Skip to Content

Physical Activity – examples of good practice

Physical Activity – examples of good practice

This section includes stories and examples of practice from schools about some of the benefits that can be gained from reviewing approaches to physical activity. For schools, these benefits include:

  • developing a more strategic approach to wellbeing
  • shifting mindsets about common school events such as cross-country to ensure the events balanced competition with a focus on inclusion and participation
  • including physical activity in approaches to play-based learning
  • building approaches to student leadership
  • making stronger community connections including with local secondary schools.

Thinking about school community wellbeing and physical activity

The value of physical activity in a school setting may be evident in whether it is visible in documents such as school charters. Schools may have many activities that foster wellbeing – but are these connected in a strategic and cohesive way.

The Sport NZ ‘More than Sport’ podcast episode 3 ‘Creating an active school environment’ unpacks what it looks like to create an active school environment, and what the benefits are of an active school culture. 

Story 12 shows how one school had reviewed their vision and the part that physical activity could play in fostering wellbeing.

Story 12
  • Thinking about community wellbeing and physical activity

    One school was on a journey to build a more inclusive, culturally responsive, and wellbeing-focused culture. and te reo Māori PLD, as well as other focuses all contributed to this journey. The school has worked with staff and the community to develop a new strategic direction and a wellbeing action plan.

    Taking the focus away from sport and PE to wellbeing has broadened our understanding of what health means… Our vision is far more strategic and solid… and we are clear about where we want to be in 3 years... has opened my mind, giving me the space to ask, ‘Am I actually providing equity?’

    (School leader)

    The principal noted had assisted the school to think deeply about student and family needs and had spurred them to listen more and take action. New consultation processes are part of the mix. Input is sought via a student council, and there is an annual survey of parents as well as more face to face hui and fono and home visits. The school is also making more use of data to suggest new focuses.

    Students are a lot more confident about having a voice…. They are more prepared to take an opportunity to have a say knowing they won’t be shut down.

    (School leader)

    What new activities had been revised or started?

    Thinking strategically about physical activity and community wellbeing has led the school to revise, develop, or join a wider range of activities. A few are described below.

    • With the local college and other schools in their Kāhui Ako, the school took part in a Matariki celebration. During this time, the college students taught primary students Māori games (see Story 14).
    • The school developed more connections to local spaces and places. One aspect of this is a stronger understanding about the history of the local area which is reflecting in pepeha and waiata. A second aspect is the development of an education outside the classroom (EOTC) group that ensures students have more opportunity to learn through visiting local places.
    • Following an inquiry by a student about the equipment their peers wanted to play with at school, the PE shed is now a “gear shop” which is run by students at lunchtimes.
    • Play-based approaches in the junior school have been reviewed and now incorporate more focus on physical activity as a vehicle for exploration, and as a steppingstone to PE learning.
    • Senior students do electives once a week. Many electives have a physical activity component such as Pacific dance or drama. Some electives are supported by parents and whānau which assists the school to build stronger relationships and partnership with whānau.
    • Athletics day has been reframed as “participation day” which includes more fun activities for all.
    • More use is made of school grounds. A bike track that is now open to other schools during the week, and the community on the weekends, and the school has a gardening team and planting spaces.
    • Stronger connections have been made with the local RST who support the school with equipment, physical activity resources, and student leadership programmes that fit with the school vision.

Redesigning active events to make them more participatory

Many schools are starting to question their focus on school events that are all about competition, and consider how by redesigning these events or activities they can make them more about participation, inclusion, and fun. Many schools have reframed cross-country (see Story 13) or athletics days to offer fun opportunities for all to participate, as well as opportunities for those who wanted to compete. Some schools are thinking strategically about how these events could support goals, such as fostering connections with parents or with students’ cultures.

Watch a video about ‘Reimagining School Sport’ and how redesigning inter-school sport can improve participation. 

One tension that schools are often required to balance is taking their parent community, which values competition, on the journey with them. You can find further support for engaging with your school whānau and community on the Sport New Zealand ‘Balance is Better’ website

For athletics day we now have a bigger turnout [of parents] and heaps of positive feedback, even from traditional-thinking parents … We have a strong, vocal, competitive group [of parents], so we still have an element of placings. We also have a pure fun run—a sprinklers obstacle course. It was a hot day, so all students went home happy! Every year we review how we can make things better. For athletics, our goal is inclusiveness. This year we only did placings for sprints. All the kids tried all events. No one sat and watched the placings [like they used to] because they were participating!

