The Strands in the Health and Physical Education Curriculum
The expectations for health and physical education are organized into four distinct but related strands: A. Social-Emotional Learning Skills; B. Active Living; C. Movement Competence: Skills, Concepts, and Strategies; and D. Healthy Living.
The following chart shows the flow of learning through the curriculum and the interrelationships among its various components.
This strand helps students develop social-emotional learning skills, to foster overall health and well-being, positive mental health, and the ability to learn, build resilience, and thrive. In all grades, learning related to the expectations in this strand occurs in the context of learning related to the other three strands and is assessed and evaluated within these contexts.
In the social-emotional learning skills, educators will recognize many concepts from the “living skills” of the previous health and physical education curriculum. The social-emotional learning skills update the living skills in ways that benefit students’ mental health and healthy development, as evidenced by current research.
The development and application of social-emotional learning skills is essential to the achievement of many of the expectations in the Active Living, Movement Competence, and Healthy Living strands. These skills must be explicitly taught and evaluated in the context of learning in all strands of the curriculum, in order to make the learning personally relevant for students. As students develop and apply these skills, they will build resilience. They will learn to make choices that protect their safety and health and enable them to become independent thinkers and responsible adults who are capable of developing strong relationships and who are committed to lifelong healthy, active living.
The health and physical education program provides a unique setting for developing the social-emotional learning skills that will help students gain a better understanding of who they are and help them connect positively and productively with the larger world. The direct integration of these skills with the other components of the health and physical education curriculum from Grade 1 to Grade 8 gives students an opportunity to develop, practise, and refine these important skills as they mature.
The social-emotional learning skills expectations are the same for all grades. There is a single overall expectation and one set of related specific expectations, one for each social-emotional learning skill. The progression of learning from grade to grade is indicated in the examples, which highlight how the skills can be integrated with learning in the other three strands of the curriculum and how they are applied in a developmentally appropriate way. The context and application of the learning changes as students develop and mature.
To support program planning, many specific expectations in strands B, C, and D are tagged to indicate the social-emotional skills that can be integrated into teaching and learning associated with the expectation. (The tags are given in square brackets after the expectation, and use the identifiers A1.1 Emotions, 1.2 Coping, 1.3 Motivation, 1.4 Relationships, 1.5 Self, 1.6 Thinking.) Teachers should provide students with intentional and productive opportunities to make these connections, where appropriate, to support their development of the social-emotional learning skills as they work to achieve all the curriculum expectations. Students’ application of the social-emotional learning skills must be assessed and evaluated as a part of their achievement of the overall expectations in each of the strands for every grade.
The following two charts provide an at-a-glance summary of the social-emotional learning skills and detailed discussions of each of the skills, by specific expectation, including their key components and sample strategies. (These charts are also included in Appendix A to this document, for quick reference and printing, if desired, along with a list of sources for information about mental health education and social-emotional learning skills.)
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING SKILLS AT A GLANCE
|Students will learn to:||So that they can:|
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING SKILLS BY SPECIFIC EXPECTATION
What are the skills? How do they help?
What do they look like in HPE?
|Key Components and Sample Strategies|
|A1.1 Identification and Management of Emotions
Students often experience a range of emotions over the course of their day at school. They may feel happy, sad, angry, frustrated, or excited, or any number of emotions in combination. Students, and especially younger children, may struggle to identify and appropriately express their feelings. Learning to recognize different emotions, and to manage them appropriately, can help students function and interact more effectively. When students uderstand the impact of thoughts and emotions on behaviour, they can improve the quality of their interactions. In health and physical education, as they learn new movement skills, interact with others in physical activities, and learn about their health and well-being, students have many opportunities to develop awareness of their emotions and to use communication skills to express their feelings and to respond constructively when they recognize emotions in others.
|A1.2 Stress Management and Coping
Every day, students are exposed to big and small challenges that can contribute to feelings of stress. As they learn stress management and coping skills, they come to recognize that stress is a part of life and that it can be managed. We can learn ways to respond to challenges that enable us to “bounce back” and, in this way, build resilience in the face of life’s obstacles. Over time, with practice, observation, and coaching, students begin to build a personal “coping toolbox” that they can carry with them through life. In health and physical education, students learn the benefits of physical activity for stress management and learn to apply healthy coping strategies to broader life situations.
|A1.3 Positive Motivation and Perseverance
Positive motivation and perseverance skills help students to “take a long view” and remain hopeful even when their personal and/or immediate circumstances are difficult. With regular use, practices and habits of mind that promote positive motivation help students approach challenges in life with an optimistic and positive mindset and an understanding that there is struggle in most successes and that repeated effort can lead to success. These practices include noticing strengths and positive aspects of experiences, reframing negative thoughts, expressing gratitude, practising optimism, and practising perseverance – appreciating the value of practice, of making mistakes, and of the learning process. In health and physical education, students have regular opportunities to apply these practices as they learn new physical skills and practise behaviours that support physical and mental health.
