Physical Education & Physical Activity in Schools During COVID-19
As per the COVID-19 school guidance document, opportunities for daily physical activity should be prioritized not only to support learning objectives but also to enhance the overall mental health and wellbeing of students.
There are many opportunities across the school day to help ensure that children and youth are getting high-quality, heart pumping and endorphin-boosting physical activity. From health and physical education classes, recess, organized sports, intramurals, Daily Physical Activity, and active school travel – the possibilities are endless.
Schools are encouraged to plan and implement a variety of school-based physical activity opportunities for students all while respecting COVID-19 guidelines (see COVID-19 Information for Schools and School Boards). General public health measures should be in place for all school physical activity programs and activities. These include:
- Physical distancing between students, between students and staff, and between staff members should always be promoted (even during play; and when wearing masks). Games and activities should be modified to reduce the risk of contact.
- Limit the use of shared equipment.
- Ensure regular cleaning and disinfection of equipment and spaces between each use.
- Sanitizing outdoor structures on playgrounds is not required. Schools should focus on maintaining physical distancing, limiting total gathering size on playgrounds and implementing masking protocols when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
- Encourage proper hand hygiene and good respiratory etiquette for students and staff.
- Wearing masks when and where required:
- Consult your school board masking policy.
- The teacher should always wear their mask.
- The mask should be worn by all during lighter-intensity activities.
- The mask must be worn when activities are being held where physical distancing may be challenging. This applies to both indoor (e.g. in the classroom) and outdoor settings.
- If your school board policy permits it, students may remove their mask while engaging in higher intensity outdoor physical activity ONLY if physical distancing can be maintained. Higher-intensity physical activity should only be held outdoors.
- Ensure students bring additional clean masks so they can change their mask if soiled, wet, or humid.
- NOTE: A mask is not a substitute for physical distancing. Physical distancing must still be promoted even when students and staff are wearing a mask.
Planning Physical Activity at School during COVID-19
Planning for safe, accessible, and fun physical activity across the school day during COVID-19 is possible with a little planning and creativity.
- Plan outdoor activities as much as possible. Higher intensity activities should only be practiced outdoors and where physical distancing can be maintained.
Lower intensity activities can be planned indoors when spaces that allow for proper physical distancing are available (e.g. large gymnasium, multi-purpose room) and proper masking protocols can be followed for staff and students.
- Capacity limits for change rooms must considered.
- Plan activities that focus on individual practice and promote the development of fundamental movement and sport skills and personal fitness.
- Team sports such as basket-ball, soccer, and volley-ball can be part of a health and physical education and schools sports but should be planned with significant modifications to promote physical distancing. Examples of modifications include but are not limited to:
- Starting with individual practice and progressing towards group play or scrimmages and games only once students and staff are comfortable with playing while maintaining physical distancing.
- Reducing the number of players per team.
- Ensuring a minimum number of passes before a player can score.
- Enforcing a rule for interceptions only (rather than getting in close to a player) to gain possession of the play.
Information and Resources
- To support with the planning, preparation and implementation of a safe health and physical education program, browse Ophea’s COVID-19 Considerations for Physical Activity and Safety Considerations for Remote Learning in Physical Education.
- To plan outdoor activities and learn, download Thrive Outside – Resources for Educators.
- For tips and ideas to promote physical literacy and the development of fundamental movement and sport skills, check out:
- Learn to Move, Fundamental Movement Skills poster series - Ophea
- Physical Literacy at Home Video Series – Sport for Life
- Develop a school travel plan to encourage your students to walk, roll, and wheel to school with resources and tips from Ontario Active School Travel.
- For sport and activity-specific considerations and tips for modifying play during COVID-19, visit:
- General Health and Physical Education Resources:
Have a question or need support? Contact your public health nurse or email the Health Unit’s physical activity team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For organized sports (outside of Health and Physical Education class), schools should work with the Health Unit’s physical activity team to ensure a safe return to sport plan has been developed.
- Considerations for Planning Physical Activity in School During COVID-19
- COVID-19 Outbreaks in Schools
- COVID-19 Parent Screening Tool: Should My Child Attend School?
- Information for Parents and Students
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Information for Schools and School Boards
- Information for Child Care Centres and Day Camps