While being on your feet all day isn’t ideal, anyone who’s had a demanding desk job tends to come away with the opinion that sitting still all day isn’t great either!

Until recently, most researchers tended to blame the “sitting” part of the job, but the current widespread popularity of standing desks has allowed researchers to compare sitting versus standing more accurately. Preliminary research appears to indicate that it’s the “sedentary” aspect causing issues more than the “sitting” aspect.

Integrating physical activity throughout the day in between shorter sedentary periods is definitely the way to go, so congratulations to all the elementary teachers who’ve been doing this the whole time!

Reasons to Integrate Physical Activity in the Classroom

Research shows that children who regularly engage in physical activity—from sports to unstructured play focused on movement—tend to have better focus, understand difficult concepts more quickly and with more fluency and find better success in school. This is one of the main reasons schools tend to include physical education as part of the curriculum.

More recent research is indicating an even closer relationship between physical movement and brain development. It turns out that students who move while learning tend to see surprising benefits, including improved attention and focus, which often translates to better understanding of the material and improved academic success.

Rather than “not paying attention,” fidgeting could be a sign that a student is having a tough time focusing and is intuitively moving because it helps them focus better.

Physical activity can be especially beneficial for neurodivergent children, especially those with ADHD or on the autism spectrum. It helps them improve focus and recenter when the environment becomes too overwhelming.

How to Integrate Physical Activity at Your Desks

Creative Movement Workstations

If your classroom budget allows, stock your classroom with different movement stations, like under-desk pedals or steppers, wobble cushions for seats and assorted fidget toys. If you don’t have the budget to update your entire classroom—trust us, we get it—you can try adding a few items as you’re able and establishing a system for your students to take turns.

Collaborative Assignments

Put an assignment on the board (this works best with math problems or other short answers) and have students complete the first problem at their desks. When everyone’s finished with the first problem, have them all stand up and move over by one desk, leaving their paper behind. At their new desk, each person checks the answer of the previous problem and then completes the next problem. Repeat until everyone has done each problem.

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Math Moving

Put a math problem up on the board, then have students move to represent the problem before giving the answer. (Example: You write 1 + 5 – 2 on the board, and students can hop in place or wiggle or spin around to represent each number, then raise their hand if they know the answer.)

Clapping Drills

Have your students stand up and clap their hands at a metronome pace while they name as many items on a list as they can. Do this as a classroom with things like prime numbers, the digits of Pi, times tables or anything else that’s in a defined ordered list. Individually, you can go around the room having students take turns naming things like nouns, verbs, objects in space or anything else in a non-ordered list.

Jumping Jacks

If your class is getting too rowdy, have them do jumping jacks while standing at their desks. It’s certainly not the most elegant solution, but it does get students moving, and they’ll still get all those good benefits from moving around that we talked about above!

Integrate Physical Activity Around the Classroom

Morning Motions

Take some time every morning to start the day off with some physical activity. Try doing some simple standing yoga moves or get a little more intense with a few minutes of dedicated aerobic movement. Either way, increased heart rates will get lots of fresh, oxygen-rich blood into the brain to prepare for a busy day of learning!

More Motion

If you find out Morning Motions are really your jam, add more opportunities to move throughout the day! Take five minutes after lunch to do some gentle stretches or take a short walk to transition from one activity to another. You can also take a few minutes between lessons for a mini-motion break! Any opportunity you have to get students moving is one you should at least consider implementing.

tip The perfect way to add a little extra physical activity is with fitness dice, a random fitness activity app or website or any other way to quickly designate an activity for classroom participation (think activities like “5 pushups,” “jump 10 times” or “climb in place”).

Beach Ball Spelling

Have everyone stand in a circle around the room. Get out a beach ball, call out a spelling word and toss the ball to one of your students. After they catch the ball, they say the first letter of the word and throw the ball to someone else. Once they’ve spelled the word, they can either pass the ball back to you or choose a new spelling word to start the next round.

What if someone says the wrong letter? Generally, we recommend saying something like “Close! Try again!” or giving them the option to pass the ball on if they don’t know. Keep the focus on having fun and redirect whenever it might stop being fun.

Practice Measuring

Challenge your students—alone or in groups—to practice their measuring skills with rulers and yardsticks by going around the room and measuring things. You can give them a list of objects to measure (door, windows, desks, bookshelves, etc.) or you can give them measurements to find (one yard, four inches, biggest thing in the classroom, smallest thing in the classroom). It’s like a scavenger hunt but with math, so it’s extra fun!