A1.4 Healthy Relationships
A1.5 Self-Awareness and Sense of Identity
Knowing who we are and having a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives enables us to function in the world as self-aware individuals. Our sense of identity enables us to make choices that support our well-being and allows us to connect with and have a sense of belonging in various
A1.6 Critical and Creative Thinking
Critical and creative thinking skills enable us to make informed judgements and decisions on the basis of a clear and full understanding of ideas and situations, and their implications, in a variety of settings and contexts. Students learn to question, interpret, predict, analyse, synthesize, detect bias, and distinguish between alternatives. They practise making connections, setting goals, creating plans, making and evaluating decisions, and analysing and solving problems for which there may be no clearly defined answers. Executive functioning skills – the skills and processes that allow us to take initiative, focus, plan, retain and transfer learning, and determine priorities – are part of critical and creative thinking. In all aspects of the health and physical education curriculum, students have opportunities to develop critical and creative thinking skills. Students have opportunities to build on prior learning, go deeper, and make personal connections through real-life applications.
The Active Living strand helps students develop the skills and knowledge needed to participate regularly and safely in physical activity, while enjoying being physically active and learning how to develop and enhance their own personal fitness. As they participate in a wide range of activities, students also learn about the benefits of physical activity for mental health. Learning through physical activity helps to enhance students’ physical literacy. Daily physical activity (DPA) is one important component of this strand. Participating in daily moderate to vigorous physical activity helps to build a habit of activity that becomes a part of each student’s routine and way of life.
The three subgroups within this strand, corresponding to the three overall expectations, are Active Participation, Physical Fitness, and Safety, with social-emotional learning skills expectations integrated as appropriate.
Participation in physical activity provides students with a variety of opportunities for increasing their self-esteem and self-confidence and developing positive relationship skills and attitudes, including practices of fair play and respect for others. All students, individually and in groups, should be strongly encouraged to participate daily in a wide variety of physical activities, such as dance, games, sports, fitness, individual, and recreational activities, and to become increasingly responsible for their own daily physical activity. By participating in a wide range of physical activities, including those that reflect the diversity of the students’ cultural backgrounds, they will develop self-awareness and a sense of identity, learn what activities they enjoy most and what factors contribute to their success in participating in physical activities. This understanding can help them develop and sustain a commitment to healthy, active living throughout their lives.
The learning within this subgroup of expectations emphasizes health-related fitness – the physical and physiological components of fitness that have a direct impact on health and well-being. Health-related components of fitness include cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility.
Daily physical activity (DPA) is a mandatory component of daily instruction for students in Ontario and is included as a curriculum expectation in health and physical education for every grade within this section of the strand. This learning expectation requires students to actively engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity, including appropriate warm-up and cool-down activities, to the best of their ability for a minimum of twenty minutes every day. All students, including students with special education needs, are required to have the opportunity to participate in DPA during instructional time. The goal of daily physical activity is to instil the habit of activity and enable all elementary students to be active on a daily basis in order to maintain or enhance their physical fitness, their overall health and wellness, and their ability and readiness to learn.
Through experiential learning, students gain an understanding of the importance of regular physical activity and its relationship to developing and maintaining health-related fitness. Students learn not only what to do to develop personal fitness but also why to do it and how to do it appropriately and effectively. Students are provided with a variety of opportunities to develop their health-related fitness, especially their cardiorespiratory endurance. As levels of fitness improve, the duration of vigorous activity can be regularly increased. In addition, students will be involved in assessing their own health-related fitness levels, setting goals, and developing personal fitness plans to achieve their goals.
Throughout this strand, as well as the Movement Competence strand, students will have opportunities to develop their skill-related fitness. Skill-related components of fitness include balance, coordination, agility, speed, power, and reaction time. These components are important for developing the quality of movements during activity.
