Health and wellness

How a Hong Kong family sports day keeps students on a healthy track

This weekend’s annual event at Hong Kong Science Park will involve 100 kindergartens and schools, parents and teachers aiming to spread the word that regular exercise and physical fitness matter alongside long hours of study

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 6:03pm

As more research highlights poor physical and mental health among Hong Kong students, more than 100 local kindergartens and schools will join a family sports carnival hosted by the Physical Fitness Association of Hong Kong, China (HKPFA) at Hong Kong Science Park in Sha Tin this weekend.

Children, parents and teachers will take part in interactive games, activities and performances to highlight how physical activity benefits students’ holistic development.

The citywide annual event is part of HKPFA’s “Jockey Club Keep-Fit Formula for Children”, a three-year pilot programme funded by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust to integrate physical literacy – movement skills such as running, hopping, throwing, catching and jumping that give children confidence to participate in sports, and games – into early childhood curriculum.

No child’s play for Hong Kong kindergartens to fit in sufficient exercise time

“Our goal is to cultivate an atmosphere favourable to the promotion and education of physical fitness at home and in kindergartens,” says Sam Wong Wing-sum, HKPFA’s executive director. The non-profit organisation began advocating physical fitness and health education in kindergartens in 2007.

“Most human habitual behaviours develop in early childhood,” he said. “Engaging young children in physical activities as early as possible is good for developing positive exercise habits in the long run. As young children spend much of their time at home, parents and family members are their significant role models during early childhood. Therefore, we endeavour to cultivate an exercise culture at the family level.”

Research by Chinese University of Hong Kong supports this. Findings from 423 sets of children-parent questionnaires determined that parents’ values towards physical activity (PA) might be “passed on” to their children, affecting children’s PA behaviour.

Children whose parents do not value PA may engage in lower levels of activity, Professor Amy Ha Sau Ching, of the university’s sports science and physical education department, wrote in her research paper “Intergenerational transmission of parents’ values on children’s physical activity behaviours”.

“Future PA interventions for children should also target parents. Specific parent-child sports/physical activity programmes should be initiated and promoted at schools and in the community,” she says.

Switch off your phones and play outside, Hong Kong children told

One hurdle is the strategies parents use to raise their children, Wong says.

“Helicopter parents who over-parent and overprotect may discourage young children from taking responsibility for their own lives. As a result, they may be less motivated to participate in sports and physical activities. Whenever they are provided with opportunities to engage in sports and physical activities, they may not be confident enough.”

“Tiger parents who make their children work particularly hard to achieve the highest grades academically and the best performances in sports and arts may also demotivate children from taking part in sports and physical activity,” he says.

HKPFA’s programme encourages parents and children to play actively and engage in physical activities together. The process is intended to be interactive rather than authoritative. This strengthens family relationships through overcoming difficulties and failures together, and benefits children’s physical, mental and emotional health.

Children’s exercise habits reflect those of their parents

In kindergartens, teachers are supposed to be responsible for conducting fitness and health lessons, but it is not regarded as a mandatory subject in either their vocational or in-service training.

“Most teachers lack the know-how to conduct physical fitness and health programmes,” Wong says.

Young children aged two to five should accumulate at least three hours of physical activity daily, of different types and intensities, as recommended by the Department of Health. But nearly half of the young children in local kindergartens do not reach that standard, a recent HKPFA survey found.

One kindergarten determined not to short-change its students is St Philip Lutheran Church Kindergarten in Kwun Tong. Through the Keep Fit Formula for Children initiative, the school’s teachers are trained to implement physical fitness programmes.

“Most of our children were afraid to be active and were refusing to join sports games. They lacked the confidence to face challenges,” says Leung Hoi-sum, a teacher at the school. “Our teachers are learning new methods to make activities more fun. Our students’ physical agility has increased a lot, their concentration on activities has obviously improved, and they’re enjoying themselves more.”

Creative ways to get children to exercise

Families are welcome to attend the family sports day on Saturday and Sunday at the Science Park’s Grand Plaza in Convention Centre 3, from 10am to 5pm. It will feature games for parents and children, student performances, physical fitness assessments and an inflatable bouncer.

More than 100 kindergartens and six primary schools, covering children from ages three to nine, are implementing the Keep-Fit initiative. In the past two academic years, more than 19,000 students, 38,000 parents and 1,200 school personnel have joined its activities in each year, and more than 100 fitness coaches have been trained to provide physical fitness classes. The programme will run until the end of 2018.