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Special Education in PE Class: Lesson Planning for Inclusion

Child with disabilities learns in PE class

Physical education is a crucial part of a child’s growth and well-being. That goes for every kid — including those with special needs — yet one physical education teacher can only do so much without the proper tools and resources.

When it comes to lesson planning for inclusion in PE class, the teachers we know have a number of adaptable games that ensure most every student gets to take part. While the classroom activities in this list will not provide exhaustive solutions for every physical and cognitive condition, we hope these resources provide a guiding light for greater inclusiveness.

Defining PE Inclusion for Students with Disabilities

Before we dive into inclusive physical education activities, it’s important to note how our country’s education system is faring in the mission. Let’s take a look at how we define inclusiveness and examine performance data.

Every child deserves an education that benefits them for the duration of their life. This truth remains a sacred contract between educators and the young people they seek to help. The promise doesn’t change based on a student’s socioeconomic status, learning differences, or physical handicaps.

The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability defines inclusion as such: “All children, regardless of ability or disability, have the right to be respected and appreciated as valuable members of the school community, fully participate in all school activities, and interact with peers of all ability levels with opportunities to develop friendships.”

No one in their right mind would disagree with that statement, but for students with physical disabilities, inclusive physical education means evolving lesson plans and acquiring appropriate equipment with each new cohort of students. In other words, blanket proclamations provide a mission statement, but not necessarily a plan of action.

Unfortunately, public K–12 schools have a lot of catching up to do. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlight the need for inclusive lesson planning in PE classes.

  • 76% of students with physical, cognitive, or medical conditions are not receiving the recommended hour of physical education per day.
  • 55% of schools provide only traditional physical education.
  • Only 26% of schools are able to provide both adapted and traditional physical education.

While these numbers reflect a dire situation, the stats don’t consider how a lack of funding and resources often makes inclusion a difficult task. We hope these games help PE teachers create a more inclusive gymnasium that adapts for students of all abilities and differences.

Games for PE Inclusion

There is so much to consider when lesson-planning for an inclusive PE class. Every student’s situation is completely unique, so games for PE inclusion will be different from class to class. It never hurts to reach out to a parent, special education teacher, or occupational therapist to help you brainstorm how to modify activities.

On that note, students’ level of ability will change with each passing year. Some things to consider are:

  • The use of a wheelchair, cane, or walker
  • Visual and hearing impairments
  • Students who are nonverbal
  • Children with sensory needs
  • Kids with extreme social anxiety

To that end, TES Therapy suggests modification strategies such as:

  • Changing the distance or time requirements of physical education activities
  • Larger, softer, and lighter weight sports balls and bats for students who have limited motor skills
  • Lowered tennis and volleyball nets for students who have limited motor skills
  • Allowing for walking instead of running

With these complicated truths in mind, let’s take a look at some games for PE inclusion you might use in your class. While they cannot offer exhaustive solutions, we hope teachers can use these frameworks as adaptable lessons.

Free-form dancing: With free-form dancing’s emphasis on non-choreographed movement, almost every kid will be able to participate. Depending on their abilities, children can move their legs, arms, or even just their heads. There need not be an emphasis on the speed or vigorousness of movements so that all students can move according to their abilities.

Breathing exercises: While breathing itself doesn’t involve much exercise, mindfulness techniques enable students to listen to their bodies, which is very much a part of physical education. Breathing exercises can involve counting breaths as a group, or having students take deep breaths as they relax major muscle groups.

Chair aerobics: These activities allow for more students’ involvement. Depending on students’ abilities and limitations, chair aerobics might include alligator claps, swim arms, shoulder shrugs, leg lifts, flutter kicks, and marching in place.

Adjustable limbo: The rope height must be adjustable for kids who can’t bend down. If there are students who need accommodations, PE teachers can create a more inclusive environment by toning down any competitive or score-keeping elements.

Color matching: Give each student or group hoops of various colors. Place gym equipment that matches those colors at the opposite end of the gym. Ask students to retrieve an item that matches the color of their hoop. Kids who have physical limitations will be able to participate by identifying the location of the appropriate color.

Freeze: Put on music and ask your students to move or dance. When the music stops, they have to stop what they’re doing and stay in as perfect a tableau as possible.

PD to Help PE Teachers Serve Their Students

Looking for more strategies to promote a healthy lifestyle for every kid in your classroom? Check out the following courses from Advancement Courses. We offer K–12 educators more than 280 online, self-paced professional development courses covering both foundational topics and emerging trends. All courses are offered for both graduate and continuing education credit for your salary advancement or recertification needs.

  • Reframing Disability in the PE Classroom: Explore the anatomical, behavioral, and cognitive characteristics of common disabilities so that you can more effectively communicate, instruct, and modify lessons to reach students of all abilities in the PE classroom.
  • Physical Education for Students With Disabilities: Harness the power of Universal Design for Learning to create a classroom environment that guides and challenges every student to explore the furthest reaches of their physical capabilities without fear of failure or ridicule.
  • Increasing Accessibility in PE Curriculum With Universal Design for Learning: Design a fully immersive, accessible PE curriculum by asking yourself the right questions while lesson planning and modifying lessons to provide multiple means of engagement, representation, action, and expression.
  • Integrating Health and Wellness into the Elementary Classroom: Give your students the tools to make a lifetime of healthy choices. No matter what subject area you teach, this course will give you physical and mental exercises you can integrate into your class’s daily routine, and strategies to promote health and wellness throughout your school community.
  • Sports and Games: Using Instructional Models in PE: The days of uninspired and unorganized play are over! This course includes strategies for identifying competency-based, goal-oriented games and authentic activities appropriate for K–12 physical education. You’ll also develop tools for assessing students as they cultivate a lifelong interest in fitness.
  • Why Good Coaches Quit: Although coaching can be meaningful, exciting, and fulfilling work, it can also be a tough job with significant pressures and stressors. In this course, you will learn how to juggle multiple roles, manage stress, build emotional intelligence, and define a clear value system to prevent burnout and reignite your passion for the job.
  • Integrating Technology into the PE Classroom: PE may sometimes feel like a school’s only chance to get students away from screens, but technology can be a dynamic and engaging force in your PE class. Use technology to enhance your own planning and instruction with digital organization tools, and to motivate students to greater physical activity through video, apps, and games.
  • Game On! Getting Kids Pumped in P.E. Class: Motivate your students of all backgrounds and fitness levels to participate in PE. In this course, you’ll learn how to get your students excited for physical activities to positively impact their mental, emotional, and physiological well-being.

Fulfilling Your PD Requirements?

Choose from 280+ online, self-paced continuing education courses for teacher salary advancement and recertification. Available for either CEU/clock hours or in partnership with regionally-accredited universities for graduate credit.

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