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Getting schoolchildren active in class to build lifelong healthy habits

Could getting schoolchildren to be more active in class encourage them to sit less and improve their learning experience? A new study hopes to find out.

Researchers at Loughborough University and the University of Leicester, Nottingham, and Victoria University (Australia) are working with Year 5 teachers and their pupils in seven Leicestershire schools on the CLASS PAL (Physically Active Learning) project to help them incorporate ‘physically active learning’ into their daily lessons. 

Teachers are being encouraged to integrate movement into the teaching of normal lessons, which could not only enhance children’s engagement and enjoyment of learning, but also help make the school day less sedentary.

The research is being funded by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East Midlands. This is a partnership of regional health services, universities and industry which turns research into cost-saving and high-quality public health initiatives.

Dr Lauren Sherar from Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences and the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine East Midlands is the lead investigator for the project. She said: “Schools have a unique opportunity to change the modern culture of sitting, by introducing active breaks and teaching through movement.

“Sitting for long periods is linked to poorer health in adulthood, so if we can encourage children to sit less from as early as primary school, it’s possible we could influence their future habits, for example how they might approach sitting in the workplace. There is also evidence to show that active learning helps enhance children’s engagement in the classroom and aids cognitive development, so this project may have dual education and health benefits.” 

An early pilot was carried out in Leicestershire schools over the past year to understand how teachers can best implement active learning and movement breaks in class.

Mrs Sally Gambles from Great Bowden Academy in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, was one of the teachers whose class took part. She said: “Being part of the CLASS PAL project has been great. It has been really interesting to see how teaching through physical activities has impacted on the children’s learning.

“It has been especially effective for those who find the more formal methods of schooling difficult. Using active breaks helps to refocus the children’s concentration on the task in hand and active learning gives them a kinaesthetic experience to aid their memory. I found that many of the concepts and ideas I used can be tailored to many subject areas. Active learning is now something that is embedded in my daily teaching.”

CLASS PAL includes a training workshop with supporting online information and resources to help teachers introduce active learning into their classrooms. There is also a fun animation video to help spread the message on the importance of physically active learning.

Visit the CLASS PAL website to access these resources and to find out more about the project.

Partners include the Youth Sport Trust and Affinity Teaching School Alliance.

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