This curriculum policy replaces The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1–8: Health and Physical Education, Interim Edition, re-issued in 2018. All health and physical education programs for Grades 1–8 are now based on the expectations outlined in this curriculum policy.
Students’ responsibilities with respect to their own learning develop gradually and increase over time as they progress through elementary and secondary school. With appropriate instruction and with experience, students come to see how an applied effort can enhance learning and improve achievement and well-being. As they mature and as they develop the ability to persist, to manage their behaviour and impulses, to take responsible risks, and to listen with understanding, students become better able to take more responsibility for their learning and progress. There are some students, however, who are less able to take full responsibility for their learning because of unique challenges they face. The attention, patience, and encouragement of teachers can be extremely important to the success of these students. Learning to take responsibility for their achievement and improvement is an important part of every student’s education, regardless of their circumstances.
Mastering the skills and concepts connected with learning in the health and physical education curriculum requires ongoing practice, an effort to respond to feedback (to the extent possible), personal reflection, and commitment from students. It also requires a willingness to try new activities, work with peers, and always follow safety practices. Through ongoing practice and reflection about their development, students deepen their appreciation and understanding of themselves and others, and of their health and well-being.
Students’ attitudes towards health and physical education can have a significant effect on their learning and their achievement of the expectations. Students who are strongly engaged and who are given opportunities to provide leadership are more likely to adopt practices and behaviours that support healthy, active living.
With teacher support and encouragement, students learn that they can apply the skills they acquire in one subject to various other contexts and subjects. For example, they can apply the problem-solving skills they use in mathematics as they learn new skills in health and physical education, and they can apply various other critical and creative thinking processes that they develop in health and physical education to their study of dance, or to question historical interpretations, or to make connections between personal actions and environmental impacts. They can also apply the knowledge and skills they acquire in health and physical education to make healthier choices in all aspects of their lives. They can apply the understanding of movement that they acquire in health and physical education to other physical activities that they participate in at school, at home, and in the community, and they can apply their learning about mental health and healthy living to make healthier food choices, help with meal preparation, and make decisions about substance use, sexual health, and injury prevention.
Parents are the primary educators of their children with respect to learning about values, appropriate behaviour, and ethnocultural, spiritual, and personal beliefs and traditions, and they are their children’s first role models. It is therefore important for schools and parents to work together to ensure that home and school provide a mutually supportive framework for young people’s education.
Parents play an important role in their children’s learning. Studies show that students perform better in school if their parents are involved in their education. By becoming familiar with the curriculum, parents can better appreciate what is being taught in each grade and what their children are expected to learn. This awareness will enhance parents’ ability to discuss their children’s work with them, to communicate with teachers, and to ask relevant questions about their children’s progress. Knowledge of the expectations will also help parents understand how their children are progressing in school and enhance their ability to work with teachers to improve their children’s learning. Parents must be informed of the school board policy that allows for students to be exempted, at their parents’ request, from instruction related to the Grade 1 to 8 human development and sexual health expectations in strand D.
Parents can support their children’s learning effectively in a variety of ways. They can attend parent-teacher interviews, participate in parent workshops, and take part in school council activities or become a school council member. With respect to health and physical education, parents can support their children’s learning by encouraging them to complete their assignments and practise new skills or apply new learning at home. Parents can also be supportive by promoting and attending events related to healthy, active living at the school. Many parents can contribute to creating a healthy school environment through their expertise in a range of related disciplines. Parents who work in the health or recreation fields, for example, may be able to contribute as guest speakers or as volunteers during health or physical education classes or co-curricular activities or to serve as a resource for students in their learning at home.
Parents and all adult role models can also provide valuable support for their children’s learning by being as physically active as they can be and by modelling healthy choices (to the extent possible) connected to eating, substance use, relationships, personal care, mental health, and injury prevention. Children and youth who have opportunities to be physically active with the family are more likely to continue to be active as adults. Families that select healthy foods and prepare healthy meals together help young people develop food literacy skills and reinforce healthy eating habits. In addition, eating meals together as a family has been shown to have an impact on reducing behaviours among adolescents that can lead to harm or injury. Moreover, by becoming involved in healthy, active living with their children, parents benefit as well.
