Learning more by moving

Physical literacy activities are one of the best ways to get all children gain better control over their behaviour and to engage with and retain what is being taught to them.

Physical education is one of the most important subjects taught in primary schools, but there are different opinions on how much time should be devoted to it and how classes should be run. Some even suggest that learning time should be given over to more academic subjects, but PE must be given more consideration as it serves numerous purposes.

Physical literacy activities are one of the best ways to get all children gain better control over their behaviour and to engage with and retain what is being taught to them.

The problem is less with the children, and more with the way schools are typically organised and run. Schools and colleges need to change with the times, become more flexible, more relevant, and more engaging, so that all students can connect with and learn from the material presented to them more effectively.

Regular movement increases focus and retention in children of all ages. Physical motion also helps all children regulate and it therefore lowers rates of behavioural problems such as bullying. Much of the “behavioural problems” in schools today would be eased and diagnoses would be lessened, if more movement was incorporated into every aspect of school. 

If children are sitting down in school for seven hours a day, five days a week, year after year, then how on earth do we expect them to have healthy, active lifestyles when they become adults?

Finnish schools have understood the importance of incorporating regular movement into the school day: most provide regular recess periods – 15 minutes of break for every 45 minutes of instruction. Researchers say this accounts for part of their ongoing academic successes.

There is no better time than the present to advocate for this change at St Benedict primary schools. Individual teachers and schools can make a big difference in their students’ lives by incorporating movement into their school day.  It also helps, of course, if larger and more general school policies support these efforts. An emphasis on regular breaks for movement should be incorporated into every primary classroom and be made an important part of overall college policy. 

PE teachers in every primary school will help in creating a healthy lifestyle culture in our young students in order to support the Respect for All Framework. There are a number of movement-in-school programmes that train teachers with specific moves for calming or invigorating students. There are also instructional podcasts, apps, and DVDs that can be purchased by a school in order to give teachers some ideas on what moves to give their students at what times.

However, basic jumping jacks, running in place, and some stretches behind the desk or in the school yard are also very effective in helping students get the movement their bodies and brains need in order to perform at their very best.

The movement breaks are a win-win situation, because the children are getting some exercise and regulation and, in addition, the shorter lessons are more easily absorbed.  The movement itself also helps children focus and retain more information from the lesson. Therefore, having more PE lessons means a happier, more engaged student body, as well as students who will retain more information over the course of the day. Teaching for long stretches does not mean that it is better, especially if the lesson is not being absorbed and retained.

Keeping children active, engaged, and healthy, in the environment where they spend the majority of their waking hours, should be a top priority for all schools. This requires a change in attitude by parents, teachers and schools and college.

With effect from this scholastic year the government has embarked on an ambitious project of increasing the number of Physical Education teachers across our islands to the extent that 25 new recruits have been added on the last year’s workforce in the field.

This is one of a series of initiatives being taken in the area of Physical Education and school sports. Others include a revamp of interschool festivals and competitions as well as a scheme giving the opportunity to national sport associations to nominate qualified coaches to tour schools to promote their respective disciplines.