Schools in Motion: Extending thinking and enhancing well-being through movement


School by school, step by step, activity by activity, the Schools in Motion programme is working to further integrate physical activities throughout the school day.

Shocked into action, the Schools in Motion (Liikuma Kutsuv Kool) programme was launched in 2016 by the University of Tartu’s Move Lab (Liikumislabor) after its own research showed that 76% of Estonian seven-to-thirteen-year-olds were not achieving the recommended minimum 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (i.e. equivalent in intensity to brisk walking or bicycling) per school day.10 

International evidence-base

  • enhance learning and educational achievement11 
  • enhance selective attention, memory, and on-task behaviour11 
  • create a positive and supportive environment for learning life skills11 
  • lead to improved physical health12, 13 
  • contribute to the building of self-esteem14 
  • protect young people from mental illness14, 15, 16 
  • reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children17 
  • have a positive effect on students’ social development14 
  • increase intrinsic motivation to learn, as well as perceived competence and effort18 

Estonian policy context

The Schools in Motion programme aligns with the national Estonia 2035 strategy which names smart and active people who care for their health as one of its top five goals. It also aligns with the Education 2035 strategy which has a primary goal to promote well-being (i.e. building learner self-efficacy, self-esteem, life skills, social competences and mental and physical health). Consequently, the Schools in Motion programme is well placed to enjoy government support.19

Programme description

The programme supports schools in integrating physical activities into every school day, including active travel to and from school, as well as movement during and in between lessons, both in and out of doors. It helps the movement gain a greater foothold in school culture.

Figure 3. Schools in Motion programme framework

The Schools in Motion programme seeks to ensure that students:

  • are able to move more and sit less during lessons and recess
  • take greater initiative in organising their own recess activities
  • gain greater joy from learning
  • build and reinforce positive relationships through play and physical activities,

and that in school:

  • the buildings and surroundings encourage more movement
  • timetables allow time for physical activity and a richer variety of activities
  • understanding of movement goes beyond just sport (see Figure 3).

The programme also supports the well-being of teachers, for example, through walk-and-talk meetings, joint workouts, and the recognition of teachers for their contribution to building a schools-in-motion culture.

Schools are invited to develop their vision of enhancing student and staff well-being by becoming more physically active both individually and collectively. As a first step, participating schools are asked to undertake a self-evaluation that focuses on physical movement and this in relation to the entire school community. The self-evaluation references points in relation to movement are school cooperation and networking, school indoor and outdoor spaces, recess, academic lessons, physical education, as well as travel to and from school.

As a consequence, many schools have changed timetables and increased the length of recesses. Additionally, dancing, playing games, going outdoors, and exercising during recess are an official part of school timetables. Students are more engaged in planning and leading activities for fellow students and themselves. Hundreds of ideas for integrating physical activities throughout the school day have been uploaded onto the programme website.

The programme supports schools in thinking through how reconceptualised spaces, both indoors and outdoors, can foster increased physical activities in diverse settings. It provides seminars and workshops for school teams, teachers, school governors and students.

Networking activities include school visits and exchange-of-experience seminars. The programme website offers schools a general framework for integrating physical movement into school life, practical ideas including the schools’ own best practices, and research evidence.

Programme results

In 2016, there were 10 schools participating in the programme. In 2021, there are 148 participating schools (28% of all general education schools) with more than 63 000 students.

Ongoing action research is used to monitor and reflect on programme implementation and enhancement as required.20 Based on self-evaluations, schools report that student access to at least 20 minutes of active recess has increased from 37% in 2018 to 67% in 2020. In a similar positive vein, in 2018 only 4% of participating schools agreed that students themselves actively organise activities during recess, whilst in 2020 that figure stood at 37%. In 2016, no pilot schools had outdoor recesses. By 2018, 54% of all participating schools offered outdoor recess, whilst in 2020, outdoor recesses were held in 74% of those schools.

Finally, in 2019, the Schools in Motion received the #BeActive Education Award 2019 from the European Commission.

Further information

The next chapter reviews entrepreneurship education and how this has taken on the broader aim of helping students develop a sense of initiative and an entrepreneurial mindset. These are central to encouraging student agency.

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