Creating Opportunities to Be Active With All Kids in Mind

By Lauren Lieberman posted 09-05-2017 14:47


This blog post is co-written by Lauren Lieberman and Ali Brian.

Picture this scenario: A few weeks before school begins, Mr. Smith, an elementary school physical educator, finds out that a student who is in a wheelchair is moving to his school. There is also a set of siblings in the elementary school and at the area middle school who are visually impaired.  Additionally, the district includes students with autism spectrum disorder. There are also a few high schoolers in the International Baccalaureate Program who have limited experience and exposure to sports and other physical activities.

Meet Mrs. Woods, a high school physical education teacher. In addition to teaching PE, she’s a certified Physical Activity Leader (PAL) for Mr. Smith’s school district. As a PAL, her goal is to ensure that all students receive 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day. She works with four other teachers to develop an approach for how each school’s physical activities would be offered, what each activity would be, and when they would be offered. Their district-wide plan is orchestrated through the framework of a comprehensive school physical activity program (CSPAP).

A CSPAP is an approach by which school districts and schools use all opportunities for students to:

  • Be physically active
  • Meet the nationally-recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day
  • Develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to be physically active for a lifetime. 

The Challenge
Like many school districts, Mrs. Woods’ student population varies. Mrs. Woods and her PAL team must come up with a way to provide physical activity opportunities to accommodate the ability of every student.

The Solution: Universal Design for Learning
With the intention of fulfilling a national commitment to put all children on the path to health and physical literacy called 50 Million Strong, universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to create activities that take all possible ranges of abilities into account during the design phase. Rather than creating activities for the “average student” and providing modifications during the physical activity, UDL activities are inclusive and designed for all learners from the start.

This is a better approach than the “old” lesson planning because it prevents putting students with disabilities on display with their own modifications. In addition, this approach maximizes the learning of all students and provides kids with the level of participation they are comfortable with.

The PALs in the district were excited to hear about UDL activities because they all agreed that their programming would ensure success and enjoyment for all students!
Lauren_L_stock.jpgMs. Arndt, one of the middle school teachers on the PAL team, shared an experience about how one student in one of her PE classes always felt isolated because she had to do a different game than her peers.

Example of UDL for Jump Rope Club
For example, for rope jumping students can choose from multiple options such as jumping over the rope, jumping over a rope pulled tight 4” from the ground, jumping over a rope at a diagonal level from the ground to 3’ so students can jump how they felt comfortable. Students can also try two rope swingers for Double Dutch or rope-less jump ropes (JumpSnap; students can jump and swing with handles without any rope). During UDL jump rope, all of the students can jump to music and see how many jumps they can get before the music stops.

Example of UDL for Intramural Volleyball
The team then came up with UDL for volleyball. During UDL volleyball, the students can choose from beach balls, finger light balls, trainer volleyballs, or traditional volleyballs. Students can choose their serving line from one of four lines on the court at varying distances from the net. They could allow the ball to bounce 1-2 times and they could hit is twice if necessary.

The PALs all agreed that UDL volleyball can start with cooperative games where they try to hit the ball as many times as possible over the net as opposed to trying to make the other team miss the ball. Once the PALs implemented UDL volleyball, these choices made for very active involvement and more students being part of each point.

Tips to Get Started

  • Start at the beginning when the lesson is planned.
  • Base the lessons on the assessment of the class to ensure that the variations are within the ability range of the class.
  • Provide variations in rules, equipment, instruction and the environment.
  • Provide modifications for everyone not just children with disabilities.
  • Do not single out specific children for specific modifications; allow the children to choose the variations they prefer.
  • Make sure that all fitness tasks are time based and not trial based. For example: warm-up for a song or two and not for number of laps.
  • Find more ideas in my book, Strategies for inclusion: Physical Education for Everyone.

Learn more about UDL in the September/October issue of SHAPE America’s Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (JOPERD). Connect with me here on Exchange and let’s share ideas to encourage all kids at your school to be active – regardless of their ability or disability!

 Mark your calendar to join me for a webinar on UDL.Then on September 18, join me for a special SHAPE America Twitter chat at 8 pm EDT. Look for more details in ET Cetera and on social media!




10-23-2017 16:26

I am currently a senior at West Chester University and this blog was very enlightening. It's important for EVERYONE to get a chance to participate in physical activity class. There's always a way to incorporate everyone into activities it just calls for some creative thinking.

10-16-2017 16:30

This post was a great read! I am in an Adapted Physical Activity minor right now, alongside a Health and Physical Education major at West Chester University. I am always happy to see posts that incorporate students with disabilities into the class rather than having jobs like "keep score" or "manager." Students with disabilities need physical education just as much as other students need it. This post was very informative and so well written. Thank you for the knowledge and ideas for a future classroom!

09-06-2017 10:04

Lauren:  Thanks for posting!  Please continue in your terrific work as SHAPE America works to provide the best for ALL children and youth!!