School health in action:
Daily physical activity at Hutterite colony schools
Across Golden Hills School Division (GHSD) in rural mid-eastern Alberta, 19 Hutterite colony schools offer unique learning environments. These school communities are rich with culture, strengths, and opportunities.
Peek inside GHSD's colony schools and you'll often find students of multiple grades learning together in a single classroom. Teachers and educational assistants provide curriculum-based instruction, sensitive to Hutterian culture and local identity. Students learn in English (their second language). The school buildings are small, with few common spaces like gyms or cafeterias. They're nestled into the Alberta prairies, often far from other schools or towns.
Unique opportunities for daily physical activity
Recognizing that daily physical activity (DPA) looks and feels different in colony schools, GHSD's physical education specialist works closely with colony educators and their local AHS health promotion facilitator. They use a variety of techniques to encourage and support DPA in colony schools.
Let's take a look at what's happening across these unique settings:
- Each school has print resources to guide physically active learning, like instruction booklets for cooperative playground games, posters for mindfulness activities, and prompts for classroom energizers.
- Each school has equipment bins to store low-cost, everyday items that can be used to encourage movement (like balls and skipping ropes) and for physically active games (like dice, plastic cups, and decks of cards).
- GHSD offers professional learning for colony teachers with a specific focus on DPA. In 2022/23, the group explored the science behind moving more and sitting less at school, and shared their ideas and experiences specific to colony schools. They tried out energizers and mindful breathing activities that work well in small spaces. They reflected on ways to encourage movement at transition times and how to better support child-led play.
- All colony educators have access to an online hub for DPA resources. It's a place where they can connect virtually to get ideas and adapt them to suit their students' culture, interests, and learning goals. Here are some of the practices that educators have shared:
- Incorporating mindfulness and sensory activities into outdoor walks
- Adding movements to traditional songs
- Encouraging students to create their own ways of getting active, like inventing new recess games or trampling snow to make paths
- Using decals on the walls or floors to nudge students to jump, skip, and move in creative ways
Teachers and educational assistants from GHSD's colony schools have provided positive feedback about the DPA training and support they've received so far. They're especially grateful for opportunities to connect with each other and to adapt evidence-based practices to better suit the complexity of their classrooms.
In the years ahead, GHSD and AHS aim to maintain momentum around colony-focused DPA. Planning is in the works to bring colony educators together again to take stock of what's working well and identify any gaps. Teachers and educational assistants have suggested topics for future training, like Indigenous games or loose parts play.
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