Overview of grades 1 to 3

Children’s early learning experiences have a profound effect on their later development. The health and physical education program for Grades 1 to 3 therefore focuses on the foundational knowledge and skills that students will need in order to support mental health and well-being, develop physical and health literacy, and acquire the commitment and capacity to lead healthy, active lives. Through participating in health and physical education in the classroom and gymnasium, out of doors, in schoolyards and school gardens, and in the community, students learn to make healthy active living a part of everyday life. The expectations in these grades provide opportunities for students to strengthen their oral language and knowledge of subject-specific vocabulary, their kinesthetic awareness and understanding of movement concepts, their capacity for imagining, pretending, and reflecting, and their higher-order thinking skills. All of this learning builds on the foundation laid in the learning expectations of the Kindergarten program, particularly in the areas (Kindergarten “frames”) of Self-Regulation and Well-Being, which includes learning about healthy active living and its effects on the mind and body, and Belonging and Contributing.

Program design and delivery must take into account the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of students, and their sense of self, or spirit. The following descriptions of the developmental characteristics of students in the primary grades are general in nature, and individual student characteristics will vary depending on the child’s age, sex, gender identity, body size, experience, and background.

Physical Domain

Students in the primary grades exhibit a number of developmental characteristics that affect their ability to participate in physical activity. Their large muscle movement is more developed than their small muscle movement, and they are still learning to refine basic motor patterns. Consequently, many students in the primary grades can perform motor skills singly but may have difficulty combining these skills. Although they can master most locomotor activities, their manipulative skills and visual and tracking abilities are still developing. Their stability skills are also developing, and their centre of gravity is generally still high. Muscular endurance is often limited, and there is no significant difference in physical abilities between the sexes.

Programs at this level should involve students in moderate to vigorous activity and provide opportunities for them to take breaks when they tire. Activities should focus on gross motor skill development before proceeding to fine motor development. Throwing and catching activities, for example, should start with large balls or textured objects that are easy to catch before proceeding to the use of smaller objects. Activities should provide opportunities for all children, regardless of sex, to play together. It is important that students be able to explore a wide range of activities, but they should also have a chance to revisit activities instead of experiencing them only once.

As in all elementary programs, those for the primary grades should offer opportunities for all students to participate fully (e.g., by ensuring that each child has a piece of equipment needed to participate in the activity) and explore a wide range of activities. Equipment and activities should be modified as needed to permit students with a range of developmental needs and physical abilities to take part and allow all children to progress at their own rate. The program should provide opportunities for child-initiated individual expression, and students should be free to use their observations, experiences, and background knowledge when choosing activities and equipment. Activities should promote risk taking in a safe environment.

Cognitive Domain

Children at this age have well-developed imaginations and learn best through play and exploration. They are developing thought processes as well as vocabulary, memory, and concepts of time, weight, and space. Their perceptual abilities are also developing rapidly. They tend to be motivated and excited about learning new skills, but their ability to concentrate on a task varies.

Students in the primary grades generally find it easier to learn when learning experiences are divided into manageable pieces. They require concise instructions, short demonstrations, maximum time to explore and create, and opportunities for repetition and practice. Rules for activities should be simple and set clear boundaries. In addition to learning to follow instructions, students in the primary grades should be challenged to think in more sophisticated ways, and they should be given opportunities to question, integrate, analyse, and apply ideas.

Affective Domain

Most students in the primary grades respond well to positive reinforcement and are also learning to respond to constructive feedback. They tend to be egocentric, as their sense of self is still developing, but they are also beginning to develop interpersonal skills and are learning to share and take turns. They are beginning to develop an understanding of game concepts, but winning and losing can be emotionally challenging for them.

Programs for these students should emphasize participatory and inclusive activities that focus on exploration and creativity rather than on game play that involves winning or losing. The children should be able to explore and play in a safe, cooperative environment. To help them develop the skills they need to interact positively with others, they should also have multiple opportunities to interact in different ways in small groups.

The expectations for health and physical education build upon the prior knowledge, experience, and skills that students bring to the classroom. This base varies naturally from student to student as a result of different levels of prior exposure to the skills, forms, and experiences of health and physical activity. The diversity of the students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds in Ontario classrooms adds a further dimension to this variability. It is therefore important for instruction and assessment to be differentiated to meet the needs of a wide range of students. Exposure to a broad range of stimuli that reflect diversity is also crucial, with instruction being planned in a way that honours and includes the cultural traditions of students from all groups in the community.

Social-Emotional Learning Skills

Although the social-emotional learning skill expectations remain the same throughout all grades, the approaches and strategies used to help students build these skills vary with the developmental level of the students. In the primary division, students are at early stages of developing their sense of self, while also learning to identify and manage their emotions and feelings. Learning in this division is therefore focused on skills related to self-awareness, identifying and managing emotions, and learning to cope with challenges. At the same time, primary students are also beginning to develop relationship skills and critical and creative thinking. The curriculum provides opportunities for learning beginning relationship skills, including ways to communicate respectfully with others, and basic problem-solving processes.

Active Living Strand

The Active Living strand includes a number of core elements and learning objectives that begin in the primary grades and recur throughout the elementary program. Through physical activity, students begin to learn about the connections between physical and mental health. These include the daily requirement for at least twenty minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, an understanding of the benefits of daily physical activity and the factors that contribute to their enjoyment of physical activity, and the development of behaviours that enhance their readiness and ability to take part in the school’s physical activity programs. All of these provide a foundation on which to build the habit of being active on a daily basis. Students also learn how to recognize indicators of fitness, improve their cardiorespiratory fitness, and set simple personal fitness goals. Through other expectations, students learn how to introduce more physical activity into their daily lives and how to take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of those around them while being active, including learning about concussions.

Movement Competence Strand

Through exploration and play, students in the primary grades learn to develop fundamental movement skills and a variety of stability and locomotor skills. Simple manipulation skills, beginning with throwing and catching, are also introduced. Students learn about positive motivation and persevering through challenges as they learn new skills. Learning about movement concepts begins with an emphasis on body and spatial awareness and expands later to include the concepts of effort and relationship. In addition, students learn about the components – the skills, equipment, rules, and conventions of fair play and etiquette – of physical activities and how to use simple tactics to enhance their success and develop their confidence and sense of self as they participate in a variety of activities.

Healthy Living Strand

In the primary grades, students are introduced to basic health concepts, given opportunities to apply this knowledge to decisions about their own health, and encouraged to make connections between their physical and mental health and well-being and their interactions with others and the world around them. Emphasis is placed on having students begin to learn how to take responsibility for their own safety, at home and in the community, both in person and online. Students learn about the importance of consent, how to stand up for themselves, how to listen to and respect others, and how to get help in situations involving bullying or abuse or where they feel uncomfortable, confused, or unsafe. Students also learn to understand and apply basic concepts related to healthy food choices, healthy relationships, diversity, and substance use and potentially addictive behaviours. They learn about mental health as a part of overall health and begin to build understanding about the connections between thoughts, emotions, and actions. They learn the names of body parts, begin to understand and appreciate how their bodies work and develop, and acquire an understanding of some of the factors that contribute to healthy physical, social, and emotional development.