By Derek Kensinger
The idea is ancient: Mens sana in corpore sano—a healthy mind in a healthy body. Regular physical activity is linked to general wellbeing in school and in life. But what is being done about this at the curricular level?
Most international schools have physical education classes, sports, and clubs, but do these activities meet often enough to provide each student with the recommended amount of exercise per day? What about academic classes, after school classes, and home, where most of our students spend the better part of their time? Are these huge swathes of time providing any physical activity? Why not?
Then there are the teachers; are they getting enough physical activity? And school administrators? Let’s not even go there. In response to the question “Are you getting enough exercise?” most of these folks would answer, “No, because I just don’t have the time.” This may be due to the fact that teachers and school administrators are so focused on their students’ success they neglect their own wellbeing. How ironic that we are so busy teaching lifelong habits of holistic wellbeing that we often don’t have the time to pursue the same tenets ourselves.
How is this issue dealt with at international schools? Does your school have a gym for its faculty? Does your school openly encourage teachers to exercise during their prep time? Such things are not unheard of.
One government has begun to take some of these matters into its own hands: Finland. The Finnish government is recommending that children get three hours of physical activity per day. That’s right—per day! Take a moment to think about your students as they are busy preparing for test after test, assignment after assignment. Honestly, how many hours a day are your students physically active? How many hours a day do your students play with other students? And we aren’t talking about video games. We are talking about physical play with other students on your campus. Go on, add it up. How many hours per day?
How is Finland encouraging/mandating more exercise? One way is in the way their school day is structured. A typical Finnish school day is divided into hour-long sessions that include 45-minute lessons and 15 minutes of outdoor play. Additionally, under Finnish curriculum, schools are looking at new ways of teaching that involve more movement among children. Finnish schools are also removing traditional furniture to encourage more circulation and collaboration.
These are measures that seem very possible for international schools to implement, and many international schools are already doing so. Such changes need to occur at the macro-level; schedules need to be changed, bells re-programmed, more spaces created for physical activity, and student activity more closely monitored not only by physical education teachers and coaches, but within academic scenarios as well. Can anyone else imagine classrooms with exercise bikes powering learning instead of groups of students uncomfortably hunched at desks?