3.2. Focus Group Results
We identified six key themes: (1) children’s motivations for participating in additional PA, (2) children’s ideas and perspectives on incorporating additional PA in school, (3) giving children a voice in additional PA participation, (4) the role of the teacher in providing additional PA, (5) taking into account the differences between children in relation to PA participation, and (6) external barriers and facilitators of PA according to children. Figure 1
shows an overview of the themes and subthemes.
3.2.1. Children’s Motivations for Participating in Additional PA
Generally, children displayed a positive attitude towards additional PA during the school day, stating that it would be “fun” or even “super fun” to be more physically active in school. They also mentioned being dissatisfied with the current amount of PA provided, for example, “A little more [PE] would be nice” (girl#7, Focus group (FG) 4). A few children expressed mixed feelings, stating that, “I think we’re doing enough physical activity in school already” (girl#2, FG2), or that it would depend on the type of extra PA provided. One boy explained that he did not like PA per se, but that he preferred PA over working on school tasks.
The children mentioned three important reasons for additional PA in school. First, in all focus groups, children discussed the importance of PA for achieving physical health benefits. Most children acknowledged that PA is good “for your body, to stay healthy” (boy#1, FG5), in particular with regard to physical fitness, maintaining a healthy body weight and strengthening the muscles. Second, children discussed the emotional benefits of PA. In the majority of focus groups, children reported that being active is fun and can make you feel better: “I feel happier and have more energy” (girl#3, FG9). Likewise, they mentioned that PA can be used as a stress reliever after a test.
Lastly, in all but three focus groups, children believed that PA could possibly lead to cognitive benefits, i.e., improving their ability to focus and/or learn in school: “You can concentrate better, so it might also help to improve your grades” (girl#5, FG6). Relatedly, children expressed the need to regularly alternate time spent on academic learning with time being physically active. Children explained that they get distracted, bored, or restless with pent-up energy after long periods of uninterrupted sitting and working on school tasks: “Then, for example, you have arithmetic, languages, and spelling right after each other, and then you get a little impatient and you really want to move” (boy#2, FG5). They believed that PA could serve as a break and recharge opportunity: “You get re-energized” (girl#5, FG6), which helps them to stay motivated and focused during lessons. However, one girl also stated that being active works in a counterproductive manner and distracts her from work.
3.2.2. Children’s Ideas and Perspectives on Incorporating Additional PA in School
Children had many ideas on how to incorporate additional PA in school, concerning: (1) different PA opportunities, (2) frequency and duration, (3) variation, and (4) location of PA.
Different opportunities for additional PA:
Children saw opportunities to increase PA time in different parts of the curriculum: during classroom time, recess, physical education (PE), and occasional (outdoor) school activities. In addition, children proposed other ideas, such as the establishment of a child PA committee and possibilities to cut back on academic lesson time in favor of PA. In Table 3
, we present all ideas generated by the children, including descriptions and examples.
Frequency and duration of PA: Children did not agree on how long and how often they would like to engage in additional PA opportunities. Concerning the implementation of regular PA breaks, most children agreed on keeping them short, i.e., up to ten minutes. Additionally, in five focus groups children underlined that not too much time should be spent on additional PA, since there has to be enough time left to do school work: “Yeah because the work still needs to get done” (girl#2, FG2).
: The majority of children emphasized that providing variation is an effective way to make (additional) PA fun, while it also keeps them motivated to participate in PA throughout the school year. Children suggested implementing variation in different ways. First of all, repeating the same activities too often was deemed boring and could negatively impact participation: “I don’t like tennis or badminton very much and if we have to do that five weeks in a row, I won’t really put much effort in taking part
” (girl#1, FG8). Children discussed the idea of alternating different activities (e.g., tennis one day, soccer the other), and activity types (e.g., collaboration games, ball games, and performing gymnastics exercises). In addition, some children indicated that they would enjoy trying out new activities regularly, for example alternating PE classes with workshops or clinics where they are taught a new sport. Second, children highlighted the importance of regularly replacing and/or expanding the supply of playing equipment in PE and at recess, both because of wear and tear and because “after a while, it feels like old news
” (boy#4, FG7). Providing variation by purchasing new playing materials and improving the playground facilities (see Table 3
) was an important factor for children to facilitate activity during recess throughout the year.