Safety, including physical and emotional safety, is an integral part of the health and physical education curriculum. Teachers have responsibility for following board safety guidelines in matters related to supervision, concussion, clothing and footwear, equipment, and facilities, and for applying special rules and instructions. Students must also begin to take responsibility from a young age for their own safety and the safety of others around them at school, at home, and in the community. Students learn about concussions – what they are, how to prevent them, how to detect them, and what to do if they suspect a concussion has occurred. Following procedures, using equipment as instructed, wearing appropriate attire, and using thinking skills to assess risk and take appropriate precautions are some ways in which students can contribute to their own safety and the safety of others while participating in physical activity. Students must fulfil each expectation safely and responsibly without putting themselves and others at risk.
Establishing and maintaining an emotionally safe setting for learning is fundamental to the implementation of this curriculum (see fundamental principles and the reflective questions in the Instructional Approaches in Health and Physical Education section). An emotionally safe setting is created in the context of a positive school climate – a safe, accepting, and inclusive environment in which students of all backgrounds, abilities, and experiences feel comfortable and welcome.
See Appendix B for a quick-reference summary of learning in the Active Living strand.
The Movement Competence strand helps students develop the movement competence needed to participate in physical activities through the development of movement skills and the related application of movement concepts and movement strategies. As students develop their confidence and competence, they will be developing their physical literacy. Students are also introduced to movement principles in developmentally appropriate ways. These principles are indicated in the expectations through examples and teacher prompts that illustrate how skills can be applied at different ages and stages. The students learn kinesthetically in this strand, as in the Active Living strand, and have regular opportunities in every grade to develop and practise their personal movement skills.
The development of fundamental movement skills in association with the application of movement concepts and principles provides the basic foundation for physical literacy. An understanding of fundamental skills and concepts is essential both to an individual’s development of effective motor skills and to the application of these skills in a wide variety of physical activities. Because the development of movement skills is age-related but not age-dependent and because students’ skill levels depend on a variety of factors, including their experiences outside of school, the opportunities they have for practice, their rate of growth and maturation, and their abilities and interests, the range of skills in a typical class will vary widely. Consequently, it is very important to provide choice and flexibility within activities and to ensure that learning experiences are designed to reflect individual students’ developmental levels and adapted to suit learners of all abilities. Modifications should be made as needed to allow students to develop and work towards their own personal level of movement competence.
Since the development of movement skills can also enhance students’ social, cognitive, and emotional development, it is critical that the health and physical education program be inclusive, fully engaging all students irrespective of sex, gender identity, gender expression, background, or ability. Without the development of fundamental skills, many youth choose to withdraw from activity due to fear of failure, self-consciousness, or lack of ability to move efficiently. Learning fundamental movement skills and applying movement concepts and principles help students increase their comfort, confidence, competence, and proficiency with movement, thereby increasing their rates of overall physical activity and improving their health. When fun and enjoyment are part of skill development and physical activity, students are more likely to develop positive attitudes towards lifelong healthy, active living.
The focus of the learning in this strand is on transferable skills. The goal is to have students understand how skills, concepts, and strategies learned in one activity can apply to other activities. For example, the fundamental skill of throwing an object overhand can be transferred to a tennis serve or a badminton smash. Similarly, general transferable movement skills that apply to the three phases of movement – preparation, execution, and follow-through – can be applied to a variety of physical activities. By understanding how to apply their learning to other activities and situations, students will be better equipped to enjoy and participate in a wide variety of physical activities throughout their lives.
As students grow and develop, the focus of learning related to movement skills and associated concepts and movement strategies shifts. When students are younger or less experienced, the emphasis is on developing basic skills and applying them in situations involving the use of simple strategies and tactics. When students are more mature and experienced, more time can be spent on the application of skills in games and activities involving more complex strategies and tactics. The concepts are clearly connected at every level, but the focus of learning is different at different ages and stages.
The movement competence expectations are organized into two subgroups: Movement Skills and Concepts, and Movement Strategies. Social-emotional learning skills are integrated as appropriate into each. Explicitly teaching social-emotional learning skills with movement competence can help students achieve success. For example, students can:
- develop a sense of identity as someone who is physically capable and competent as they become more successful in performing various movement skills;
- learn to be aware of the impact of their emotions on their game play (e.g., being angry or upset can cause them to lose focus);
- learn to re-focus and be “in the moment” when facing challenges (e.g., before a final attempt at a high jump, after two failed attempts; when trying to regain possession in volleyball after losing five points in a row);
- develop relationship skills and a sense of belonging when practising one-on-one or when playing in a small-group situation.
Movement Skills and Concepts
Movement skills must be explicitly taught; they are not acquired simply through activities of various sorts. However, these skills should not be taught in isolation from the context in which they will be applied. Instead, they should be taught in a way that shows how they will be used within and across a variety of physical activities, so that students can apply and transfer their skills to specific activities, such as games, gymnastic and dance sequences, and fitness, individual, or recreational activities.
