Do Open Learning Spaces Increase Children’s Physical Activity?

After the reform of the national core curriculum for basic education in Finland, issued in 2016, most of the new or renovated comprehensive schools in Finland began to incorporate open and flexible classroom designs and principles. Combined with student-centered pedagogies, these open learning spaces may increase children’s physical activity during lessons. Classroom-based physical activity may also have a positive impact on academic-related outcomes.

“Surprisingly, students were physically less active in open learning spaces than in conventional classrooms,” Says Doctoral Researcher Jani Hartikainen from Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä. “In turn, open learning spaces seem to enable more breaks from sedentary time, which may decrease the potential adverse effects of prolonged sitting on the health of children.”

The main result of the study was that, on their own, open learning spaces do not increase children’s’ physical activity during lessons. Future studies should seek to investigate and develop teacher practices to capitalize on the potential of open learning spaces to promote classroom-based physical activity.

“In this study, we did not observe teachers’ instructions about students’ movement, but prior studies have reported difficulties in how teachers adapt to open learning spaces,” Hartikainen says. “Especially large student groups may cause teachers to need to restrict students’ movement during lessons.”

This study was published as part of the CHIPASE study, which is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland. The study was based on cross-sectional data collected in 2015 and 2016 before and after renovations which replaced conventional classrooms with open learning spaces.

StepUp Note

Research continues to document the importance of physical movement in daily living, and the ways in which physical movement can enhance both our health and our learning. In this article, the researchers asked if “open classrooms”-- with more open learning spaces -- would be a way to naturally increase children's physical movement during the day. They were surprised to find that it did not. 

The researchers recommend looking for ways to develop teacher practices that enhance student movement, but also recognizes the need for teachers to be able to maintain control of the classroom.  StepUp programs offer a unique way to bring active movement-based academic learning into a classroom routine, while still allowing for organized classroom behavior during active movement. As a further benefit, individual StepUp exercises can be recalled and used for “movement breaks” during other learning. StepUp's cloud-based programs enrich any PreK - Grade 2 curriculum. Try it free for 30 days!

Note by Nancy W Rowe, M.S., CCC/A

Article reposted from University of Jyväskylä.