How active learning supports a safe transition back into schools

Jon Smedley says physical learning is the only way to get students back on track.

As if teaching primary school students wasn’t difficult enough, we now have the ‘new normal’ transition to contend with. Pupils around Britain are essentially starting again – relearning their social skills, while feeling the pressure to be on-track.

For the sake of the students, teachers and parents, we must adapt our teaching. We believe the only way to do that is through taking an active learning approach.

Physical and mental health challenges

During lockdown, we saw some eye-opening reports on children’s development:

In addition, some students have struggled to learn in the home environment. Niamh Hunter, a Year 4 teacher at Holy Family Catholic School in Addlestone, has seen the changes first-hand.

“The kids are looking forward to being back at school, but everybody’s circumstances are different. Some children haven’t been able to learn as well as others.”

With the new term afoot, many schools are turning to active learning to teach essential English and Mathematics skills.

How active learning helps

The Teach Active learning approach involves using games and physical competitive activities to teach literacy and numeracy.

For example, students can take part in a ‘Fraction Race’, whereby they answer questions about numerical fractions. Every correct answer allows them to jump one step closer to winning a prize. Likewise, ‘Danger Island’ has proved to be a hit for addition and subtraction. Children use their arithmetic skills to ‘escape’ across the playground.

While the Holy Family School has been following this curriculum for a while, it’s had a particularly positive effect in post-COVID education.

“The children have reacted very positively to the sessions. They know their school is a safe zone, and they are looking forward to getting back into their routine. They’re just so happy to be interacting with one another,” says Niamh.

Research tells us that increased physical activity improves children’s attention to tasks, and their motivation to learn. Likewise, it reinforces social interaction, leading to better mental health and improved development.

Active learning and social distancing

With reports of new outbreaks in schools, we need to do everything we can to prevent a second lockdown. Physical learning allows activities to be adapted for distancing measures.

Niamh says: “There’s a huge focus on social distancing, and we’ve made the changes. For example, in one Mathematics session, we divided the children into three teams, all appropriately spaced apart with marbles. They would run up and pick a question card, then run back, put the card in a hoop, and not touch it again. There’s no rummaging through equipment.”

Virtual value

Active learning is also just as rewarding in the home. Many parents turned to this method throughout lockdown in a bid to break the monotony of traditional methods.

Niamh says: “A lot of parents were home schooling with White Rose lessons. Watching videos every day can be monotonous for some, so it was great for parents to try the games at home. We had tons of positive feedback about the lessons while schools were closed.”

Temporary normal; long-term benefits

It’s important to remember that active learning isn’t a temporary measure. Whether it’s outdoors in a playground space, or in a socially distanced classroom, the benefits will inspire new pupils for years to come.

A renewed focus on physical education helps to:

More importantly, we’ll see a fresh outlook for today’s young children, who have suffered some of the biggest mental health issues for generations. With social media, not to mention the pressures of lockdown, today’s primary school children are being exposed to an unhealthy amount of stress.

Play is the “learning language” of children and an essential part of their development. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the pandemic, it’s that traditional, boxed-in methods do not work. The proof is in the pudding, as the team at Holy Family tell us.

“Not a single student has told me they don’t want to join in, even the less outgoing children. With this new approach, every child is excited to learn.”

Jon Smedley is a former teacher and founder of Teach Active. Any teacher can access up to 50 active lesson plans in English and Maths for free for a trial period at, many of which are social distance friendly.

Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
3rd January 2021

Project Details

Skills: Blogging, Journalism

Date: 28th February 2022

Project Info

This article was written for an educational magazine on behalf of The Influence Crowd. It discusses active learning as we adjust post-COVID.