Parents can help to show their children the value of their learning in health and physical education by taking an interest in the curriculum topics and helping to make connections at home and in the community as students apply their learning. Such an interest encourages students and promotes a positive attitude about healthy, active living. Helping students apply their learning might involve things like including the children when making decisions at the grocery store and preparing meals, discussing activity choices and ways of building fitness into each day’s activities, and creating or facilitating opportunities for healthy activities. Through discussion with their children, parents also have an opportunity to learn about new approaches in physical activity and about emerging health issues.
By recognizing the achievements of their children in health and physical education, parents can help them develop confidence. Parents’ involvement in their children’s education also gives them an opportunity to promote the safety practices that their children learn in the health and physical education program (e.g., wearing seatbelts and bicycle helmets, facing traffic when walking, handling food safely, using sunscreen and protective clothing for UV protection).
For healthy growth and development, the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines recommend that children and youth limit the amount of time that they spend sitting, without being active. While participation in sports and organized activities is beneficial, children need to know that sports are not the only way to be active. Organized sports are not available in all communities, and some children prefer to be active in other ways. Parents can encourage their children to be active by providing opportunities for hiking, playing outdoors, cycling, walking, gardening, and doing household chores. Parents are also encouraged to provide opportunities, where possible, for children to see and try new activities and to make use of community facilities such as parks, rinks, pools, and hiking and snow trails. Such opportunities help adolescents build confidence and experience and develop their appreciation of being active.
Teaching is key to student success. Teachers are responsible for using appropriate and effective instructional strategies to help students achieve the curriculum expectations, as well as appropriate methods for assessing and evaluating student learning. Teachers bring enthusiasm and varied teaching and assessment approaches to the classroom, addressing individual students’ needs and ensuring sound learning opportunities for every student. The attitude with which teachers approach health and physical education is critical, as teachers are important role models for students.
Using a variety of instructional, assessment, and evaluation strategies, teachers provide numerous opportunities for students to develop and refine their skills and knowledge required for social-emotional learning, active living, movement competence, and healthy living. These learning experiences should enable students to make meaningful connections between what they already know and what they are learning. Teachers should reflect on the results of the learning opportunities they provide, and make adjustments to them as necessary to help every student achieve the curriculum expectations to the best of their ability.
Teaching health and physical education provides unique opportunities and challenges for teachers. Students in a gymnasium or outdoor setting demonstrate their learning in a very different way than in the classroom, and discussions related to health topics will often be closely tied to students’ personal lives. These factors allow teachers to learn about their students in different ways and also require them to structure learning in a way that protects the self-respect and promotes the well-being of all students.
Teachers should follow the principle “first, do no harm” and ensure that the learning environment is always physically and emotionally safe. Because of the unique learning environment, health and physical education teachers often find themselves in the role of caring adult for students. This can be a fulfilling and also challenging responsibility, particularly when students choose to disclose personal information. It is important for educators to know and follow policies and guidelines regarding confidentiality and risk management (as they relate, for example, to suicide prevention) and be aware of professional boundaries and of pathways to professional care. It is also important to be aware of and carefully observe how students feel about various requirements of the program, from changing their clothing for physical education classes to participating in activities, demonstrating learning, working with others, and discussing health topics. To ensure physical safety, teachers must follow all board safety guidelines, as well as policies related to concussion (which cover prevention and processes for returning to physical activity and to learning). It is also critical to student success to create an atmosphere in which students of all body shapes and sizes, abilities, gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations, and ethnocultural, racial, and religious backgrounds feel accepted, comfortable, and free from harassment.
To increase their comfort level and their skill in teaching health and physical education and to ensure effective delivery of the curriculum, teachers should reflect on their own attitudes, biases, and values with respect to the topics they are teaching and seek out current resources, mentors, and professional development and training opportunities, as necessary.
