To prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore implemented a national circuit breaker policy to close all schools temporarily and advise people to stay at home and avoid socializing with others beyond their own household. As part of this heightened measure of safe distancing, the shift towards home-based learning (HBL) was essential to ensure the continuity of learning to take place. However prolonged learning from home can lead to a decrease in physical activity level and an increase in sedentary behaviour which may have negative effects on students’ physical and mental health. In order to engage the students physically and encourage them to lead a healthy lifestyle, the school designed meaningful and purposeful activities such as Physical Education (PE) Challenge, Healthy Recipe Sharing and #stayhomechallenge.
According to Chen at al. (2020), while home stay is a crucial safety step that can limit the spread of infections, but prolonged home stays can increase behaviours that lead to inactivity and contribute to anxiety and depression, which in turn can lead to a sedentary lifestyle known to result in a range of chronic health conditions. Hence it is crucial to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle which supports the body and mind during the coronavirus crisis.
One strategy for staying healthy at home is to maintain regular physical activity and routinely exercising in a safe home environment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, being physically active is important as regular physical activity not only benefits both the body and mind, it can also reduce high blood pressure, help manage weight, reduce the risk of heart disease, improves bone and muscle strength and increases balance, flexibility and fitness. In addition, regular physical activity can help give our days a routine and benefits our mental health by reducing the risk of depression and improves overall feelings. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on the amount of physical activity for all children and adolescents aged 5 to 17 years should do, is at least 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity, including activities that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 days per week. Some suggestions for physical activities at home include exercising with family members for instance having dance parties and tackling calorie-burning chores together, following along with online exercise videos and challenging oneself by setting an exercise goal.
Another strategy to maintain healthy living at home is to adopt a varied and balanced diet as healthy diets are important for supporting immune systems. Good nutrition can also reduce the likelihood of developing other health problems such as obesity. Some tips for maintaining a healthy diet from WHO include eating a variety of food daily for instance fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and wholegrain food such as brown rice. But being at home can illicit the temptation to eat snacks high in sodium, junk food and low-quality meals that are convenient rather than nutrient-dense whole food and families may depend on the delivery of ready-to-eat meals and convenience foods and it may be difficult to completely cut out unhealthy foods. The UNICEF Organization suggests where possible, families should try to order healthier options by checking the label, reduce the number of ready-to-eat meals that the family eat a week, control portion sizes and if possible cook or prepare meals using fresh ingredients. When snacking, rather than having sweet or salty snacks, children can try healthier options such as chopped fruit or vegetables that can be eaten raw.
Shah et al. (2020) mentions that the transition away from physical classes has significantly disrupted the lives of students and their families thus posing a potential risk to the mental well-being of children. During this pandemic, children and their families have been exposed to direct or indirect factors that could cause stress and emotional disturbance. It is therefore paramount to encourage students to adopt healthy behaviour to maintain their overall well-being. Some ways to promote healthy behaviour and inculcate the importance of social responsibility include educating students about COVID-19 and its preventive health behaviour by using guidelines provided by national organizations and keeping them informed of available support in terms of services and helplines to help them get through these difficult times.
Evidence has shown that reduced physical activity and prolonged sedentary behaviours are linked to both negative physical and mental health outcomes, hence there is a need to promote healthy movement behaviours among children during the COVID-19 pandemic via online means. The PE department came together to discuss and design activities using a myriad of platforms and applications namely Singapore Student Learning Space (SLS), School Website, Movie Maker and Powtoon to promote healthy living.
During HBL period, the PE department initiated PE Challenge Series 1 and 2 during HBL and May holidays which focused on throwing and catching skills that are fundamental for students to participate in invasion, net barrier and striking and fielding games. There are a total of 7 progressive challenges in Series 1 and 8 challenges in Series 2. After watching the demonstrations led by PE teachers, the students attempt the PE challenges, before proceeding to upload their own videos onto the SLS platform. Those who successfully complete the challenge will be awarded house points and those who successfully complete all 7 challenges from Series 1 or 8 challenges from Series 2 will be awarded additional house points.
