Move to Improve is a push to promote social and emotional health, cognitive learning, and general wellness in the Kirkwood School District. The initiative sprung from Wellness Committee efforts, aimed at improving student and adult wellness through movement. The philosophy and work align with the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Model for wellness, developed collaboratively by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).
Physical Education & Physical Activity: Research and Best Practices
A range of studies are available exploring specific educational practices to advance physical education, physical activity, and recess. The most comprehensive resources at this time, however, appear to be the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, a number of state governments and Departments of Education have quality resources and programs highlighted on their websites.
SHAPE America offers numerous resources detailing recommendations for physical education classes and side-by-side comparisons of appropriate instructional practices for elementary, middle, and high school PE courses. Formal physical education curriculum should be aligned with national and state standards and frequently reviewed to ensure latest research and needs are addressed. PE curriculum generally breaks into three categories.
- Movement education
- Sport education
- Fitness education
It is important to note that some schools and districts are expanding experiential offerings beyond physical activities that can typically be offered on school campuses. These include high-interest activities such as biking, kayaking, and rock climbing or bouldering. Other districts intentionally provide students “choice options” at all levels, with an emphasis on fitness and lifetime activities. Finally, some schools have experimented with digital and gaming connections within the PE setting, seeking to tap into student interests while promoting physical movement.
The CDC and SHAPE America both recommend that children and adolescents participate in 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day, some of which could be provided outside a typically PE course - via recess, classroom-based physical activity, walking and bicycling to school, and out-of-school-time activities. In their Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (2011), the CDC recommends several strategies:
- Require students in grades K–12 to participate in daily physical education that uses a planned and sequential curriculum and instructional practices that are consistent with national or state standards for physical education.
- Provide a substantial percentage of each student’s recommended daily amount of physical activity in physical education class.
- Use instructional strategies in physical education that enhance students’ behavioral skills, confidence in their abilities, and desire to adopt and maintain a physically active lifestyle.
- Provide ample opportunities for all students to engage in physical activity outside of physical education class.
- Ensure that physical education and other physical activity programs meet the needs and interests of all students.
It is important that we view physical education and physical activity as the responsibility of all educators in our district, not simply our certified physical education teachers. The CDC recommends all staff be highly qualified and receive professional development in support of physical and mental health. These resources should also be extended to staff members who supervise recess, breakfast/lunch, and out-of-school programs. Providing certified and qualified staff with regular professional development opportunities enables them to improve current skills and acquire new ones.
In a 2018 CDC report, Strategies for Classroom Physical Activity in Schools, it was noted that 45% of schools, across all levels, participate in regular physical activity breaks outside of the physical education during the school day (43% in elementary, 64% in middle, and 27% in high school). As of 2016, Colorado was the only state to require such activity breaks in elementary school, while no states require this for secondary students. While numerous studies highlight the benefits of breaks and physical activity during the day - especially prior to subjects such as math - only 37% of teachers reported having received any professional development aimed at helping teachers integrate physical activities into their classrooms.
Recess is generally viewed as an important part of a student’s day, both as a break from class time and an opportunity for physical and social play. There is growing evidence to suggest recess can have a significant impact on student success at all levels, academically and behaviorally, especially with designed and planned with intention. CDC and SHAPE America collaborated on a 2017 report, Strategies for Recess in Schools, highlighting 19 evidence based recommendations for assist schools. Each are detailed at length in the report. Key to these, for our district purpose here, are five strategies to create an environment supportive of physical activity during recess:
- Provide adequate physical activity equipment
- Add markings to playground or physical activity areas
- Create physical activity zone
- Provide planned activities or activity cards
- Provide a combination of recess strategies
The report also recommends that schools gather information about their recesses, tracking physical activity, measuring levels of inclusion and student perceptions of safety, and collecting data about recess and student outcomes. Organizations such as Playworks and KaBoom! offer additional resources to help schools strengthen their recesses and ensure that all students are included in recess activities.
There are no clear guidelines regarding a recommended length/duration of recess, although most schools offer 20-60 minutes per day. Some countries (i.e. Japan) have moved to 10-15 minute recess every hour, citing research on attention spans and the value of intentional breaks on student and adult productivity.
Many schools have shifted to having a midday recess prior to lunch, rather than immediately after, citing research that students take more time for lunch and less food is wasted. Teachers and researchers have also noted an improvement in the student behavior at meal time, which often carried into the classroom in the afternoon. The CDC and the US Department of Agriculture support the concept of scheduling recess before lunch as part of a school’s wellness policy.