Learning in health and physical education can play a key role in shaping students’ views about life, relationships, healthy development, physical activity, and how they learn. Teachers can reinforce this learning in many different ways. They can integrate it with aspects of learning from other areas of the curriculum and make connections to healthy-school policies. They can provide acknowledgement and encouragement to help students strive for and achieve their personal goals. They can remind students of the need to practise in order to improve skills and of the need to be active on a daily basis to develop the habit of physical activity and improve fitness, and they can provide students with opportunities to do these things within instructional time. They can also help students learn about careers in various areas of health, wellness, sport, fitness, outdoor and environmental studies, and recreation. By using all of these strategies, teachers can help students develop a positive attitude towards health and physical education, and support their understanding of the role of healthy active living concepts in their lives. Teachers can help students see connections between what they learn and their ability to make important decisions related to various aspects of their physical and mental health and well-being, and they can remind students of the importance of thinking carefully about decisions that could have a major impact on all parts of their lives – physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and spiritual.
As part of effective teaching practice, teachers communicate with parents about what their children are learning. This communication occurs through the sharing of outlines of learning, ongoing formal and informal conversations, curriculum events, and other means of regular communication, such as learning management systems, apps, newsletters, website postings, and blogs. Communication enables parents to work in partnership with the school, promoting discussion, follow-up at home, and student learning in a family context. Stronger connections between the home and the school support student learning, achievement, and mental health and well-being.
Teachers must follow their school board’s policy that allows for students to be exempted, at their parents’ request, from instruction related to the Grade 1 to 8 human development and sexual health expectations in strand D.
Health and physical education teachers provide students with frequent opportunities to communicate their understanding, practise their skills, and apply new learning. Through regular and varied assessment, they give them the specific, descriptive feedback they need in order to further develop and refine their learning. By assigning tasks that promote the development of critical and creative thinking skills, teachers also help students become thoughtful problem solvers and effective communicators. Opportunities to relate knowledge and skills in health and physical education to wider contexts – across the curriculum, within the context of a healthy school, and in the world beyond the school – motivate students to learn and to become lifelong learners.
The principal works in partnership with teachers and parents to ensure that each student has access to the best possible educational experience. The principal is a community builder who creates a healthy and safe school environment that is welcoming to all, and who ensures that all members of the school community are kept well informed.
To support student learning, principals ensure that the Ontario curriculum is being properly implemented in all classrooms and learning environments using a variety of instructional approaches. They also ensure that appropriate resources are made available for teachers and students. To enhance teaching and learning in all subjects, including health and physical education, principals promote learning teams and work with teachers to facilitate their participation in professional development activities. Principals must follow their school board’s policy that allows for students to be exempted, at their parents’ request, from instruction related to the Grade 1 to 8 human development and sexual health expectations in strand D. Principals are also responsible for ensuring that every student who has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is receiving the modifications and/or accommodations described in their plan – in other words, for ensuring that the IEP is properly developed, implemented, and monitored.
Principals can provide support for the successful implementation of the health and physical education curriculum by emphasizing the importance of this curriculum within the framework of a healthy, safe, inclusive, and accepting school. Establishing a healthy-school committee, consisting of staff, students, and parents, or working with an existing committee for student mental health and well-being and positive school climate can provide support for healthy-school initiatives. Encouraging a positive and proactive attitude towards healthy, active living and an inclusive school climate is key to success.
The principal is responsible for ensuring that all students, including students with special education needs, have the opportunity to participate in health and physical education in a safe manner and that students have an opportunity for daily physical activity. Timetables should have sufficient flexibility to allow the use of some same-sex and some co-educational groupings for curriculum delivery where appropriate or where needed.
