Physical Activity Is Now Even More Important While Schools Remain Virtual

Fairfax county public schools have been opened virtually for two days now. After all the classes, my children and I ride our bikes in our neighborhood. We spend some time in my children's former elementary school, which has a nice and empty parking lot. With five to six hours of staring at a laptop screen, children do need a break. Their online classes have been running smoothly yesterday and today. There was, however, one incident today in my daughter's class. The teacher lost his wifi connection and got removed from the online class. As soon as this happened, some of the students started playing loud music with explicit language. The chat box was filled with the "f" word and there was chaos. Online classes are indeed very challenging especially when the technology does not cooperate, but even with no technical glitches, there remain huge intrinsic challenges in a virtual classroom. Screen fatigue is a real issue and even with breaks between classes, sitting idle in front of a screen can exact a toll on the physical, mental and social well-being of our children.

My children biking in front of Mason Crest Elementary School

The experts at the National Academies make this very point very clear:

District and school administrators, teachers, and parents should advocate for and create a whole-of-school approach to physical activity that fosters and provides access in the school environment to at least 60 minutes per day of vigorous- or moderate-intensity physical activity more than half (>50 percent) of which should be accomplished during regular school hours.

  • School districts should provide high-quality curricular physical education during which students should spend at least half (>50 percent) of the class time engaged in vigorous- or moderate-intensity physical activity. All elementary school students should spend an average of 30 minutes per day and all middle and high school students an average of 45 minutes per day in physical education class. To allow for flexibility in curriculum scheduling, this recommendation is equivalent to 150 minutes per week for elementary school students and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students.
  • Students should engage in additional vigorous- or moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the school day through recess, dedicated classroom physical activity time, and other opportunities.
  • Additional opportunities for physical activity before and after school hours, including but not limited to active transport, before- and after-school programming, and intramural and extramural sports, should be made accessible to all students.

This week is the first week of classes so teachers are still spending time providing an orientation or introduction to their students, but I do hope that later, during school hours, teachers will begin to incorporate some physical activity. Students not only need a rest period from the screen but also opportunities to stretch and work their muscles. Yes, there are indeed learning objectives but we must not neglect the physical, mental and social well-being of our children.