When students are learning or developing a skill, they need opportunities for practice and feedback. Students learn most effectively when they have opportunities to problem solve and play an active role in their learning. As they develop and work towards consolidating their skills, they will be able to combine skills and apply them to more complex activities and games. Mature movement skills do not result from physical maturation alone; rather, they must be continually refined and combined with other movement skills in a variety of physical activities. It is important that teachers facilitate the learning of movement skills and concepts through a progression of age-appropriate activities.
Research into motor development indicates that learners acquire new fundamental movement skills (motor skills) most successfully during the preschool and elementary years, when most children’s neurological pathways are developing rapidly and are receptive to the development of fundamental movement patterns and basic skills. When young children enter school, their movements are often awkward and lacking in fluidity. In the early school years, they gain necessary coordination and control over their movements as they are presented with opportunities to learn and practise. They can then refine, extend, and apply these patterns to more complex skills during later childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
Important components of movement competence include the development of fundamental movement skills and the application of movement concepts and principles.
- Stability skills include stability with static balance, in which the body maintains a desired shape in a stationary position, and stability with dynamic balance, in which students use core strength to maintain balance and control of the body while moving through space (e.g., bending, stretching, twisting, turning, rolling, balancing, transferring weight, curling, landing from a jump).
- Locomotion or travelling skills are those used to move the body from one point to another in various ways (e.g., walking, wheeling, running, chasing, dodging, sliding, rolling, jumping, leaping).
- Manipulation skills involve giving force to objects or receiving force from objects as one sends, receives, or retains objects (e.g., sending: throwing, kicking, punting, striking, volleying; receiving: catching, trapping, collecting; retaining: carrying, dribbling, cradling).
Movement Concepts. Students will learn to apply the following movement concepts as they develop movement skills:
- Body awareness – What body parts move and in what way?
- body parts (e.g., arms, legs, elbows, knees, head, shoulders, back)
- body shape (e.g., round, wide, narrow, curled, stretched, twisted, symmetrical, asymmetrical)
- body actions (e.g., support, lead, receive weight, flex, extend, rotate, swing, push, pull)
- Spatial awareness – Where does the body move?
- location (e.g., personal, general space, restricted space)
- direction (e.g., forward, backwards, sideways, diagonal, up, down, left, right)
- level (e.g., high, medium, low)
- pathway (e.g., zigzag, straight, curved, wavy)
- plane (e.g., frontal, horizontal, vertical, sagittal)
- extensions (e.g., near, far)
- Effort awareness – How does the body move?
- time (e.g., fast, medium, slow, sustained, sudden)
- force (e.g., strong, light)
- flow (e.g., bound, free, continuous, interrupted)
- Relationship – With whom or with what does the body move?
- people (e.g., meet, match, contrast, follow, lead, mirror, shadow, move in unison, move towards or away from others, echo with a partner or group)
- objects (e.g., over, under, beside, in front, on, off, near, far, through, above, below)
- elements in an environment (e.g., music, wind, temperature, terrain)
Movement principles can be introduced in simple, age-appropriate ways to help students improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their movements. Application of these principles becomes more refined as movement competence improves. Some movement principles include:
- Centre of gravity: Stability increases as the centre of gravity becomes lower, the base of support becomes larger, the line of gravity moves nearer to the centre of the base of support, and the mass becomes greater. (For example, a static balance will be most stable when it forms a wide shape, is low to the ground, and has many widely spread contact points on the ground.
- Laws of motion and force
- Summation of joints: The production of maximum force requires the use of all the joints that can be used. (For example, when throwing a ball, begin by bending the knees and then incorporate the full body, and not just the arm, in the throwing motion.)
- Maximum velocity: The production of maximum velocity requires the use of joints in order, from largest to smallest. (For example, when jumping, start by pushing off with the large muscles in the legs and then stretch the fingers and toes in the air after pushing off.)
- Applied impulse: The greater the applied impulse, the greater the increase in velocity. (For example, the harder a swing is pushed, the higher it will rise. A ball that is struck harder will go farther and faster.)
- Law of reaction: Movement usually occurs in the direction opposite that of the applied force. (For example, on a sled in sledge hockey, pushing off to the right with the pick at the end of the stick will cause the sled to turn to the left. When swimming, pushing the water behind causes the body to move forward. When jumping, pushing down causes the body to move up.)
