Coquitlam principal inspires kids to love fitness

By The Tri-City News
Published: March 17, 2015 10:00 AM
Updated: March 17, 2015 10:4310 AM


The statistics about Canada's sedentary kids are worrying but local schools are working overtime to fill in the fitness gap.

And one school finds morning the best time for relays, free play and exercise to music.

At Ranch Park elementary in Coquitlam, students have two opportunities to be physically active before the start of their school day — and for one group of 40 kids, it was the best part of their morning when The Tri-City News visited.

"It's fun, it gets us ready for the day," said Kaia Caldwell, a Grade 5 student, who was flushed and smiling after playing a fast relay game during the school's 35-minute BOKS (Build Our Kids' Success) program led by principal Don Hutchinson.

The national program, which was founded by Kathleen Tullie and is in its second year at Ranch Park, is just one of several opportunities for kids to be active at the elementary school of 225 students.

Although it just sounds like fun, keeping kids active throughout the day for short periods is critical, especially now when the latest McCreary Centre Society Adolescent Health Survey shows some worrying statistics about teen activity levels.

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They are dropping, according to the latest report, and the 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada, Report on Physical Activity for Children and Youth suggested similar worrying trends.

But at this Coquitlam elementary school, staff are making sure kids are active throughout their school day.

Following BOKS, the entire school joins in a workout session set to music called Power Up. Then, there are other fitness breaks throughout the day - not the boring workouts that adults are used to but fun activities that encourage play.

It seems counter-intuitive to rev kids up just before they sit down to class, however Hutchinson said physical activity doesn't distract but encourages on-task behaviour.

And while exercise doesn't make kids smarter, it does prepare their brains for learning. Numerous studies also link physical activity of youth and adults with better mental health.

And the McCreary Centre Society Adolescent Health Survey published last month for Fraser North noted that sports and exercise were two of 17 protective factors for youth, along with good nutrition, eight or more hours of sleep per night, and feeling engaged and connected.


"We have noticed it makes a difference with our kids," said Hutchinson, who has spent most of his career trying to create more opportunities for kids to be active. He regularly takes his message on the road, teaching other educators about the benefits of Power Up, and is a member of two national boards promoting kids health and physical activity: DASH BC and Physical Health and Education Canada.

He is not surprised at the recent McCreary results that showed few youth in Fraser North, including those in School District 43, meet Canadian guidelines of one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day for people aged 12 to 17 years of age.

Just 15% met the standard, according to the survey, and fewer students are involved in organized sports and activities, such as dance, and kids are doing less informal sport activities — such as skateboarding, hiking and road hockey — than they were five years ago.

"We can look back before computers and cell phones, kids were active but even just the demands on kids, too. Academics take away some of the physical activity," Hutchinson said.

The problem, he suggests, is that children and youth no longer play on their own, or walk up to the local rec centre for a game of hoops or pick-up hockey. But even youth who are involved in organized sports aren't as physically active as one might imagine.


According to a recent report card on children's physical activity, only 24% of kids got a full 60 minutes of moderate vigorous activity in one session of soccer and only 2% got this at softball practice while kids on hockey teams spent half the time in practice in moderate to vigorous activity but during an actual game were sedentary nearly a third of the time.

The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada, Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth also noted that Canada does well in providing sports opportunities but noted kids still don't get enough activity.

It proposes that adults let them have more time in unstructured play or several opportunities to engage in physical activity throughout the day to build strong minds and bodies.

"In some cases, we may need to step back and do less," the report suggests.

Hutchinson's overarching philosophy is to get kids active throughout the day and he also encourages families to do things together.


Fraser North statistics from the McCreary Adolescent Health Survey. The survey includes 1,400 responses from Grade 7 to 12 School District 43 students.

(Note: Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day for youth aged 12 to 17).

• Met the guidelines: 15% (19% males, 12% females)

• Met the guidelines: aged 12 or younger — 24%; aged 17 — 10%

• Have not exercised at all in past week: 10% (8% males, 11% females)

• Kids in weekly organized sport: 2013 — 55% (60% males, 50% females); 2008 —60%

• Kids in weekly informal sport: 2013 — 55%; 2008 — 67% (informal sport is characterized as road hockey, hiking and skateboarding)

• Kids in weekly yoga, dance or exercise: 2013 — 18% (7% males, 29% females) 2008 23%

• Why kids didn't exercise: main reason — too busy: 42% males 53% females



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