Skip to Content

Arnold School of Public Health

Researchers successfully translate physical activity intervention program into online training for preschool teachers

June 18, 2019 | Erin Bluvas,

Members of the Children’s Physical Activity Research Group (CPARG) have demonstrated that their evidenced-based approach to training preschool teachers to increase their students’ physical activity can be effectively translated into an online format. Based on two decades of research conducted by CPARG director and exercise science professor Russell Pate, the Study of Health and Activity in Preschool Environments (SHAPES) aims to increase preschoolers’ physical activity by engaging preschool teachers in professional development training designed to modify instructional practices.

SHAPES began as a randomized controlled trial that was shown to be effective when it was tested in 16 schools between 2008 and 2012 (funding source: National Institutes of Health). During the second phase (2013-2016; Duke Endowment funding), the researchers translated the in-person delivery to an online format – evaluating teacher implementation completeness and fidelity in 10 pilot schools and then replicating the implementation in 30 preschools. For the past two years (phase III, Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina Foundation funding), the CPARG team has engaged in a large-scale dissemination of SHAPES, reaching 818 teachers from 218 different childcare centers.

“The SHAPES core elements that we defined in phase I were retained throughout all three phases, and we saw high levels of implementation completeness and fidelity during the change to online delivery,” says Ruth Saunders, professor emerita of health promotion, education, and behavior and lead author on the Translational Behavioral Medicine paper that describes the translation of SHAPES into an online format. “We found that an intervention shown to be effective in a randomized controlled trial can be translated into an online professional development program and disseminated on a large scale in a timely manner.”    

SHAPES was developed in response to the growing rates of childhood obesity. By increasing physical activity among preschool-aged children, this program provides both timely intervention and helps establish healthy habits. According to data from 2016, 42 percent of 3-year-olds, 66 percent of 4-year-olds and 86 percent of 5-year-olds attended center-based early childhood education and childcare programs.

“Such settings are in a unique position to influence young children’s health and development by providing play and physical activity opportunities,” Saunders says. “The preschool children attend greatly influences their physical activity levels, which may reflect differences in the policies, practices, and environments within that setting.”  

However, children are sedentary much of the time in these early childhood settings, despite recommendations from the National Academy of Medicine that they are given opportunities for indoor and outdoor physical activity for at least 15 minutes of every hour. 

Free and now offered completely online, SHAPES is designed to teach childcare providers to help children become more active. Teachers complete six, 30-minute modules over the eight-week course and receive one continuing education credit per module completed. These modules provide training on how to integrate fun physical activity into the classroom and how to help children become more physically active during recess. Additional course materials include a guidebook, playbook, activity cards, video library, and discussion forums.


CPARG receives $225K grant to deploy SHAPES/SC training program to increase physical activity at child care centers across state

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.