When participating in an activity, students will have an ultimate goal or objective. To accomplish that goal, students may choose from a number of strategies that are similar within particular categories of games and physical activities. The actions that students do in order to accomplish the strategy are called tactics. For example, members of a soccer team might adopt the strategy of maintaining possession of the ball as much as possible in order to increase their scoring chances and decrease those of their opponent. Tactics that students might use to implement the strategy could include spreading out in the playing area in order to be open to receive a pass, passing the ball often among teammates, and moving towards the goal as they look for open spaces. A student who is learning to juggle and wants to be able to juggle three balls for over a minute without dropping them might use a strategy of working on developing a consistent toss. Tactics to accomplish this might include practising with scarves, which move more slowly, before trying to juggle with balls, practising with one ball then two, practising just the throw and letting the balls drop until the toss is consistent, working on having the balls peak at the same place with each toss, and working on keeping eye contact on the balls at the peak of the toss.
The ability to devise and apply strategies and tactics requires an understanding of how games and activities are structured and how they work. This in turn requires an understanding of the components and other features that characterize individual games and activities. Games can be grouped into broad categories on the basis of common features and similarities, and students can learn how to transfer strategies, tactics, and skills from one game or activity to another in the same category. In so doing, they acquire game literacy and extend their competence to a much wider range of activities. By encouraging students to think strategically, to analyse game and activity structures, and to make connections between different games and game components, the movement strategy expectations give them an opportunity to exercise their critical and creative thinking skills, build confidence, and increase their ability to participate successfully in a wide range of games and other activities.
The chart below shows one way of categorizing games and activities on the basis of similarities and common features.
In each category, the interrelationship of rules, strategies, and skills defines the game structure. Target games have the simplest structure because they tend to be played by individuals or small groups and have breaks in the play which allow time for decision making. This does not mean that target activities are the simplest games to play, as the skills and strategies involved can be very complex. Territory games have the most complex structure because the number of players, the amount of movement in the play area, and the almost continuous action increase the number of variables in these games. Within each category, however, there is room for a wide range of skills and abilities and the games can be played at varying levels of complexity. This makes it possible for students of all age and ability levels to explore activities within all game categories.
CATEGORIES AND COMMON FEATURES OF GAMES AND ACTIVITIES
|Activity Category||Target Activities||Net/Wall Activities||Striking/Fielding Activities||Territory Activities|
|Description||• emphasize accuracy and control |
• challenge can be modified by changing target size and distance and equipment, by using stationary or mobile targets, and by having the players send objects while stationary or mobile
• can be played individually or in small teams
|• involve moving and striking an object and hitting it within a specified space |
• players work to make it difficult for opponents to send the object back to the wall or across the net
• small numbers of players are usually involved
|• can involve running, striking, batting, throwing, kicking, and catching |
• runners hit, kick, or throw an object, then score runs by running to designated areas
• fielders retrieve the object and get it to a specified place to stop runs from being scored and to get opponents out
|• involve controlling an object, keeping it away from opponents, and moving it into a position to score on a target |
• can be modified to be simple running games or to use a specified skill (kicking, throwing)
• games are challenging because of the continuous action and decision making needed to switch between offensive and defensive roles, the numbers of people involved, and the movement in the playing area
|Examples||bocce, bowling curling, disc golf, lawn bowling, shuffleboard, wheelchair bocce||badminton, sepak takraw, squash, table tennis, tennis, volleyball, wheelchair tennis||baseball, beep baseball, cricket, kick-ball, rounders, softball, t-ball||basketball, football, goal ball, European handball, hockey, lacrosse, rugby, sledge hockey, soccer, tchoukball, Ultimate, water polo, wheelchair basketball|
To promote lifelong healthy, active living for all, it is important not to restrict students to game and sport activities. Many students prefer activities that do not involve team play, and these can provide ample opportunities for enjoyment and the development of fitness and movement skills related to control of body rhythm, movement aesthetics, creativity, sequencing, composition, and stability. Examples of individual and recreational activities include the following:
- endurance activities (e.g., long distance running or wheeling, swimming, power walking, orienteering)
- aquatics (e.g., swimming, synchronized swimming, aquafit)
- dance (creative; modern; folk; cultural; First Nation, Métis, and Inuit dance; ballet; jazz; hip hop)
- resistance and strength activities (e.g., weightlifting; wrestling; ball training; yoga; Pilates; exercise bands; wall climbing; rope course activities; Arctic sports such as the Alaskan high kick, one-hand reach, arm pull; Dene games such as the pole push)
- gymnastics and movement activities (e.g., artistic, rhythmic, educational gymnastics; t’ai chi; qigong)
- outdoor activities (e.g., cycling, rowing, hiking, downhill and cross-country skiing, triathlon, mountain biking, skating, kayaking, canoeing, sledding)
- track and field (short and long-distance running events; jumping events – high jump, long jump, triple jump; throwing events such as shot put)
To accommodate different developmental levels and abilities and to maximize participation, it is desirable to give students an opportunity to learn and apply skills within the context of a modified game or activity. Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) is a particularly useful student-centred approach of this kind. Through developmentally appropriate sequencing of activities that are representative of a variety of game elements, students learn to apply increasingly complex skills and strategies. The components of learning related to movement strategies give students opportunities to experience versions of activities that are appropriate to their age and abilities, so that they can recognize the basic concepts in the games or activities, appreciate their challenges and rules, understand their tactical aspects, and identify movement skills and concepts that they can apply to many other games and physical activities. This experiential approach gives responsibility to the teacher to act as facilitator and to maximize participation and fun by making adaptations that optimize the level of challenge for all participants and by giving students opportunities to make their own adaptations to the activities. The components of the TGfU approach support an inquiry-based approach to learning in which teachers are encouraged to use open-ended questions to help students explore, discover, create, and experiment with movement and tactical solutions. Because of its focus on student autonomy, critical thinking, and learning, this approach gives students valuable preparation for lifelong participation in physical activities.
