Dr. Kirti Munjal,
Principal – Tulsi College of Education for Women, Ambala
“Intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong.”
– John F. Kenne
“Online kids games to play” was a highly searched phrase on Google during the quarantine. The COVID-19 pandemic forced an unprecedented global shutdown that closed schools for months relegating physical education and sports activities to the back seat. Schools have been closed to students, and teachers have directed educational activities remotely via digital devices or homeschooling resources. By this time of the pandemic, students have undoubtedly become pro at attending online classes and organizing video calls with family and friends. Therefore, schools should prioritize using the online mode to integrate physical activities into a child’s daily routine. Strong scientific evidence supports an association between physical exercise/training and good physical and mental health. Research studies in physical education have proved time and again that regular sports help keep kids from being overweight or obese and prevent other health problems. They also provide an opportunity to increase self-confidence and hone social skills. Undoubtedly, regular physical activity helps students stay alert and improves their emotional fitness. For many years, schools worldwide have had games and sports as an integral part of their curriculum. So the pertinent question is – why not now – when sticking to screens for a long duration and not being allowed to move around much on the pretext of safety has resulted in a very sedentary routine for most school-going children.
Research shows that the most significant driver of whether children are active or not is enjoyment, so schools need to develop new online programs with that in mind. The school program can include various activities, such as fitness exercises, personal challenges, online contests, problem-solving games, and activities that support physical competence and mindfulness. Emphasis has to be on making the digital content fun and suitable for children’s well-being.
The digital content of a school’s physical education program should provide daily inspiration and inclusive activities. These will allow all children, especially teens and young adults, to indulge in at least sixty minutes of physical activity a day as per WHO guidelines while social distancing is in place. The schools also need to provide simple and accessible ideas and content to help parents maintain an active routine for children and teenagers during the disruption caused by the pandemic. This will help support positive engagement and well-being and enhance concentration and cognition to support remote learning. Moreover, it is vital to encourage parents to build activity into their own routines because research shows that they are great role models – active parents are more likely to have active children.
While many educational institutions are organizing online dance, aerobic, yoga, or Zumba classes, some out-of-the-box ways in which schools can evolve fun and enjoyable ways of engaging students are discussed below-
- Make it a campaign – The schools can work with high-profile athletes, trainers, and celebrities to champion the campaign and inspire students. Events like virtual half marathons/marathons, cross country races, cyclothons, and even boot camps are fun. For these, the students need not assemble at one place. They can perform the activities in open spaces near their homes. The organizers can make an effort to monitor the routes through various apps or Google Maps. Theme-based awareness drives for diabetes, heart health, or cancer prevention, and awareness add a sense of purpose. Some activities can also commemorate special days like Independence Day or World Environment Day. The students can join through live platforms or send videos. Rewards on various pre-planned parameters can be announced to keep the spirits high.
- Organize Virtual Sports Days – A Virtual Sports Day is an opportunity for students to participate in a series of physical activity challenges and compete with their class or students from their age group. The outcome – fun, fitness, certificates, accolades, and the overall victory in the competition. Schools can get as many people involved as possible during, for example, a challenge week. It could even be students and staff members. The registration can be done using Google Forms or some similar method. Participants can be told to compete in 8-10 challenges throughout the week. They can practice and perform their challenges as many times as possible but only submit one entry per activity (their best result). Some activities like yoga asanas or balancing postures will have to be assessed on factors like the duration for which the participants can do something or the correctness with which it is done. In contrast, some activities can be judged on the maximum number of reps they can do, like push-ups or time on task counting like how many lunges or rope skips in a minute. The participants have to send an unedited video of themselves performing, facilitating free and unbiased judgments. Each submitted entry can contribute points to a cumulative class score to make it sound like an actual sports day and improve participation. Motivation can be built by creating a system of leaderboards based on points earned in various domains. Certificates for the top performers in each age group and a chance to share winners in these fun and inspiring activities on social media platforms will serve as morale boosters.
- Try out Virtual Reality Tours – These days, a unique YouTube phenomenon of virtual reality tours has caught the fancy of health freaks. School teachers can motivate students to hit the treadmill at home and play the videos of walking tours of fancy places across the globe using a VR device or even an LED placed in front of the TV and pretend to walk as if it were actually that place. In a few minutes, students would be enjoying the sights and sounds. It is a human tendency that when we enjoy something very much, we get so engrossed that we don’t realize the time. The same trick works here. It is a cinematic experience coupled with the benefit of physical activity. And every day it could be a new adventure, thus keeping the students motivated. A few of the most popular virtual walking tours these days are the enthralling tours of Paris, Dubai, or Barcelona, the exciting stroll through the night markets of Seoul, a historical trip to the various Victorian locations of Europe, a wildlife trip through the dense Amazon Forests and a plethora of museums and national parks. Even the Palace of Versailles has opened its doors for digital tours. In addition, students can themselves make videos of interesting places around their houses and share them with others, who can then replay them while walking.
- Arrange Scavenger Hunts – Schools can encourage teenagers to participate in or organize treasure or scavenger hunts. These reinforce problem-solving skills while also making them active. Using a time frame and adding clues that get them running from place to place increases their activity levels. Scavenger hunt or treasure hunt apps are gaining popularity these days. Try out Scavify, Turf Hunt, Actionbound, or Geocaching and see the fun happening. These apps facilitate treasure hunts or adventure games playable on smartphones and tablets and require players to move around different locations following clues. These apps encourage users to interact with other players and their environments for a more engaging experience. These apps are ideal for inter-house or inter-class activities which have almost disappeared in the quarantine.
As a result of the pandemic, children’s activity levels have dropped significantly, and their mental health and emotional well-being are at stake. Therefore, a well-planned virtual School Sports program is now more critical than ever to help children and young people socialize and improve their physical and emotional well-being. The onus of responsibility is on the schools. Therefore, schools should take the initiative to ensure that physical health does not suffer in these testing times.
A healthy body is the soul’s guest-chamber; a sick body is its prison. – Francis Bacon