Most elementary schools do not provide enough physical education time for children to develop skills needed for a physically active lifestyle. Limited physical education programming also limits students’ opportunities to meet the national guideline of accumulating at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Until policies are implemented to allocate more curriculum time to physical education, alternative strategies are needed to support children’s health and physical development.
Currently, elementary children spend the majority of each school day in general education classrooms where they learn other academic subjects such as math, English, language arts, science, and social studies. This time can serve as a valuable lever for physical education through the integration of movement opportunities with classroom routines.
However, garnering the support of classroom teachers in this endeavor requires a clear understanding of the factors that either facilitate or impose challenges to movement integration.
A recent study published in the June 2019 issue of Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (RQES) reviewed the existing research literature and catalogued all of the known facilitators and barriers to movement integration in elementary classrooms.
The study, led by one of my former doctoral students (Dan Michael) and coauthored by me and several of my colleagues, involved sifting through more than 9,000 possible records to eventually include 28 relevant articles for the review.
We identified 12 facilitators and barriers (see below) that should be considered when working with classroom teachers to help them integrate movement opportunities during regular classroom time.
- Administrative support
- Availability of resources
- Perception that physical activity is valuable
- Perceived ease of implementation
- Teacher confidence
- Lack of time
- Lack of resources
- Lack of space
- Lack of administrative support
- Implementation challenges
- Lack of teacher motivation
- Lack of training
Administrative Support is Key
Collectively, these facilitators and barriers underscore the importance of administrative support, resources, teacher beliefs, ease of implementation, and professional training. The role of school administrators must be prioritized in efforts to adopt and sustain classroom movement integration.
Emerging research is bringing to light a broad range of recommendations for how principals and other administrators can support school-based programs and initiatives related to children’s physical activity, health and wellness.
Some examples include helping to set performance standards; being an active and healthy role model; assisting with establishing, scheduling, organizing and evaluating relevant opportunities; allocating resources for such opportunities; and providing professional training for teachers.
A wide variety of resources are available for classroom movement integration. Some resources, such as classrooms fully equipped with standing desks, pedal desks, and other specially designed classroom furniture and materials, can cost schools or districts a lot of money.
It is important to remember that classroom movement integration can be accomplished using free versions of programs like GoNoodle or other free online resources, such as Move for Thought. It is also possible to integrate movement without accessing or adding any new resources.
Physical education teachers can help classroom teachers learn to maximize the value of existing classroom space, learning materials, academic lessons, daily routines, and school facilities to enhance children’s health and physical development.
Provide Movement Integration Options
Teacher beliefs, ease of implementation, and professional training are interrelated. While most classroom teachers believe that physical activity is important for children, they sometimes feel that movement integration is challenging and may interfere with students’ ability to focus and do well academically.
This can result in low levels of teacher confidence and motivation for movement integration. Carefully designed professional training can work to shift teachers’ beliefs and perceptions in a positive direction. Presenting teachers with a menu of movement integration options is key (see below).
Level 1: Beginning Strategies
- Non-teacher-directed transitions
- Teacher-directed transitions
- Optimizing the physical environment
- Technology-directed opportunities
Level 2: Intermediate Strategies
- Movement Integration as a reward/incentive
- Movement integration as an opening activity
- Non-academic movement breaks
Level 3: Academic Integration
- Integrate movement in ways that connect with academic learning and standards in classroom subjects
Level 4: Interdisciplinary Integration
- Integrate movement in ways that enhance learning within classroom academic subjects as well as in physical education
The menu, derived from observational research in elementary classrooms, can be organized as a progression that can accommodate teachers with varying levels of experience with movement integration.
Level 1 strategies take advantage of existing and commonly available resources (e.g., space, Internet access, video technology) to simply reduce the amount of time students spend sitting.
At Level 2, teachers can explore additional strategies and be more creative, although the focus is still solely on physical activity without purposive connections to academics.
Levels 3 and 4 challenge teachers to link movement opportunities with academic content and learning experiences. Successfully integrating movement at these levels may require more professional knowledge, time investment, and support for teachers.
The unique attribute of Level 4 is its focus on using movement integration not only to support children’s academic learning in the classrooms, but to also advance their learning toward SHAPE America’s National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education.
Taking the Lead for Movement Integration
Physical education can play an important role in promoting public health while also contributing to children’s physical, cognitive and social-emotional development. Unfortunately, allocated curriculum time in physical education falls short of giving all students the opportunities they need to take full advantage of physical education’s benefits.
Physical education teachers should comprehensively canvas the school environment for every possible platform that can be used to leverage their programs. Working together with classroom teachers to integrate movement opportunities throughout each school day is one strategy that can be pursued to ensure children accumulate more physical activity minutes as well as continue to progress in all areas of learning and development.
- Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (June 2019)
- SHAPE America National Standards for K-12 Physical Education
Collin Webster, Ph.D., is a professor of physical education and associate dean for research and innovation in the College of Education at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. His research focuses on comprehensive school physical activity programs with emphasis on classroom movement integration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.