The expectations in the health and physical education curriculum can be met in a variety of settings, including the outdoors, and using a broad range of equipment. Ensuring that teachers have the support, resources, and equipment they need to deliver a high-quality program is essential. Additional teacher support to ensure student safety and to increase teachers’ knowledge, awareness, and comfort level may be required. Principals can provide this support by working with the school board and community partners, including mental health leaders, public health units, and by supporting professional learning networks and mentoring within the school community. Principals play an essential leadership role in supporting teacher learning through sharing resources and expertise and in furthering the use of creative approaches, the integration of learning across the curriculum, and the nurturing of partnerships within the school system and with other members of the broader community.
In all these respects, principals coordinate the implementation in their schools of various government and school board initiatives and programs focused on the health and wellbeing of students in Ontario. In recent years, these initiatives have embraced a holistic approach, promoting all aspects of health and well-being – physical, cognitive, emotional, and social – as part of supporting students in developing skills for healthy, active living. Principals work to create and maintain a positive school climate, consistent with Foundations for a Healthy School, and actively support mental health promotion and prevention, aligning school mental health initiatives with board mental health strategies as part of a wider, integrated system of care.
Community partners are an important resource for a school’s health and physical education program. Relationships with public health units, community recreation facilities, community mental health organizations and hospitals, social service agencies, universities and colleges, businesses, service groups, and other community organizations can provide valuable support and enrichment for student learning. These organizations can provide expertise, skills, materials, and programs that are not available through the school or that supplement those that are. Partnerships with such organizations benefit not only the students but also the life of the community.
Public health units are one of the most valuable sources of support in the community for health and physical education programs, as they can provide health expertise in a number of areas that are relevant to the curriculum. Local health unit staff are involved in work on initiatives such as immunization, oral health, safe food handling, reproductive and sexual health, substance-use prevention, the prevention of chronic diseases (e.g., through tobacco control or promotion of healthy eating), the promotion of physical activity, the prevention of injury, and the control of infectious diseases.
The Ontario Public Health Standards (2018) require public health professionals to offer support to school boards and schools, to assist with the implementation of health-related curricula and health needs in schools, related, but not limited, to: healthy eating behaviours and food safety, substance use and harm reduction, physical activity and sedentary behaviour, and ultraviolet exposure. Public health units are also required to conduct oral health screening and maintain immunization records of students and are directed to work with schools as community partners to address other issues important for child and youth health. Public health practitioners can, for example, work with teachers, administrators, students, and parents to assess the health priorities and needs of the school and participate in developing and supporting plans to foster healthy activities, programs, or policies within the school environment.
Schools and school boards can play a role by coordinating efforts with community partners. Partnerships for the promotion of health and well-being in schools can be arranged with organizations such as a Community Health Centre (CHC) or Aboriginal Health Access Centre (AHAC). Such centres address spiritual well-being in addition to physical and mental health for Indigenous peoples.
Schools may also find it beneficial to collaborate with community recreation specialists to provide students with additional physical activity opportunities before and after school that are consistent with the health and physical education curriculum. School boards can collaborate with leaders of existing community-based programs for youth, including programs offered in recreation facilities and community centres. Arenas, rinks, sporting venues, outdoor education sites (where available), local hiking and snow trails, and community gardens provide rich learning environments for field trips and for exploration of the local community and its resources. Teachers may also find opportunities for their students to participate in community or mentoring projects or events such as a community run/ walk/wheel event or a health promotion fair.
Nurturing partnerships with other schools and between school boards can be a valuable way of applying learning within the context of a healthy school community. Neighbouring schools and boards may share resources or facilities when developing and sharing professional development opportunities for staff, and they can collaborate in creating systems for healthy, active living (such as active and safe routes to school) or in developing special events such as community fairs, information evenings, and sports events. From time to time, opportunities may present themselves for schools and school boards to work with local researchers to complete studies that will help educators make informed decisions based on solid evidence, local needs, and current best practices.
In choosing community partners, schools should build on existing links with their local communities and create new partnerships in conjunction with ministry and school board policies. These links are especially beneficial when they have direct connections to the curriculum. Teachers may find opportunities for their students to participate in community events, especially events that support the students’ learning in the classroom, are designed for educational purposes, and provide descriptive feedback to student participants.