Children’s perceptions of factors related to physical activity in schools

Sisko Eskola, Kerttu Tossavainen, Kathelijne Bessems, Marjorita Sormunen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Increasing numbers of children are facing health problems as a result of physical inactivity. Besides the home, school is a natural place to promote children's daily physical activity (PA). Knowledge about factors promoting or preventing children's PA at school, from the perspective of children, is limited.Purpose: The purpose of this study is to learn the factors that eight- and nine-year-old schoolchildren identify from their school environment related to physical activity during their school day. This study was established as a sub-project within a larger, sixteen-country collaboration project by HEPCOM (Promoting Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in Local Communities) and reports on a piloting phase.Sample: Finnish second-graders (age 8-9years, n=22) from one primary school participated in the study.Method: A photo-elicitation methodology was used, including photographs taken by children and interviews in groups based on the photographs. The data were analysed qualitatively by inductive content analysis.Results: The children described factors appearing in the physical environment, such as the playground, and those in the nonmaterial, abstract environment, such as the weather. According to the findings, three categories emerged: (1) personal and economic, related to children's individual preferences and opportunities; (2) sociocultural, related to friends and belonging in a group; and (3) environmental, related to physical and political outdoor and indoor solutions at the school, as well as to policies and rules in the school community. Children emphasised the importance of friends and games, but play areas were also experienced as significant. Based on children's experiences, rules and laws direct all activities at school, which was not always perceived as a positive thing.Conclusions: Although the findings of this small-scale study cannot be generalised, the children's perceptions suggest some crucial areas for future research. Playing and exercising during the school day are important in fulfilling the recommendations for daily PA for children, as well as in promoting their mental and social health. To enable equal possibilities for an active lifestyle for all children at school, positive and encouraging adults, as well as age-appropriate and safe infrastructure, are needed. The children's day should be viewed as a whole, not as single situations, where physical activities are offered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-426
Number of pages17
JournalEducational Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2018


  • Children
  • school
  • physical activity
  • photo-elicitation
  • mental and social health
  • TIME


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