Have your students line up in groups and take turns solving problems on the board as a relay. The first student solves the first problem and goes to the back of their line; the next student solves the next problem; repeat until the first student is at the front again.

Play competitively by seeing which group finishes the relay first or non-competitively by playing until everyone is finished and cheering everyone on. This is a good way to practice times tables, lists, fact families or vocabulary words.

Letter Plates

Write the letters of the alphabet on paper plates. You’ll want multiple sets of these so that you’ll be able to put students into groups and each group will get a set. Have each group of students put the plates in alphabetical order and then hop from plate to plate while saying the ABCs.

Spelling Plates

Similar to above but make extra vowels and other letters so students will be able to spell their spelling words on the floor.

tip If you want these to last, consider laminating the plates, having students hop next to the plates instead of on top of them or constructing the letters from more durable material.

Play Video Games

Hear us out: Wii Sports and fitness games are fun, easy to learn, quick to play and a really cool option to have available when you’re breaking the classroom out into different activity stations.

If you already have an old Wii and the games that came with it packed up somewhere and collecting dust, you can be the cool teacher whose students get to play video games in class. (But seriously, if you do this, you’ll be the cool teacher. We just want to make sure you’re prepared for that reality.)

Counting with Blocks

Pair or group students to work on the floor with blocks or LEGO bricks to work on counting or making patterns. Give students a math problem and have them copy the problem and present the solution using blocks.

tip This can also work with beads, marbles, stones, markers, etc. If you can count it, you can use it for math; and if it’s different colors, you can use it to make patterns.

Classroom Movement Policy

If you want to get really serious about integrating physical activity into your classroom—and having a lot of fun doing it!—consider turning your classroom into a movement required zone. This means whenever a student can add more movement to their day, they do it. Here are some ideas to start with.

  • When students go to the drinking fountain, they do high-knee steps to get there.
  • When students answer a question, they stand up.
  • When students line up for lunch, they follow the arm movements of the person in front of them in line. (We call this dance “The Lunch Snake” and it is just glorious to behold.)

Integrate Physical Activity by Taking the Classroom Outside

Playground Math Practice

There are so many ways to practice math with your body; all you have to do is get creative! Kindergarten and early grades can do activities like run ten steps, jump ten times, skip for ten seconds, etc. Older grades can do activities like running or jumping while yelling out times tables or counting by sixes or sevens, etc.

If you want to spend some time working with more complex math problems, you can have students group themselves into groups of any number, like 3, 7 or 10. This is a good introduction to long division with remainders since many classrooms won’t have the proper number of students to evenly divide for all numbers.

Playground Science Practice

Take your science lesson outside and have students demonstrate scientific concepts through movement. Think of it like an interpretive dance to express the molecular level: young learners can be neutrons and electrons expressing chemical reactions, or they can pantomime water freezing, thawing and evaporating into steam! The possibilities here truly are endless.

kids-running-outside“Going on a Bear Hunt”

If you’re looking for a blast from the past, try leading your class on a bear hunt! “Going on a Bear Hunt”—the popular, zero-cost, minimal preparation party game for young children—involves an adult telling the titular story and pantomiming the action while the child audience follows along.

No worries about the bear being “hunted” though: the canonical ending of “Going on a Bear Hunt” is the hunter finally finding the bear and then getting scared and running away!

tip Every reboot gets modernized for the times, so don’t think it has to be a bear hunt! You can lead your students out into the ocean, have them swing through jungle vines, travel to outer space or anything else you can act out.

Take a Nature Walk

Walking in nature and breathing fresh air is a great way to practice mindfulness and integrate physical activity into your day at the same time! Most playgrounds have a variety of plants and animals (including insects!) to observe, depending on the season. Have your students grab a notebook and pencil and take notes or make sketches along the way. Remind them to include things like the noises they hear and what they think is making the noises.

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We offer FREE classbook publishing kits! Classbooks are meaningful keepsakes for your classroom that incorporate your students’ writing and illustrations and turn them into published authors. When you’re finished, you’ll receive a free copy, and parents can order copies too! We’ll help you through the entire process, from planning to publication.

You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. Now that you’ve got some fun ideas to integrate physical activity in your classroom, you can be the teacher that’s all about learning facts and jumping jacks!