Concerned about how sedentary their students are becoming, schools are unlocking their athletic equipment cupboards and facilities during recess and after school, to encourage young people to pick up a ball or a racquet and play for fun.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) told The Straits Times the move is to inculcate the good habits of an active lifestyle, which has many benefits such as reducing obesity.
It comes from a recommendation made by NurtureSG, a task force set up to encourage young people to adopt healthier habits, to give students greater opportunities for play.
MOE said: "Facilities in most primary and secondary schools are available to students to encourage unstructured play with their peers during recess and after- school hours."
Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox
Schools such as Fernvale Primary and Greendale Secondary are already letting students use equipment and facilities, previously available only during physical education (PE) classes or co- curricular activities (CCAs).
Students welcomed the go-ahead to take a break and de-stress after hours sitting in the classroom. A few quipped that they would also get to lose weight.
At Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Primary), pupils can borrow equipment such as frisbees, badminton racquets, skipping ropes and roller racers - a scooter that is propelled forward by swinging the handlebars from side to side. Parent helpers and school staff are on hand to supervise and ensure the children are using the equipment safely.
Primary 3 pupil Nicole Soh, nine, who likes going around on the roller racers with her friends, said: "Instead of sitting in the canteen and doing nothing, I can go outdoors to play, bond with my friends and try out different sports."
Mrs Emily Han, the teacher in charge of the school's recess free play, said it gives pupils the space to run around and unwind between lessons, adding: "We want them to have fun and experience the sheer joy of playing."
At Fernvale Primary, pupils can use equipment such as basketballs as well as badminton nets, racquets and shuttlecocks.
Mr Willy Ong, head of the school's PE, CCA and aesthetics department, said unstructured play creates opportunities for pupils to make friends and pick up social skills. They also learn to be responsible, handling the equipment with care and returning it after use.
Primary 5 pupil Lance Liu, 11, spends no more than five minutes of his precious 30-minute recess time to eat, so he has the rest of it for a game of badminton with his friends.
"It helps us de-stress and we can focus better in class," he said.
Getting children to be more active has benefits, as obesity rates among schoolchildren have risen in recent years, from 10 per cent in 2000 to 12 per cent in 2014.
A recent Health Promotion Board study found that if a child is overweight at age seven, he has a 70 per cent chance of growing up into an overweight or obese adult.
All mainstream schools also now offer healthier food under the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme, launched in 2011 to foster better eating habits in the young.
Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said children are more likely to make exercise a lifelong habit if they can be active regularly, and not only during PE classes.
National University of Singapore lecturer Kelvin Seah said parents need not be concerned that their children are exerting themselves instead of resting during recess.
He said: "Since regular physical activity provides both physiological and mental health benefits, it will have a positive impact on the children's development."