school?
We work to do this by building a framework that they can fall back on. It has been our experience that students that have spent their formative years at Ridley use the tools they build in our relatively structured environment to help them find their path once they are truly on their own. Physical activity and a healthy, active lifestyle are a part of what we try to impart and teach everyday of their lives here. It is a facet of education, just like learning math and science. If we have done our jobs, just as their passion in language or technology pushes them to develop skill sets that will help them build a professional career, they will continue to want to learn and improve their knowledge and skills around personal wellness.