Part 1 of 2: Adjusting the School Environment Download Article
- Brief activities — or “energizers” — interspersed throughout the day not only help reduce the overall amount of sedentary time per day, they also can benefit health, focus, and academic achievement. For instance, students who take a 10-minute walk before a test have been shown to display better focus, increased relaxation, and thus better scores.
- Adjust your class schedule, if necessary. Aim to alternate between sedentary activities and activities that encourage movement. For example, begin with a math lesson, schedule in free play, teach a reading lesson, then engage in an activity that encourages gross motor skills.
- Between different lessons, you could have a “brain break,” where you and your students could dance, learn a yoga pose, or practice mindfulness.
- Consider, for instance, the difference between learning how paper is made by watching a video as opposed to getting your hands into some mushy wood pulp. The first option reinforces SB patterns like staring at a TV or other screen device, while the second promotes active, hands-on engagement. Beyond the possible health benefits, many children will gain more from more active forms of learning anyway.
- Schedule group projects that incorporate movement as well. When planning for a certain unit, aim to find activities that will keep your students active. For instance, have your students measure their body parts during an anatomy lesson or practice multiplication using jumping jacks.
- Try setting up your classroom with different rotation groups. Encourage students to spend time at each station, where they’ll work on an independent worksheet, play a partner game, or do some other kind of activity. After 5 minutes, rotate your students to the next station.
- The cost involved in switching to standing desks is not inconsequential, of course, but teachers can work to increase standing time in other ways as well. Recurring or random times when the students must stand at their desks instead of sitting can be incorporated into the daily routine, for instance.
- You can encourage movement in your classroom by having an empty, open area that is accessible to all students. Move chairs and desks away from this area so the children can use the space to stay active.
- Moving around is especially important for younger elementary-aged students, as they can’t stay seated for long periods of time.
- For instance, teachers can offer a set of “daily physical activity” (DPA) bins from which students can choose from a variety of games and activities. Or, a greater emphasis can be placed upon offering a range of intramural activities, including sports but also activities like dancing, yoga, etc., that emphasize “fundamental movement skills.”
- One of the numerous programs established in schools to reduce SB emphasizes replacing sedentary “screen time” with physical activities that focus on mastering six core skills: running, throwing, dodging, striking, jumping, and kicking. In this case, the reward itself (achieving “mastery”) reinforces the desired behavioral change.
Part 2 of 2: Changing Behaviors Download Article
- Combining efforts does not mean minimizing the importance of addressing sedentary behavior (SB), however. While eating healthier and exercising more can seem more important on the surface, reducing the amount of sedentary time is important on its own and serves as a gateway to making those changes as well. Less sedentary time naturally leads to more exercise and usually decreases unhealthy eating activities like mindless snacking on junk foods.
- Repeated scientific studies have shown that increased sedentary time decreases fitness, metabolic rate, self-esteem, and academic performance, and increases hunger stimulus, obesity rates, and aggressive behavior. In turn, decreased sedentary time (which, for instance in Canada, is estimated to entail 62% of the waking hours for an average child) has the opposite effects.
- Make an effort to communicate these facts, and the school’s progress toward the goals for active times, on a regular basis.
Integrate programs regarding SB throughout the curriculum. While programs to reduce sedentary time seem like natural fits for physical education classes and recess periods, for instance, they are more effective when they are incorporated into the entire school day. From standing up during math lessons, to doing hands-on activities during history class, to scheduling activity breaks before tests, changing SB needs to be seen as a “total team effort.”
- One of the early efforts at reducing SB in schools, known as the “Planet Health” program, was integrated throughout the curriculum in its test sites, and subsequent programs (such as “Switch-Play” and “Active for Life”) have tended to follow suit. Researchers have understood that changing behaviors as ingrained as sitting in on a bus, at a desk, or in front of a TV or computer screen cannot be effectively changed piecemeal, but only as part of a holistic approach that addresses core behavioral patterns.
- You can create an anti-SB committee with representatives for administrators, educators, parents, and students. Hold regular meetings and work toward reducing SB time during the school day.
Get families and the community involved. Like most school-based programs (and education in general), parental involvement is critical to the success of programs intended to address SB. To truly succeed, programs must involve “intense behavioral interventions” to address the core behaviors that tend to increase sedentary time. Behavioral changes made in school can carry over into the home and community, but only with the support of those outside the school walls.
- Parents need to be informed and involved in every step of the process when SB programs are initiated. Explain why students are standing up more, taking activity breaks, and being advised to reduce “screen time.” Provide activities and alternatives for the home setting, and opportunities for parents to get actively involved in the program both in and out of school. Make it clear that changing SB is beneficial for everyone, kids and adults alike.