Benefits of active play are more than just physical

As an elementary school teacher, I always look forward to teaching after a physical education period. Why? Because after playing, moving, and being physically active, students are better able to focus. My students show up happy and ready to learn, which means I spend less time on classroom management and more time teaching.  

It’s clear to me that the benefits of daily physical activity are far more than just physical. Here are three ways that I see physical education, extracurricular activities, and active play outside have a positive impact on my students.

Kids learn how to include others

Active play creates new opportunities for children to connect with kids outside of their usual group of friends. When children engage in physical education classes or join a community activity or sports teams, they must leave their their comfort zone and interact with children who have different abilities, interests, and personality types. 

By participating in physical activities, many children must share opportunities to shine—which benefits both the child in the spotlight, as well as the children around them. When students see how we as teachers or caretakers include everyone in active play, it models tolerance and acceptance. It begins on the ice, court, or field, but affects how students treat each other in other settings too. 

Rather than excluding students who may not be able to run fast, jump high, or throw far, providing adaptations to meet those students at their individual levels models how everyone can be included.

This inclusion of every child, regardless of ability, teaches kids that everyone matters. Children learn to recognize the strengths of their classmates and teammates, and how to work with others that they may not have considered working with before. 


Related read: Why PE class today is better than ever before


Active play builds confidence

Even children with very little experience being physically active can develop confidence as they acquire new skills or they build on their existing skills.

As children begin to add new skills to their tool belt, activities or games rooted in being physically active start to become more enjoyable. Feeling like you’re getting “good” at something makes it seem more fun. 

Whether it’s sprinting faster than you’ve ever sprinted before or getting that hula hoop to spin around one extra time, you can’t help but bring your chin up a little higher when you beat your own personal best. This is especially true when we create an atmosphere for children that does more than just celebrate winning. Striving to attain something, no matter how simple or ordinary it may seem, can both develop and foster a sense of confidence as children learn to master movement skills.

Joining a team or playing with others adds another benefit: the feeling of being a part of something larger then yourself. It’s a tremendous confidence-builder when kids learn to see themselves as valued members of a team or a group.

Learning how to learn

As children make the connection between practice and improvement, they begin to see what they can and cannot do today as just a starting point. Some kids come to this realization quickly, while others may require some guidance or affirmation.

Learning that skills can be improved, and experiencing the feeling of satisfaction when they get better at something, spurs motivation, drive, and purpose to keep trying to run faster, jump higher, or throw more accurately. 

Conclusion

While physical activity is certainly good for your body, the benefits don’t stop there. Active learning, outdoor play, and participation in team sports are important ways educators can support children’s overall sense of belonging, well-being, and mental health. 

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