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Is the True North Strong and Free?

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Canada is a great country. We have so much to be thankful for. But all is not perfect in our land. We are known to be a progressive and diverse culture, and in the bright-shining light of progression I speak to all the parents, administrators and educators of our fair nation.
We stand proud on our achievements in literacy and numeracy, for our children are among the most capable in the world when it comes to Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. No surprise really, as the 3 Rs have been long-standing pillars of our education system and our Canadian mindset. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, we measure our achievement of the 3Rs using mandatory provincial examinations. We know where we stand, and we can rightfully stand tall.

Despite these marvelous literacy and numeracy achievements, the health of Canadians, child and adult alike, is being insidiously eroded. Sadly, our Canadian way of life has become sedentary for over 95% of us and more than 65% are overweight and obese, leading to the unprecedented development of ‘inactivity diseases’ such as type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

The true north isn’€™t strong, it’€™s weak

This unhealthy lifestyle’€”our behaviours’€”is a reflection of our Canadian values and attitudes. Thank goodness for our health care system which has, up to this point, been able to manage the negative consequences of our collective sloth and gluttony. But our health care system is beginning to fail under the burden of our lifestyles.

We want our health care but we do not want our health!

How do we rectify this? Well, thankfully the health and physical education (HE/PE) objectives that are a part of our provincial education curricula can provide the foundation on which we can create physically literate children that actively participate. Which could save the next generation of Canadian bacon, so to speak.

Parents and educators must start to insist on the delivery of the HE/PE objectives, just as we have insisted for reading, writing and arithmetic. Perhaps this would form the foundation of a new Canadian culture, one that is active and healthy.

The physical education curricula for all provinces can be found here. Parents should become familiar with what our children are supposed to know and behaviours that they should exhibit as a result of being enrolled in our health and physical education system. You will be surprised to learn what the learning expectations are. Parents want their kids to be healthy. We all do. We may not yet have provincial examinations for physical literacy, but if we value what physical literacy gives to our children we need to measure it. Just as we measure the ability of our children to read, write and do math.

Like most provincial HE/PE curricula, Manitoba’€™s has strands on fitness, movement, safety, healthy lifestyle practices, as well as personal and social management. For your interest, here are some of the learning objectives of the Grade 6 curriculum from three strands: fitness, movement and lifestyle. What you’€™ll notice is that the objectives are quite bold. If kids were able to do the things that the curriculum sets out, they’€™d be well prepared for the future.

The problem is that schools aren’€™t delivering on the curriculum. Our children are not able to do everything that the system itself expects. As parents, we need to work cooperatively with our education system to actually deliver on these objectives.

The recreation and sport sectors need to become integrated into our school systems via the parent advisory council to complement the physical literacy education process. Our teachers know which children are in need of improved healthy lifestyle behaviours, and they can play a very important role in guiding their students toward suitable, physically active leisure pursuits in the community.

We don’€™t need to worry about who is already active in sport and leisure activities. We need to worry about who isn’€™t.

So, parents, please politely get in the face of your teachers, engage your principals and superintendents, recruit your parent advisory councils. Leave them in no doubt as to your hopes and needs for your children and our country: ‘Hey, my kids have to be physically literate and active!’

We’€™d never tolerate our kids practicing reading only twice a week because we know that regular reading is what builds literacy. So why are we okay with our kids only getting physical education and activity in schools with only a couple of sessions a week?

As parents, we can do our bit outside school time. But schools can make a powerful contribution during the day.

Let’€™s make sure that Canada, the true north, really is both strong and free.

Dean Kriellaars (BPE, MSc, PhD, CEP) is faculty at the University of Manitoba and a scientist at the Manitoba Institute of Child Health. Dr. Kriellaars has received two University of Manitoba Presidential Outreach awards for meritorious community work and recently was awarded the Campbell Award for longstanding community service. Provincially, he was recognized for his outstanding activities in building community wellness in the province of Manitoba through the Healthy Living Award.

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