I’ve been thinking a lot about DPA lately. We are required to provide our students with 20 minutes of physical activity on days when they don’t have physical education. Many times, this time is used as an extra 20 minutes outside before recess or time playing movement games on the smart board inside. It’s become a part of our daily routine as teachers and something that our students know and expect – trust me, they never let me forget!
At a recent staff meeting focusing on positive school culture and wellbeing, my principal posed us with some questions. When do we do DPA? How do we do it? And most importantly, why?
Often times, our instructional schedule dictates when DPA happens in our classroom, but I’ve been thinking – is that really best for our students? Having that 20 minutes of activity at a guaranteed time every day is great for our routines and planning our day, but is that best for the needs of our kids? Is DPA the most effective and meaningful when it happens when we can see that our students need it? I think it comes down to the teacher and most importantly, the group of students. Some students probably benefit more from knowing when DPA will happen in their day. Some students, such as my active bunch of grade twos and threes, need it at very different times in our day. The activity and attention level of my classroom fluctuates greatly throughout the day based on the kind of learning they are engaged in. DPA benefits my students the most when I can notice their changing behaviour and ability to self-regulate, and respond with a break for physical activity.
Another thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is the “how” of DPA. How are kids spending these 20 minutes of time? What is the best way for them to spend it, and is there even a best way? Aside from a good old soccer or basketball game, there are a ton of resources that provide ideas for active large group games or video programs such as Go Noodle, Kids Zumba or Cosmic Yoga to follow along to on the smart board. The options are endless.
I tend to do something a little bit different. Inside of my grade two and three students who are intelligent, critical thinkers and wonderful young adults, I see kids – young kids who are meant to be playing. The play I refer to isn’t guided or adult-directed, either. My students are in their happiest, most natural state when they are given the freedom to be outside and to direct their own play. So when my class has DPA time we head outside and I tell them that as long as their bodies are actively moving, they can play whatever they want to and I love to watch what happens. In a previous post I talked about how students, even in older grades, still engage in dramatic play and how valuable this experience is for them. When we are outside, just my class on the playground, my students have the freedom to create meaningful play in a calm and relaxed outdoor environment. Most of the time, they are all engaged in a few different things – dramatic play (right now, they are right into role-playing Harry Potter characters which has me in stitches every time), super hero play or they are engaged in a game they created on their own (think of the skills involved in this – problem solving, leadership and logical planning). We are very lucky at our school to have a small forested area on our grounds and we will often take our DPA time there, where the students build their play into the forest setting, often using branches and natural features to build forts. To me, this is the most valuable DPA time because my students are getting their much needed physical activity but they are also getting time to de-stress, be autonomous, and just be kids. When we come back inside from this, they are ready to learn.
This brings me to the “why“. It’s obvious why our students need DPA. Our students’ attention spans are a limited resource, like a gas tank. After a certain period of time their gas tanks run out and they no longer have the ability to attend to learning. Engaging them in physical activity increases their heart rate and gets oxygen flowing to all areas of their body, but most importantly their brain. This increased oxygen to the brain not only acts as a preventative measure to anxiety and depression, but it “refills” their attention span gas tanks and is scientifically proven to increase their academic performance.
DPA isn’t only about promoting physical fitness. It promotes mental health by reducing anxiety and puts our students into a calm, mindful state that sets them up for success when its time to learn. This happens especially when we, as teachers, are purposeful with how, when and why we initiate it.