Schools have long played an essential role in giving children a place to exercise and engage in physical activity. Physical education, also known as gym class, has been part of U.S. education since the 19th century. Many schools offer recess to kids, giving them a chance to play with their classmates, blowing off steam and burning energy.
On average, kids spend one-quarter of their day, around six hours, at school. Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that kids between the ages of six and 17 get at least one hour of physical activity daily. Less than one-quarter of U.S. children reach that target.
Schools can play a significant role in helping their students reach or exceed that recommendation. Learn more about incorporating physical activity into the school day and how to make exercise fun for kids.
Benefits and Importance of Exercise for Kids
Everyone can benefit from exercise, from the youngest school-aged children to high school students. Showing kids that exercise is enjoyable and fun sets them up for a lifelong, healthy habit. Among the many benefits of regular exercise for children are the following.
1. Improves Heart Health
Exercise strengthens the heart, so much so that some types of exercise are called cardiovascular exercise. Cardio exercises increase blood flow and heart rate, helping to strengthen the heart muscle.
Beginning at an early age, physical activity that gets the heart pumping helps to reduce the risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. Being physically active also helps to reduce the risk of issues that contribute to heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and obesity.
2. Improves the Immune System
Working out and being active gives kids’ immune systems a boost. Physically active children tend to have a better immune response than sedentary children. Having a robust immune system helps kids fight off illnesses more easily and allows them to recover from being sick more quickly. With a strong immune system, kids are less likely to miss school.
3. Builds Strong Bones
The bones of the body play several vital roles. They give a child’s body structure, support the muscle system and protect vital organs. Children must build strong bones throughout their youth. Exercise can help. Bone-strengthening exercises for kids include running, dancing and playing sports like tennis.
4. Reduces the Risk of Developing Chronic Illnesses
Being sedentary is often linked to developing a range of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and osteoporosis. One study found an increased risk of developing diabetes in people who spent more than four hours a day watching TV at age 16. Creating school exercise break times can help reduce kids’ risk of developing those illnesses.
For example, in the case of diabetes, regular movement and muscle use encourage the body to use glucose, which reduces insulin resistance. Muscle cells also tend to have more insulin receptors than fat cells do. Building muscle mass through exercise can help improve the body’s use of insulin.
5. Helps Improve Memory
Physical activity increases brain plasticity, which can help kids learn better. Some studies have found that more physically active children have larger hippocampi and basal ganglia than less-active children. Having a better memory can help students prepare for tests more easily and recall what they’ve learned in the classroom better.
6. Helps Kids Focus in School
Giving kids a chance to exercise at recess can help them do better when they’re back in the classroom. Physical activity can be particularly beneficial for children who have ADHD and who have difficulty concentrating. Getting the opportunity to burn off energy through exercise can help children with ADHD pay more attention when back in class. It can also help children with ADHD manage their impulses better.
There’s a mistaken belief that giving children a chance to be active during the school day will agitate them or make it more difficult for them to settle down once in the classroom. The reverse appears to be true. Taking small exercise breaks throughout the day can help sharpen the brain’s attention centers.
7. Improves Kids’ Moods
Exercise has many positive effects on children’s moods. It helps them reduce stress levels, which allows them to feel better. It also helps to improve their mental health outlook as they grow older.
Perhaps one of the reasons why exercise can help improve a child’s mood is because it can improve sleep quality. Kids who exercise are more likely to fall asleep faster and might stay asleep for longer than those who are sedentary.
Finally, increasing physical activity can boost children’s confidence, helping them feel better about themselves. The confidence boost can come from reaching a goal through exercise, such as scoring points during a game or beating a personal best.
Tips to Help Schools Promote Fun Exercise
Since children spend a considerable portion of their day at school, and since many don’t get the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise, schools can play a big role in helping kids meet that goal. The key to getting kids to participate in exercise and physical activity programs is to make them fun and accessible. Here are a few things schools can do to promote fun workouts and exercise at school.