Location: In addition to opportunities for PA in the school building, a reoccurring theme was that children enjoy having activities outside. In all focus groups children came up with one or more suggestions for additional PA outside of the school building, ranging from extending existing “outdoor” time (additional recess and field trips) to moving regular indoor activities outdoors (executing PA breaks in the playground, playing a game in the nearby park).
3.2.3. Giving Children a Voice in Additional PA Participation
Children indicated that they valued having a voice in their PA participation as they emphasized that they would like to have the opportunity to choose the kind of PA that they themselves prefer. For example, one boy said, “I like it when we get to choose activities ourselves” (boy#5, FG5). According to the children, this could either be achieved by presenting them a range of options to choose from or by letting them think up their own games or activity program, such as preparing a PE class or, in the case of girls, preparing an academic lesson involving PA. Also, girls specifically mentioned that doing self-invented activities can prevent PA from becoming boring in the long run. However, children also expressed concerns about the school being receptive to their ideas, “Yeah, but the school always has the last word anyway, no matter what we think” (boy#1, FG1).
Children also discussed some drawbacks of freedom of choice as some found it difficult to come up with activities themselves. For example, one boy did not prefer so-called “free” PE lessons in which children get to choose their own activities: “I don’t like that because then I won’t know what to do” (boy#5, FG7). Moreover, it might actually hamper variation: “If you’re allowed to choose every time, then I think people will choose the same thing over and over” (boy#1, FG7). In this respect, two girls suggested providing a box of cards with different games and activities to choose from, which could, for example, be used during recess. Furthermore, some children felt that teachers and supervisors could stimulate them being active by helping them think up fun activities and games.
3.2.4. The Role of the Teacher in Providing Additional PA
Although some children thought that they would not need much guidance from teachers in executing their ideas for additional PA, others deemed supervision necessary to ensure that PA is safe and enjoyable, in particular to prevent rough play and arguments, and to make sure everyone knows and abides by the rules. According to the children, teachers and supervisors should actively and enthusiastically encourage them to engage in PA: #8: “Yeah, the teacher should encourage you a little bit, so you won’t just sit on the sidelines and do nothing”. #7: “Yeah, like the teacher should say ‘come on, you can do it’” (girl#8 and #7, FG4). In some cases, children thought it could be motivating when the teacher joins the activities; however, this depended strongly on whether the teacher is considered “fun.” Children were clear that teachers who are considered grumpy or too strict should not join.
It appeared that the priority given to PA depends strongly on the teacher. Many children mentioned that they have regular PA breaks or extra recess time with certain teachers, but not with others: “With teacher X, we get to move around every once in a while, but never with teacher Y.” (girl#6, FG10), or “Teacher X is more into gardening and being physically active, while teacher Y focuses more on teaching the subjects” (boy#3, FG5). One boy reported that in his class, children who are behind on schoolwork occasionally have to finish their work at the cost of recess time. In other cases, earlier PA routines implemented by teachers seem to have been forgotten along the way: #6: “Yes and then we made up these little dances”. #4: “Yeah we used to do that every other lesson”. #6: “Right, but now the teacher kind of…also because we’ve had the holidays…she kind of forgot about it” (girls #6 and #4, FG10).
3.2.5. Taking into Account the Differences between Children in Relation to PA Participation
Perceived differences in preferences between children: Children perceived several differences between children that may influence participation in school-based PA. First, several children mentioned gender differences. For example, one boy observed that girls always tend to choose dancing activities (such as Just Dance TM), which, according to him, demotivates boys to be physically active: “Then we’re not enjoying it, and instead we’ll sit down and not move at all” (boy#2, FG5). Another boy believed that girls generally prefer talking over being physically active during recess. Both boys and girls mentioned that boys tend to play more roughly, which may be off-putting for girls who want to join.
Second, children mentioned age differences. For example, boys in one focus group perceived the school sports day as “boring” and “not challenging” because they had to do the same activities as the younger children. In addition, several children indicated that children in the lower grades get allotted more recess/playing time, and that the playground equipment is not sufficiently tailored to older children: “Nowadays, all the sports equipment is made for small children” (girl#1, FG9).
