Research suggests that a school’s facilities and yard areas determine whether the school culture promotes activity. In other words, school facilities contribute to determining how inactive – or active – everyday school life is. An active school culture is key because it sets the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour for pupils: how others behave, what is odd and what is quite acceptable, and how to behave to avoid being singled out for negative treatment.

1. Make secondary school yards pleasant, too

“I guess that us secondary school pupils should also get something… at primary school, you have swings, climbing walls, basketball courts (bushes and lawns), but a secondary school only has monkey bars and an old tattered volleyball net. You CAN’T do anything but stand around during break times. I think it’s EXTREMELY stupid.” (A secondary school pupil’s response in a Finnish Schools on the Move pupil survey)

Outdoor break times are often more active and refreshing than those spent indoors. How many adult office workers would like to spend their work breaks in a bare asphalt yard? Get pupils deeply involved in designing school yards to encourage physical activity. The notion that secondary school pupils are not interested in anything belongs on the scrapheap of history. The student surveys conducted as part of the Finnish Schools on the Move programme have shown that even primary schools reserve swings and climbing frames for younger pupils, while fifth- and sixth-graders are consigned to taking on the role of older pupils who only move from their desks to spend their break times sitting on corridor floors, couches or benches. There are huge differences in break-time activity between different secondary schools: this goes to show that active break times are also possible in secondary schools. If break times are not active, think about what could be done differently.

2. Put break-time equipment to use

Do pupils have access to other equipment besides their own smartphones during break times? It is advisable to identify an easy-to-access storage space for break-time equipment and to appoint pupils to be in charge of allocating time slots for loaned equipment and unlocking storage doors. Some municipalities also have trailers to circulate break-time equipment between schools, for example.

3. Allow movement indoors!

In many cases, school rules prohibit running, jumping and romping around indoors. What if some of the indoor areas were reserved for physical activities instead? The school year coincides with a fair amount of rainy weather, muddy conditions and freezing temperatures, when pupils are not very keen on moving about outdoors. Schools’ indoor facilities tend to have many untapped opportunities. Schools that have registered in the Schools on the Move programme have set up ping-pong tables and dancing games in lobby areas, added climbing walls and floor markings to corridors, cleared out storage space for use as fitness gyms, and opened their gym doors for break-time use.

4. Organise break-time activities in the school gym
The school gym, which is a large space for physical activity, is often underutilised. Could your school gym be used by clubs during long activity-based break times, for gym sessions and groups run by pupils, or as an obstacle or urban combat course or similar for more short-time drives? Supervision of gym break times can be organised in the same way as regular break-time supervision.

5. Break up long sedentary classroom periods
The longest inactive periods of the school day take place during lessons. It is advisable to give attention to breaking up long sedentary periods. More active seat arrangements could also be a good alternative. Could classrooms be equipped with varying workstations: gym balls for seating, standing workstations in the back row?

6. Tap into pupils’ creativity
Whatever you decide to do to develop your school environment in order to make schooldays more active and pleasant, there is no point in adults planning things on behalf of children and young people. There are many ways to kindle and tap into pupils’ creativity. Involving pupils in planning everyday school activities provides powerful experiences, increases participation and engages pupils in activities and taking care of the condition of the facilities and break-time equipment. Ahmo Secondary School in Siilinjärvi successfully changed its school culture when the adults adopted a role where ‘the most important task for an adult is to turn the key in the right direction in the lock’.

“Let creativity bloom; you must put into practice various – even wilder – ideas suggested by pupils. You are building a completely new kind of physical culture here. No-one should be forced to participate in activities – that’s the beginning of the end. Pupils should still have every right to decide on the way in which they spend their own free time (break time).” Mikko Perttinä, teacher at Ahmo Secondary School in Siilinjärvi.

Read more: Schools on the Move

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