Children should engage in physical activity every day. Research shows that physical activity can help youth improve their concentration, memory, and classroom behavior. The recommendation for children is at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day. This can be broken up into small segments of 5-10 minutes each. Activity-friendly environments also promote positive attitudes toward fitness and other health–enhancing behaviors and have been proven to improve student academic performance. Activity can be introduced into existing routines and transitions, into academic lessons, or introduced as an activity break.
Here are a few examples to promote an active classroom:
- Incorporate five-minute physical activity breaks during the morning announcements to the entire school or just your classroom.
- Read a fun, healthy fact followed by a five-minute physical activity break.
- Jogging quietly in place for 5 minutes; stretching to reach the ceiling and touching your toes, doing dance moves to your class song; marching in place; jumping with an invisible jump rope or quietly walking around the classroom.
- Make cards with Physical Activity Stickers. Draw a different one each morning and act it out.
- End each day with a few minutes of physical activity.
- A faculty/staff member could lead students in a physical activity before they leave class or while they wait for the bus or car pick up.
- Add a daily routine – 2 minute activity break between each subject taught in the room. See Resources for additional activity break ideas.
- Take a quiet wiggle break
- Use ideas from this “In Motion” handout to add activity to the school day.
- Do an internet search for “brain break and youtube” for a list of additional activity break ideas.
- Have the students work in small groups to make up a list of short activities they can do in the classroom.
- Assign one student to be the time keeper/clock monitor for the day so the students are excited about the physical activity breaks.
- Assign other students to be the activity leaders.
- Have students select a monthly theme song to dance in place to each month.
- Role Model Moment – Students love to see you in action! Teachers should participate in the activity breaks with the students.
- Create a “healthy behaviors” section on the classroom bulletin board. Write your healthy behaviors along with the students to continue to motivate each other to make healthy behavior changes you discuss in class.
- Have the class create a physical activity route through the school stopping at different sites and performing a variety of small movements at each location. When they pass the principal’s office, they can do 10 jumping jacks and wave; at the school kitchen, they can mop the floor, etc.
- Create a mentoring program where older students link with younger ones to be more physically active.
- Offer non-food incentives or a competition between classes/teachers for achieving activity goals.
- Music during work/study time
- Homework pass
- Out of uniform pass (if appropriate)
- Playing games instead of class
- Extra free time
- Extra recess
- Pencils, pens, or other school supplies
- Providing special recognition of the winning class during assembly or morning announcements
- More Fitness Break Ideas
Movement as part of an interactive lesson can increase academic performance. Movement is different from vigorous physical activity. Students need both to be healthy and productive.
When incorporating movement in the classroom it is important to provide students with guidelines to maintain classroom management that include simple directions and a time-frame for the activity. You may ask students to change seats, sit in a circle or stand up and stretch. Some ways to integrate movement as part of lesson content include: role playing, short games to reinforce concepts, stretching, playing music and having walking worksheets to move to different stations in the classroom.
- Integrate actions/movements into lessons
- Ask students to identify verbs or action words in the book by acting them out through physical activity
- Take students outdoors as part of a science lesson.
- Add activities during classroom instruction. For example, when using Read for Health and reading Up, Down and All Around, have the children pretend they are parts of the plant and move as the plant grows.
- When doing MDAS math problems, have students give the correct answer in jumping jacks.
- Active Academics resource for classroom teachers to provide practical physical activity ideas that can be integrated into regular classroom content areas.
- While reading aloud, whenever the word “fruit” is mentioned, have children stand and stretch. Iowa developed some stories with motions.
- Use mp3 players and podcasts to allow students to learn while walking using Walking Classrooms.
- Using the ReFresh curriculum, using the “Water for Healthy Bodies” February lesson, students can add movement to the lesson by having them role play as a seed – once watered to slowly stretch into a blooming flower.
Activity Breaks – Five minute (or less) activities that can be done in the classroom. These help to break up the day and can increase students’ attention and comprehension. The teacher can lead the breaks or use a video for variety. See the resource section of the website for links.
Recess or physical activity breaks offer an excellent opportunity for youth at all grade levels to engage in free play or semi-structured physical activity during the school day, and allows youth the opportunity to apply skills learned in physical education. Recess should not, however, replace physical education or be used to meet time requirements set forth in physical education policies. You may want to suggest your school add an extra recess period, longer recess and/or change recess to before lunch for everyone.
Strategies for implementing recess in elementary schools include: providing age-appropriate equipment for students, having adult recess supervisors encourage students to be physically active, and providing semi-structured activity that involves activity stations (e.g., jump rope, four square, and hopscotch stations). For more information see the CDC’s Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program: A Guide for Schools.
- Walk during recess and before lunch with the students.
- Have the class map the walking route they will take and using their math skills, determine how many steps they will “walk” when they go to lunch or during recess.
- Form a walking club.
- Have students graph a chart showing their daily walking progress as a class and share with other classes in the school. This can also be done at other times of the day not only recess.
- Healthy Hopping – Ideas using a jump rope.
- Ideas for: Rainy Day Recess (USDA, Healthy Meals Resource System) Active Recess (Action for Healthy Kids) Indoor Recess (Iowa Team Nutrition)
- Do not withhold recess as a punishment. There are alternatives such as “peaceful playgrounds.”
After School Programs
- 100 Mile Walk Club
- Mighty Milers
- Girls on the Run
- Alliance for a Healthier Generation – HOST framework
FSNE Newsletters and Handouts
- Be Active with Your Family (English)
- Turn the Screen Off and Be Active (English)
- Warm Up Your Winter with Physical Activity (English)
- Nutrition to Go – Be Physically Active
More resources and ideas for fitting physical activity into your classroom and school.