It may seem reasonable to assume that when the bell rings to dismiss students from school for the day, their activity levels go up.
We would like to imagine them crashing through the doors and filling their free time with outdoor play and physical activity, or at the very least, homework and chores. Yet in reality 73% of parents report that children are watching television, reading or playing computer and video games in the hours between 3pm and 6pm.
This after-school time is a critical period for accumulating physical activity in children and youth. With more students engaging in the sedentary activities of a modern after-school lifestyle, it is easy to see why only 9% of boys and 4% of girls meet Canada’s physical activity guidelines. Being active for at least the recommend 60 minutes per day can help kids do better in school, improve their health and fitness, feel happier, maintain a healthy body weight and improve their self-confidence.
On a personal level the solution can be simple. Children need active outdoor opportunities such as free play, sport, and/or active transport (walking to and from school). In fact, kids who are outside in the after-school period take an average of 2000 more steps per day than their indoor peers. That is the equivalent of walking an extra 2km per day!
On a community level, the solution to engaging children and youth in after-school activity is more complex. It involves the creation of public policy and investment that supports recreation opportunities for all abilities and incomes. It necessitates strong partnerships and coordination between schools, recreation centers, service clubs and parents. Most of all, it emphasizes the need for including youth advisors in programming decisions and involving them as activity leaders as well.
Whether acting on a personal level or taking on a piece of the community solution, we all have a role to play. As parents we encourage, support (and dare I suggest join) our children in being active after-school. As community members we advocate for healthy change and take action where possible. Together, we commit to making it happen, quite literally, one step at a time.