Reading, writing, arithmetic – and running

Integrating movement throughout the school day is key to improving student success

Research shows a connection between movement and academic performance, with cognitive, behavioral and test performance all improving when students are physically active.

Yet school leaders don’t always recognize physical activity as a gateway to developing the whole child, and might see it merely as cutting into class time. Even in elementary schools with robust physical education programs, students are in PE class only once or twice a week.

One of the keys to changing that, says physical education professor Collin Webster, is working with classroom teachers to integrate more movement throughout the school day.

“We need to look at what’s realistic. Physical literacy is a new idea for many classroom teachers, but there are a number of strategies and programs to get kids more active,” Webster says. “We need to figure out the best strategy for the school. It’s not a one size fits all.”

The latest national study in 2008 showed 42 percent of elementary school students met the guidelines for 60 minutes a day of physical activity. For adolescents, the number dropped to 8 percent. Webster says activity in the classroom doesn’t always have to be vigorous or even moderate; simply reducing sedentary time has benefits.

His research focuses on physical activity promotion in schools and after-school programs with emphases on physical education teachers, general classroom teachers and after-school program staff. Through the development of a new program model, Partnerships for Active Children in Elementary Schools (PACES), Webster and his team are building a program with long-term classroom sustainability. It involves pulling expertise from physical education, public health and psychology experts.

“My focus is to get kids active through schools, but the activities aren’t arbitrary,” he says. “In physical education, students learn fundamental movement skills, like throwing and catching. They can continue to practice these skills in the regular classroom, at recess and at home. If you can’t get more physical education time, you need to get other teachers, parents and community organizations involved in helping children become not only more physically active, but also more physically literate.”

The three components of PACES include strategies and activities to infuse more physical activity into class time; putting College of Education students into classrooms to lead and demonstrate physical activity promotion strategies; and developing a long-term partnership between researchers and schools to identify appropriate movement-based resources.

“There’s no question that getting kids active involves multiple disciplines,” Webster says. “Getting kids physically literate will require a multidisciplinary approach. There’s never a silver bullet.”

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