ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Promoting Physical Activity and Health in Schools

Shane Pill

Post submitted by Shane Pill, a former science and physical education teacher in schools in Perth and Adelaide, Australia, where he also held leadership positions that include director of school administration and deputy principal. At Flinders University, Shane lectures in curriculum and physical education studies. His research interests include curriculum design and enactment; pedagogical models for sport; and sport-related games teaching, sport coaching, and curriculum leadership. He is also a part of the Sport, Health and Physical Education (SHAPE) Research Group and is the president of the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation–South Australian Branch. Connect with Shane on his website and on Twitter @pilly66.

Schools, and physical education teachers in particular, have more to offer than any other institution in helping children lead active and healthy lives. That's because the right permissive environment can lead to high levels of physical activity (Australian Sports Commission, 2004).

There is little doubt that decreasing activity levels are significantly affected by our changing (read, more sedentary) lifestyle. It also appears many parents are spending less time with their children due to work commitments and that, when they are with their children, time, finances, and access to facilities also prevent them from engaging in physical activity with their children (Martin et al., 2002).

Schools are the only context where we can ensure every child is exposed to a permissive environment that works with children's natural desire to play and move and that provides for the possibility of a coordinated, sequentially developed health education.

Increasing time for physical education and physical activity in school will not in itself guarantee a reversal in the current trend of declining physical activity and healthy weight. Changes in methodology and curriculum construction to cater to the physical activity needs and learning styles of all students, as well as teacher confidence in developing educationally appropriate curriculum across all years of schooling, are also required. That means programs must be future-focused to help children learn how to be responsive to changing and emerging recreation, sport, and activity possibilities, recognizing that the needs of individuals change as they journey through life.

If we want children (and adults) to be more physically active, we have to work on their thinking; how they feel about themselves; and how they feel about themselves relative to their health, well-being, and physical activity so as to influence the choices they make. We need to be working as much on what Costa and Garmston (n.d.) call "states of mind" as on skilling students to be active, or as Rehor (2004) puts it, not just on expanding our physical education and physical activity programs, but on realigning our goals.

In a nutshell, children need to be "physically literate" and by extension games and sport literate. They require the cognitive tools to connect life choices to physical well-being and active and healthy community engagement. To achieve this understanding, it is my belief that physical activity, healthy living, and well-being must be interconnected by fusing life skills into physical activity.

A Challenge for Physical Educators

"Without question, the number one barrier to physical activity in schools is the perception that time spent in activity such as physical education will undermine academic learning" (Kun, 2003, p. 27). The challenge for physical educators is to demonstrate that combining an educational focus on the deep understandings (or "states of mind") of a physically educated person enhances cognition and the academic potential of students. Essentially, that moving, learning, and achieving are synonymous (Pill & Dodd, 2011).

A Five-Point Strategy

So what can schools do to promote active and healthy living? Consider the following five-point strategy.

  1. Increase opportunities for physical activity by improved pedagogy in physical education (for example, small-sided games that remove lines and waiting for turns) and by providing structured and unstructured opportunities for children to be active before school, during recess, during lunchtime, and after school.
  2. Integrate physical activity and health education as learning strategies across the school curriculum (to understand this in more detail, read Spark by John Ratey).
  3. Focus on the individual, not the activity, and don't mistake physical activity, sport, or fitness for physical education.
  4. Work with the community by linking school physical education to community physical activity and sport programs so that there are continued pathways for engagement beyond the school fence. Consider "parent-targeted education" through the curriculum. For example, health-education assessment tasks that create community newsletter articles and front-of-school office displays. Hold parent-student games evenings and so forth.
  5. Invest in teachers as learners to enhance pedagogical content knowledge and awareness on best practice and innovation and to create an environment for teachers to try new ideas.

Schools are the critical setting for an education that leads to active and healthy living. As settings for learning, schools can and should provide the broad, coordinated approach to developing the concepts of self and the beliefs and values that lead to ongoing, physically active and healthy living.

School Health Audit

  • What opportunities for physical activity and health education currently exist in your institution, and what additional activities opportunities can you identify?
  • Is physical education integrated into the broad curriculum?
  • Do you account for different learning needs and preferred learning modes and styles in your physical education curriculum planning?
  • What school-community links are available?
  • Do you have access to opportunities for continuous learning to raise awareness about best practice and innovation and to try out new ideas?
  • What opportunities exist for the sharing of ideas within your institution and beyond it?



Australian Sports Commission. (2004). Children and sport: An overview. Retrieved from

Costa, A., & Garmston, J. (n.d.). Maturing outcomes. New Horizons for Learning. Retrieved from

Kun, P. (2003). Children need greater amounts of physical activity, active connections. ACHPER matters. ACHPER (SA): Adelaide, S. Aust.

Martin, M., Dollman, J., Robertson, I., & Norton, K. (2002). The physical activity relationships of parents and children. ACHPER matters. ACHPER (SA): Adelaide, S. Aust.

Pill, S. A., & Dodd, G. (2011, April). Physical education for new times: Moving, learning and achieving. Education Views, April. Retrieved from

Rehor, P. (2004). Does the present teacher preparation curriculum in health and physical education meet the present needs of Australian youth: A letter to our profession. Active and Healthy Magazine and ACHPER matters. ACHPER (SA): Adelaide, S. Aust.

This blog first appeared as a longer article in Professional Educator,5(3),  August 2006, pp. 36–41. A copy can be obtained from Pill's website.

Share |

Blog Archive

Blog Tags