1. Offer Recess Daily
Recess is a win-win for all involved. It’s often children’s favorite “class,” and it gives them a chance to be active and can help minimize disruptive classroom behavior.
Daily recess also helps to improve students’ memory, conflict resolution skills and creativity. But many schools have cut back on or eliminated recess in recent years in order to offer more academics. If that’s been the case at your school, it’s time to seriously reconsider recess.
The amount of time students have for recess doesn’t have to be very long. Just 20 or 30 minutes a day can help. When you implement (or re-implement) a recess program, it can help offer some structure. For example, create activity zones where students can participate in certain games or sports while getting their much-needed daily break.
2. Offer Regular PE Classes
Similar to recess, regular physical education (PE) classes help students focus better in class and allow them to burn off energy and be active. Unlike recess, physical education is usually required for students. Current guidelines recommend 150 minutes of physical education for elementary school students weekly and 225 minutes for middle and high school students weekly.
Consistency is key when it comes to PE. One way to ensure your school offers the recommended amount of PE is to have students participate in daily classes. For elementary school students, that means one 30-minute class daily. Coupled with a 20 or 30-minute recess, students will easily reach the recommended daily minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity.
Along with offering regular classes, it’s important to find a way to make those classes fun and encourage kids to participate. One option is to give kids multiple choices for gym class. For example, instead of requiring every student to play kickball, provide them with a choice. Another option is to cycle through different sports and activities throughout the year, so kids have a chance to explore multiple types of physical activity.
3. Incorporate Exercise Into Classroom Learning
Encourage teachers to make physical activity part of their classroom instruction. In some cases, incorporating movement in classroom learning can be easier than in others. For example, a science class can move outside and explore leaves, bugs or plants in a natural setting. Kids can learn to count by moving their arms and legs in a math class. Students can act out the books or stories they’re working on during a reading or language arts class. Physical activity can be part of classroom instruction and outside of instruction, such as during breaks.
Connecting learning to physical movement also helps to increase learning. Some students learn more quickly when they are moving. Connecting a concept to a movement helps cement the concept in children’s brains.
For physical activity during class time to be effective, your school must get buy-in from the teachers. One way to do that is to create a policy that requires teachers to develop lesson plans that include a physical activity element. Once you have the policy in place, work with teachers to help them develop ways to include activities in their lesson plans. The more supported your teachers are, the more likely they are to embrace a policy that requires physical activity.
It’s also important to create classrooms designed for some level of physical activity. That can mean rearranging the desks in a room so that there’s an open space in the center. It can also mean purchasing equipment to support exercises in the classroom.
4. Create Mini Classroom Exercise Breaks Throughout the Day
Like incorporating physical activity into classroom instruction, creating mini exercise breaks throughout the school day helps make physical activity a regular part of students’ school day. These school exercise breaks can take many forms. For example, at the start of each day, kids can be encouraged to do jumping jacks while in their homeroom.
Your school can also schedule 5-minute exercise sessions after each class period. For example, the first bell can ring to signal the end of class. Then, students have five minutes to move, however they want, whether it’s doing push-ups, dancing or running in place, or jumping jacks. The bell rings again, and students are free to move on to their next class.
Another option is to have teachers schedule exercise breaks into their class periods. When they notice students are starting to drift off or that attention is fading, they can ask students to get up and move for a few moments. The little breaks help revitalize students while giving them a chance to move.
5. Create Before or After-School Physical Activity Programs
The hours before and after school provide plenty of opportunities for your school to get kids moving. One option is to offer morning exercises for students. A PE teacher can lead students through some stretches or aerobics activities before they move to their homeroom or first class of the day. Another option is to have the exercise instruction delivered during the morning announcements.
For students who are early birds or arrive at school well before the first bell of the day, your school can offer a morning exercise program, such as a yoga class or a fun workout class.
After-school physical activity programs can take multiple forms, depending on the age of students. For younger students in elementary or middle school, it can be ideal to create an intramural sports program or informal sports program. Interested students can sign up to play various sports several times a week after school. During the after-school sports program, they’ll learn a lot about various activities while getting the chance to move around and burn energy.