See Appendix C for a quick-reference summary of learning in the Movement Competence strand.
The Healthy Living strand helps students develop an understanding of the factors that contribute to healthy development, a sense of personal responsibility for lifelong health, and a respect for their own health in relation to others and the world around them. Students will develop health literacy as they acquire the knowledge and skills they need to develop, maintain, and enjoy healthy living as well as to solve problems, make decisions, and set goals that are directly related to their personal health and mental health and well-being. Learning how to establish, monitor, and maintain healthy relationships is a key part of this strand.
The focus of the learning in this strand is not merely on health knowledge but rather on higher-level thinking connected to the application of skills for healthy living. Students are learning about health broadly as a resource for living. The emphasis is on why they are learning about healthy living and on what they need to understand about growing and healthy development in order to make informed personal choices and take responsibility (within the extent possible) for their health now and for the rest of their lives. They are also encouraged to make connections beyond themselves to understand how their health is connected with that of others and how it is affected by factors in the world around them.
Current thinking views health as a holistic phenomenon and students are therefore encouraged to make connections between various aspects of their well-being, including physical, cognitive, emotional, and social aspects, as well as sense of self, or spirit. Health professionals also recognize that an emphasis on health promotion will pay greater dividends over the long run than an emphasis on disease treatment alone. For that reason there is a significant focus in the curriculum on learning about the connections between healthy choices, active living, and chronic disease prevention.
Social-emotional learning skills are also tightly linked to this strand. Because students in elementary school are still developing their sense of self, learning to interact positively with others, and learning to make connections with the broader world, it is important that they acquire strategies for identifying and managing emotions, recognizing sources of stress and coping, persevering, building relationships, developing self-awareness and confidence, and thinking critically and creatively when making life choices and responding to the world around them. The learning in this strand provides many opportunities for students to learn how to limit risk and to build the protective factors that will increase their resilience as they confront life’s challenges (see “protective factors”, “resilience”, and “risk factors” in the glossary).
The organization of the Healthy Living strand provides an opportunity for learning about different health topics, which can be reinforced from different perspectives and with different focuses as students learn and grow, thus providing opportunities for recursive learning at different ages and stages. Students are encouraged to make connections between concepts in different content areas. If, for example, students learn refusal strategies when choosing not to smoke, they can learn to apply those same strategies when making choices about taking care of their bodies and minds or choices connected to substance use, sexual health, physical activities, and personal safety.
The specific expectations are organized around three overall expectations, which are based on the application of health knowledge, and are cross-referenced to five health content areas (see Health Topics, below). In general, it is expected that health instruction will be planned in an integrated way, helping students make connections between health topics with an overall focus on the broad learning concepts described in the overall expectations. There may be times where some specific, health-topic–focused learning is also helpful. As shown in the chart below, the organization of health content and application of knowledge provides teachers with the option of using either a “vertical learning” approach, in which the overall expectations are the central organizing element and specific health content is linked to them, or a “horizontal learning” approach, in which instruction is organized around the health content areas but still captures the application emphases articulated in the overall expectations.