Third, children perceived that differences in skill levels also influence PA participation, as occurs to this girl when talking about making PE more challenging, “Yeah, [PE] could be more challenging, but it shouldn’t be made too difficult because some children might not be able to keep up” (girl#5, FG6).
Lastly, some children observed differences between active and non-active children, “Some people just prefer sitting on their chair” (boy#3, FG1).
Overcoming the differences between children in relation to PA participation: Children discussed that due to above-mentioned differences, it may be difficult to satisfy everyone when it comes to additional PA in school. Although some children did not necessarily experience this as a problem—“Yeah but there will always be something that somebody doesn’t like” (girl#5, FG2)—many others emphasized the importance of “keeping it fun for everybody” (girl#3, FG2). In most focus groups, children discussed efforts that should be made to make sure that all children (want to) participate. Without necessarily agreeing on one best option, they proposed several potential strategies to take into account children’s different needs and preferences.
First of all, according to most children, participation can be encouraged by either allowing children to choose
their own activities, or to choose from a range of options which increases the chance of everyone finding something that fits their interest. In this respect, some children suggested organizing separate activities and/or providing different equipment for girls and boys and for children with diverse skill levels (see also “Providing different difficulty levels in PE” in Table 3
). To ensure a fair selection process, children proposed to let everyone take turns in choosing PA, rotate activities often, and/or to decide on activities by voting or drawing lots.
Second, a couple of children suggested making participation mandatory for all children, regardless of them actually liking the activities. Some even proposed a penalty for non-participation such as staying after school. However, many others preferred to always have the possibility to opt-out because they did not feel that participating is fun if you do not like the activities, which might lead to half-hearted participation at best, and at worst to an unsafe PA environment: “I would only let children do it who enjoy [participating in PA] because if some of them don’t enjoy it they might ruin it for the others” (girl#2, FG8).
A third line of thinking in some focus groups with girls concerned employing positive reinforcement. Girls suggested that children or teachers could try to encourage hesitant children to join in games during recess or offer them a reward as an incentive to participate: “Maybe they can be allowed to do something else afterwards, like drawing” (girl#6, FG4). In one focus group, boys indicated that it would be important that teachers provide a rationale for (additional) PA: #4: “Well, teachers should stimulate [PA] more and also explain the purpose of it […] because some children ask themselves, why are we doing this?”. #1: “Yeah, why should you be active?” (boys#4 and #1, FG3). Finally, a few girls pointed at the benefits of habituation: “No you should just let him participate and in the end he might learn to like it because he’s done it so often” (girl#5, FG6). Therefore, they considered it important that children are willing try out new activities that are chosen by others.
3.2.6. External Barriers and Facilitators of PA According to Children
Lastly, children mentioned several external barriers and facilitators that may influence the implementation of (additional) PA in school.
Weather: The weather was mentioned as an important determinant of (additional) PA time. One boy indicated that they are often kept inside during recess when it rains: “Usually when it rains we don’t go outside but stay in and watch a video or film or something” (boy#5, FG7). Another girl remarked that the school sports day had recently been cancelled twice due to bad weather. As a solution, two boys proposed to catch up lost recess time later, and to buy adequate outdoor boots for everyone. Conversely, children mentioned that when the weather is good, they sometimes get extra PA time outdoors, such as playing games in the nearby park.
Current school policies: Children also gave examples of school policies that impede being active in school. For instance, they mentioned that some areas that offer opportunities to be physically active, such as the bushes, the lawn, and access to equipment in the shed, are restricted to them. In one focus group (FG7) children mentioned that they do not have recess on Wednesday since they already have PE that day.
Lack of space and resources: Children recognized and discussed that carrying out some of their ideas for extra PA would require considerable planning and organization because of limited space and resources in the school. Therefore, they suggested to keep group sizes manageable, implement activity timetables (e.g., a rotation system to use the Wii gaming console), and build multi-functional exercise facilities, such as a soccer field that serves as an ice-skating rink in winter.
Costs: The children were also very conscious of the monetary costs connected to their PA ideas, and therefore designated some ideas as not feasible in advance, e.g., weekly school outings that cost money or buying gaming consoles for everyone. As a solution to financial barriers, children suggested organizing a charity run or fundraising activity to raise money, for example, to buy new playground equipment or materials.