Physical Activity for Students with Special Needs

Winter, 2015

Source: HaYidion – Winter 2015


Students with special needs often enter the classroom and become overloaded with sensory input. These distractions inherent in every classroom generate a multitude of sensory stimuli for students to absorb and process. Teachers face many challenges in the classroom, especially in those classrooms where students require more individualized attention. The challenge for educators is to look for alternatives to traditional teaching methods and ways of engaging their students. To keep students with special needs more engaged and focused, physical activity can be the key. I am inviting and challenging educators to step outside of their comfort zones by creating an environment that engages the students with movement. Teachers can benefit from incorporating at least 30 minutes a day of some form of physical activity. Sports specific activities, exercise and fitness related routines, and other forms of movement can improve the health of your students, increase cognitive performance, encourage socialization, and can sometimes decrease self-stimulatory behaviors often referred to as “stimming.” These repetitive body movements or movement of objects are very common in individuals with special needs and help them to regulate their bodies. Exercise and movement can have a calming effect on these students.


Some teachers are unsure about how to incorporate physical fitness or athletic programs into their classrooms. Frustration, fears and/or anxiety are often related to time constraints, required curriculum, lack of knowledge and challenging students. Being open to taking small steps towards a more physically active classroom can reduce and possibly eliminate these barriers. The following are several tips for teachers to utilize in their classrooms.

  • Time-Specific Activities
  • Outline of Physical Activity with a Set Number
  • Encourage Group Activities
  • Make It Fun and Move Often

All of these tips can and should be utilized in every classroom or school program. Students are often reluctant to try something new or learn a new task. Starting your students on an easy and simple routine can help them understand the importance of physical activity for both the body and mind. Physical activity is not a magic wand to solve all problems, and some students may not connect with or enjoy these activities. However, it is important to incorporate different modalities of teaching. Do not underestimate the power of movement and its ability to create a mind-body connection that may help to improve the health of your students, decrease typical “stimming” behaviors seen in students with disabilities, increase cognitive performance, and encourage socialization. Have fun and get moving!

Updated: Jan. 06, 2016