Some topics within the Healthy Living strand need to be approached with additional sensitivity, care, and awareness because of their personal nature and their connection to family values, religious beliefs, or other social or cultural norms. These topics can include but are not limited to human development and sexual health, mental health, body image, substance abuse, addictions, violence, harassment, child abuse, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, illness (including HIV/AIDS), and poverty. It is important that both teachers and learners have a comfort level with these topics so that information can be discussed openly, honestly, and in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
When addressing all topics, but especially ones that can be challenging to talk about, it is important to give students an opportunity to explore all sides of the issue to promote understanding. Educators should also reflect about their own bias and need for support and/or reliable information. Facts should be presented objectively, and students given the information they need to make informed decisions. It is important to set ground rules so that discussion takes place in a setting that is accepting, inclusive, and respectful of all.
With the integration of social-emotional learning skills and mental health concepts throughout the curriculum, and through the mental health literacy expectations in the Healthy Living strand, the topic of suicide may arise in discussions with students. This topic needs to be approached with additional caution. Learning about suicide is best approached through structured, developmentally appropriate, adult-led instruction. It is important to conclude discussions with stories of hope, and information about seeking help. Among students who are vulnerable, thoughts of suicide can be triggered by offhand comments or even by general information shared in large-group settings. Educators may wish to consult with mental health staff for additional support, as needed, and for guidance on the suitability of the materials, resources, and approaches used in addressing this topic.
Supporting Minds: An Educator’s Guide to Promoting Students’ Mental Health and Well-being, 2013 is a resource designed to help educators understand more about mental health in order to promote the mental health of all students. It provides information to help educators recognize students who may be experiencing distress, and strategies for supporting them on the path to receiving the care they need.
The health content in this strand is divided into five content areas: healthy eating; personal safety and injury prevention; substance use, addictions, and related behaviours; human development and sexual health; and mental health literacy. These topics have been chosen because they are fundamentally connected to students’ daily lives.
Healthy Eating. This component of the Healthy Living strand equips students with the knowledge and skills they need to make the healthiest eating choices they can. Students learn to examine their own food choices and eating patterns and develop personal guidelines for healthier eating, while working within parameters that they can control. Major topics include Canada’s Food Guide, nutrition, food choices, factors influencing eating habits, skills for healthy eating, food trends, oral and dental health, food systems, and connections between eating choices, chronic disease prevention, and the health of the environment.
The learning in this topic area emphasizes the importance of student involvement in making food choices and preparing meals and snacks. The objective is to encourage students to make connections between what they learn in the classroom and their own lives and to develop a sense of personal responsibility for taking care of themselves and making healthy food decisions. Hands-on experiences with food help students make real connections between what they learn in the classroom and their own lives. This topic also provides a point of contact with healthy school policies relating to food.
Connections to the home are important. Students bring their learning home to their families, and they have variable amounts of control over the food they eat at home and the food they bring to school. Teachers need to consider these realities and be aware of issues such as poverty, food allergies and sensitivities, eating disorders and weight preoccupation, and social and cultural practices in order to ensure that the learning is presented with sensitivity. Using a flexible and balanced approach and avoiding rigidity regarding food rules and guidelines can reduce potential triggers to body image and eating concerns. Sensitivity regarding weight and shape and personal values regarding “what is healthy” are important when considering instruction. What can always be stressed, however, is that healthy eating and regular physical activity are essential requirements for maintaining good health over the long term.
Personal Safety and Injury Prevention. Learning in this content area is intended not only to reduce adolescents’ injuries but also to equip them to recognize, assess, and manage potentially dangerous situations, including online situations. Personal safety topics focus on developing skills to identify, prevent, and resolve issues in areas such as bullying (including cyberbullying), peer assault, child abuse, harassment, and violence in relationships. These skills can be applied in both face-to-face situations and online environments. Injury prevention topics focus on areas such as road safety (including pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle safety); concussion prevention, identification, and management; seasonal safety rules; sun and UV protection; home safety; fire safety; safety when volunteering and working; and first aid.
The expectations address the knowledge and skills needed to reduce safety risks at home, at school, online, and in the community. Risk taking is a natural and important part of maturation for students, especially adolescents. Having the confidence to take risks is essential to enjoying and achieving in both learning and life. Having the ability to manage risk for both themselves and others, however, is essential to physical safety and mental health and well-being. To develop their risk management skills, students will engage in skill-building activities and thoughtful discussion about ways to minimize harm in real-life situations.
Students will also become familiar with the support available to them within their families as well as through agencies and services that provide support and help within the community. However, knowledge alone is not enough: students require the skills necessary to respond appropriately to situations that threaten their personal safety and well-being. Skills such as self-advocacy, conflict resolution, anger management, and decision-making skills, as well as the ability to use assertiveness, resistance, and refusal techniques, will help them respond safely and effectively to these situations.
