Decreasing sedentary time in school days improves learning results

A four-year long project by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE) has shown that adding physical activity in school days makes the students more attentive. Increased activity results not only in a better fitness level but also in better learning results.

In the early 2010s, experts made a startling discovery: Finnish children had got out of shape, and it showed in their learning results. Only 49% of primary school children moved the recommended one hour per day. The issue was acknowledged in the governmental level, which was the start of Finnish Schools on the Move programme. The concrete goal was to decrease sedentary time and make every primary schooler move at least an hour per day – not only in PE classes, but increasing physical activity integrated during the school day. Children were encouraged to walk or bicycle their way to school and play ballgames and other physical activity during breaks.

More important than break times and school commute is what can be done in classrooms to decrease sedentary time. Sedentary time could be decreased with active working and teaching methods: group work, debates, playing, project work, drama, role play and collaborative learning. Using active working methods diminishes the time students use sitting still. Interaction and working together improve the atmosphere in school, which in turn affects students’ social skills and learning.

The pilot phase ended in 2012, followed by a three-year programme phase. The results speak for themselves: children, who were more active, were more attentive in class and did better in school. Increased physical activity supports learning because it enhances cognitive functions, such as memory.

One of the most important features that KOULU promotes is making learning fun: children learn through play. Playful learning through active pedagogy has several benefits for the learning and overall development of the students: it supports critical thinking and improves problem-solving skills. In addition, it enables individualised learning, shared meanings and deeper understanding. All in all, decreasing the time sitting still in school days and using teaching methods that encourage the students to playful learning and cooperation, is a win-win situation.

Read more about Finnish Schools on the Move programme