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Kids need to get active in classrooms

Experts outline ways to incorporate activity into the school day

Public health recommendations and campaigns like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative aim to get kids active for at least 60 minutes throughout the day—including in school, where many kids do not have physical education classes on a daily basis. Three activity experts have now mapped out a plan for exactly how to fit physical activity into the culture of an entire elementary or secondary school in the new book, Schoolwide Physical Activity (Human Kinetics, 2010).

Unlike a physical education program, which teaches students the skills they need to be physically active, a physical activity program simply engages students in moderate to vigorous physical activity for health and wellness, explains lead author Judith Rink. “Children and adolescents need physical activity every day,” she underscores. “Because few children have physical education every day, other school programs have to accept responsibility for providing the needed activity.”

Others agree. “Movement in classrooms is an exciting development in school fitness,” explains Lori Rose Benson, director of the Office of Fitness and Health Education for the New York City Department of Education, in her July 2008 testimony to the House Committee on Education and Labor. “Regular classroom teachers are leading their students in fitness activities that complement, not supplant, teaching in core academic subjects. We’re showing teachers that including activity in the regular classroom day gets students ‘ready to learn’ and also teaches that lifelong fitness habits are essential for good health.” Schoolwide Physical Activity includes a script of Benson’s full testimony.

Rink and coauthors Tina Hall and Lori Williams stress the need to include all school personnel in a physical activity effort. They also recommend that physical activity programming permeates not only the school day, but also before- and after-school programs and special school and community events. Including parents and role models and reinforcing participation throughout school are also important elements of a well rounded effort.

But many schools face barriers to increasing children’s physical activity, especially as they focus on other issues and pressure to meet the required standardized test score minimums. “Schools have either completely ignored or minimized health issues to focus on other priorities, and the consequences are evident,” Rink notes.

Schoolwide Physical Activity provides specific tips for confronting a variety of barriers, from a lack of support from key stakeholders to a lack of funding. “Lack of support from key stakeholders influences what become school priorities,” says Rink. “These barriers will remain unless those who are most influential are among the people most actively committed to school wellness.” She underscores the need to enlighten all stakeholders on the relationship of nutrition and physical activity to school attendance, academic success, children and youth’s ability to focus and classroom behavior.

For more information on Schoolwide Physical Activity or other school health and wellness resources, visit

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