In order to support students in healthy eating during May holidays, PE and Art teachers shared their own healthy recipes on drinks, snacks and meals via SLS platform. Some examples are homemade barley and sandwich making. Inspired by their teachers in action, students were motivated to try out these healthy recipes and even shared their own recipes. Many enjoyed creating and eating healthy food together with their family members. The video montages of students’ healthy recipes were also televised using the school broadcast system via big screen televisions in Term 3. Additionally, students were informed of healthier ingredient options by PE teachers to make better food choices.
The #stayhomechallenge video by Physical Education, Art and Music (PAM) teachers showcased PAM teachers engaging in purposeful and meaningful activities such as exercising, playing musical instruments, drawing or cooking healthy recipes during the circuit breaker. The video montage used during Term 2’s HBL End-it-well Programme encouraged students to be engaged in meaningful and purposeful activities during the home stay period and shared their own #stayhomechallenge videos via the SLS platform.
A list of student wellness resources has been put together on the School Website to support students’ physical, social and mental well-being during the coronavirus pandemic.
(i) Exercises – Youtube links on stretches are provided for lower primary. Jump Jam and Activesg workouts video links for middle and upper primary.
(ii) Eye Care – Eye care tips and eye exercise video link
(iii) HE Buzz – Good health practices such as ‘7 steps to prevent the spread of the virus’ and ‘stay at home, do the right thing’
(vi) Mental Wellness – Helpline contacts such as National Care hotline and Tinkle Friend
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” Although the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted Physical Education lessons in school, it has also created opportunities for staff development as the Qihua PE department responds proactively in managing the challenges and changes such as Safe Management Measures regular updates. During the circuit breaker, the department members worked together to brainstorm on innovative approaches to keep students active and healthy while engaging in virtual learning. One instance is creating sports equipment (sock balls) out of materials that can be found in students’ homes which students can use for the PE Challenge Series 1 and 2. However, the department also faced some challenges while implementing the activities. They include the limitation to the video file size that could be uploaded onto the SLS portal. To overcome this, some students explored other means such as email or WhatsApp to submit their video clips to their PE teachers. Another concern was the PE Challenge tasks were also not differentiated to the varying students’ abilities.
Moving forward, the PE department intends to cater to the skill proficiency of students for the PE challenge by differentiating the challenge difficulty level according to lower, middle and upper primary levels. Plans have also been made to further extend the #stayhomechallenge to #stayhealthychallenge whereby students can upload photos or videos of physical activities that they love doing on their own or with their family members during weekends or holidays. Furthermore, for healthy recipe sharing, apart from healthy drink, snack and meal, students can also share their favourite healthy home-cooked dishes. The department has plans in the future to archive all the recipes shared into a virtual Qihua Recipe Book for the children, by the children.
The acknowledgement and appreciation from the school staff, parents and children on the hard work and sacrifices made by the PE teachers in planning and implementing the purposeful activities, motivated the PE department to continue to explore new ways to make learning meaningful and fun for the students.
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Chen, P., Mao, L., Nassis, G. P., Harmer, P., Ainsworth, B. E., & Li, F. (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): The need to maintain regular physical activity while taking precautions. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 9(2), 103-104.
Exercise is essential for well-being during COVID-19 pandemic. (2020, April 21). Health Quest Patient Center. https://patients.healthquest.org/exercise-is-essential-for-well-being-during-covid-19-pandemic/
#HealthyAtHome – Physical activity. (n.d.). WHO | World Health Organization.
#HealthyAtHome. (n.d.). WHO | World Health Organization.
How to eat well while staying home. (n.d.). UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/eap/how-eat-well-while-staying-home
Shah, K., Mann, S., Singh, R., Bangar, R., & Kulkarni, R. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of children and adolescents. Cureus. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.10051
Singh, S., Roy, D., Sinha, K., Parveen, S., Sharma, G., & Joshi, G. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 and lockdown on mental health of children and adolescents: A narrative review with recommendations. Psychiatry Research, 293, 113429.