Substance Use, Addictions, and Related Behaviours. Education is one critical strategy that can help prevent problematic substance use. Parents, guardians, educators, and society at large – all have key roles to play in educating students about substance use, misuse, and abuse.
Alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis are the drugs most readily available to Ontario students, and smoking is a leading cause of preventable illnesses, disabilities, and premature deaths in Canada. The learning expectations related to substance use respond to these facts by focusing on an understanding of the effects of drugs – prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, and other intoxicating substances – and the consequences of their use. Students also learn about the effects and risks of vaping. This knowledge is integrated with the development of a variety of skills that help students make and maintain healthy choices.
This strand also addresses addictions and related behaviours that can lead to addictions or compulsive behaviour, such as online gambling or excessive screen time. It includes discussion of the relationship between problematic substance use and mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. The development of a number of social-emotional learning skills, such as recognizing sources of stress, developing skills to cope with challenges in healthy ways, and developing self-awareness and self-confidence, are closely tied to this area of learning. Students also learn about support systems and ways to access help, if needed.
Human Development and Sexual Health. Human development and sexual health education is more than simply teaching young people about the anatomy and physiology of reproduction. Sexual health, understood in its broadest sense, can include a wide range of topics and concepts, from sexual development, reproductive health, choice and sexual readiness, consent, abstinence, and protection, to interpersonal relationships, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, affection, love, pleasure, body image, and gender roles and expectations. Sexual development is one component of overall human development, and learning about healthy human development begins at an early age. It is important for that learning to be appropriate to children’s age and stage of development.
Younger children learn the names of body parts, begin to understand how their bodies work, and develop skills for healthy relationships, which include understanding consent and demonstrating respect for others. As students grow and develop, they build an understanding of the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive changes, and the further development of sense of self and identity, that they will experience at puberty. Their learning about human development – and their understanding of its many, interrelated aspects – deepens as students get older and as the nature of their relationships changes. They learn more about self, others, and identity; peer, family, and romantic relationships; personal safety; and decision making. Acquiring information and skills and developing attitudes, beliefs, and values related to identity and relationships are lifelong processes.
The overall and specific expectations in this strand are developmentally appropriate and should be addressed with sensitivity and respect for the uniqueness of each individual. Students should have the knowledge and skills needed to make sound decisions about matters affecting their physical and mental health and well-being before they experience real-life situations in which decisions have to be made.
Depending on the particular needs of the students in the class or school, it may be helpful to plan for instruction in groupings and/or settings that are most conducive to this learning – including small groups, groups separated by sex, and co-educational groupings. Principals and teachers must follow their 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.
Mental Health Literacy. Curriculum expectations related to this topic provide a specific progression of learning across the grades that is designed to develop students’ mental health literacy. This learning is integral to the development of social-emotional skills and the understanding of connections between physical and mental health that are incorporated across the curriculum.
Within this health topic, students learn that “mental health” is distinct from mental illness – that it is something all people have and that it is a significant contributor to overall health. Students learn to explore the connection between thoughts, emotions, and actions and to see how they can impact mental health. Students learn to identify when help is needed – for themselves and for others – by learning to recognize signs of stress and by developing an understanding of the body and brain’s response to stress. They learn to recognize feelings and environmental factors that contribute to stress and other challenges. Students also learn how and where to get help, and that there are limits to the help they can give to others. They come to understand the role of professional helpers.
Students learn about the difference between mental health and mental illness in developmentally appropriate ways, gradually gaining an understanding of the impact that the stigma associated with mental illness can have. They learn to support their own and others’ mental health by developing a range of skills and strategies and by making healthy choices with respect to mental health.
In addition to this explicit learning, mental health concepts and/or social-emotional learning skills are included within all content areas of the Healthy Living strand. In fact, students today have opportunities to learn about mental health across the full curriculum, in this and other disciplines.
Positive mental health and well-being are closely related to the development of psychological and emotional resilience. Resilience involves being able to recover from difficulties or change – to function as well as before and then move forward. It is often referred to as the ability to “bounce back” from difficulties or challenges. Resilience is enhanced by healthy, active living, but it also depends on many other things. Our lives are affected by a variety of individual characteristics, family circumstances, and community and environmental factors, some of which increase our resilience by protecting us from emotional and psychological harm and some of which reduce it by exposing us to emotional, social, and psychological risks.
See Appendix D for a quick-reference summary of learning in the Healthy Living strand.