High school students can participate in sports programs that see them competing against teams from other schools. High schoolers also benefit from intramural sports or more informal sports programs. Informal after-school sports programs encourage kids to be active just for fun. They can still enjoy some friendly competition with their peers, but there’s no pressure or concern about getting cut from the team or not being the starting player.
Not every student will be on board with competitive or team sports. Luckily, there are many other ways to offer physical activity after school without focusing on competition or team-based sports. For example, you can open up your school’s gym, swimming pool or playground area for students to use after school hours. Have teachers or coaches supervise students while they swim, run around the gym or play on the playground.
You can also offer exercise classes after school. A jump rope class is a great way to get students moving and having fun while working their hearts and muscles. After-school yoga classes help improve students’ flexibility while also helping them stress less.
6. Get Parents on Board
Before, during and after-school physical activity programs are more likely to succeed if you have parent support and involvement. You can do a few things to get parent buy-in and support.
One way to get parents on board with any programs you decide to implement at your school is by providing the details of the program and explaining the benefits. Fortunately, plenty of research out there outlines the benefits of physical activity for kids.
Another way to get parents to support exercise at school is to encourage them to participate. They can do so in several ways. First, you can encourage parents to promote physical activity at home. That can mean asking them to take walks with their kids or do family activities that focus on moving, such as spending the day at the park or riding bikes.
You can also ask them to sign up and volunteer their time supervising before or after-school programs. Some parents might be happy to come into the school during the day to supervise recess or lead classroom exercise breaks.
7. Hold an Exercise Contest
What’s more fun than a contest? If you want to encourage students to be more physically active, give them an incentive. The contest can take place over a month, a quarter, a semester or the entire school year.
Give students a BINGO card or a list of exercises for kids at the start of the year. Have them check off each activity when they do it. Using the BINGO card format, students can bring in their card for a prize once they’ve completed a row. They can then get a new card with a different set of exercises. At the end of the term or academic year, the students who have submitted the most BINGO cards win prizes.
An even simpler option is to have students log their physical activity. They can use fitness trackers to simplify things. The students who have logged the most hours of exercise at the year’s end take home the big prize.
8. Design an Environment That Encourages Physical Activity
The design of your school can encourage kids to be active. For example, if you have playground equipment in the schoolyard, children will feel free to use it. Walking trails around the school give students a place to stroll with their friends before or after class.
Even small design elements can help promote movement. Installing bike racks on school property can encourage students who live close enough to bike to school. The bike racks give them a place to securely store their bike while in class.
The layout of classrooms also helps encourage movement. Instead of having students stay in the same room all day, set up their schedules so that they need to walk from reading class to math class and from science class to lunch.
How Playworld Can Help
Playworld exists to make play and exercise fun for all. Five core beliefs guide us:
- Inclusive design
- Building communities of the future
We can help your school make exercise enjoyable and fun for every student. Our products are designed for students of all ages, starting from early childhood and going up through high school.
Our early childhood equipment is built for children ages five and under. It gives kids a chance to explore and be creative while moving around and being active.
Our elementary school play equipment is designed for kids ages 5 through 12. It encourages children to be physically active while supporting problem-solving skill development and cognition. The play equipment is designed for social use, allowing children to interact with their peers while having fun.
Finally, our fitness equipment is designed for kids of all ages. The equipment is meant to be used outdoors and is permanent. It can help supplement activities during PE class or kids can play on it during recess. Children can also use the equipment when warming up or cooling down during after-school sports.
Get Started With Us Today
Giving kids plenty of opportunities to be active and exercise lays the groundwork for their future health. Physically active children are likely to become physically active adults who have reduced risks for diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions.
If you want to start promoting exercise at your school, Playworld can help. We’ll work with you to create playground and fitness equipment that makes exercise and physical activity fun for everyone. Contact us today to learn more and request a quote.