(School leader)

Story 13: Getting everyone running
  • A participatory approach to cross country

    At one school, the annual cross-country event was a regular fixture that was all about competition. Teachers decided they wanted this event to be more about participation and fun.

    [ made us think] What is more important? Do all kids have fun? Or do we create a punishment that only some kids like? Is that going to serve those kids? We are thinking—How do we make things accessible and enjoyable for everyone? We have changed our cross-country to a colour run. We had a serious run at the start, then the kids had a white tee-shirt on and nominated the people they want to make proud [this linked to our school values]. They got squirted with coloured water. Students were running and smiling at the same time and they didn’t even realise it! The kids still come to school with their tee-shirts, and it was the highest cross-country attendance we have ever had from parents. We are starting to see a shift in mindset.


    Like their teachers, students were very enthusiastic about the new approach and talked about how it was more fun and encouraged participation by students and parents.

    Students said:

    We did the colour run this year [instead of the usual cross-country]. All the parents threw things at us. All the kids made this dough stuff that went in the blender. It made powder that got thrown at us. We all wore a white top. I still have my tee-shirt! It wasn’t necessarily a race, it was a fun event that everyone could participate in. It was more fun. For the people who wanted to do it more competitive for inter-school, they did a round on the track first. Then we did the colour run with the whole school.

    Physical Education New Zealand (PENZ) have written a position paper on ‘Primary School Cross Country Events’ 

Rethinking approaches to play in non-curriculum time

Schools are considering how they might broaden the range of opportunities students have to be active. Rethinking approaches to the play which occurs in non-curriculum time can be a core part of this change. Some schools have considered how they could use their playgrounds differently and as a resource for creative play and learning. For example, schools with trees encouraged safe climbing. Other schools thought about ways they could access resources that encouraged creative play.

The benefits of creative play identified by teachers included enhanced negotiation and other social skills.

This year we have a group of Year 5 and 6 boys who don’t know what to do at lunch. One group of 20 to 25 want to do things together—they play ultimate tag, and games we play in PE. But they were doing things like bowling over 5-year olds … We knew about the Playpod and so looked at this. We put it on the playground and planned or PE lessons around it [to scaffold students to be independent at breaktimes]. We used the Sport NZ principles of play, such as no focused learning intentions—let them be creative and just play … The play principles say mix up age groups so year 3/4 and year 5/6 went out together. So they had to negotiate. After this, we opened up [the Playpod at] lunchtime … The teachers found it really interesting to see how the different ages played … The Year 5 boys loved it.

(School leader)

At this school, students were actively involved in the process of trialing different forms of play at break times. Students did a risk assessment of the Playpod so they could consider what needed to be in place for safe play.

To assist in rethinking approaches, schools did PLD about approaches to play, explored the Sport NZ principles of play, trialed Playpods of loose parts that students could play with at break-times, or developed a “Play team” to review school approaches.

Watch the video here about ‘Unstructured Play’ that demonstrates how schools around Aotearoa are recognising the value of play.

Download more information on Sport NZ’s 7 play principles

Videos about each principle

Working with local schools to foster connections and student leadership

Ensuring young people have a voice in decisions that are made about physical activity and are involved in managing activities is a way of empowering students and building their leadership capabilities. Forms of student leadership include:

  • student wellbeing councils who collect peer feedback about the games, activities, or sports students are interested in
  • setting up student inquiries so students can explore aspects of the school physical activity culture. Schools can then action students’ findings
  • enabling students to lead aspects of Māori games or cultural events
  • gear shed monitors who manage gear at breaktimes
  • break-time sports leaders or tuakana–teina play buddies.

The senior student leaders was started by the activator, then a teacher took it over. The leaders are very helpful and play with the little kids especially with the magic play box. It’s a tuakana–teina thing going on. Now the older kids look out for the younger kids more … We organise the leaders at the start of the year. We want to keep that going.

(Lead teacher)

We provide leadership opportunities, e.g., students lead sports at morning tea and lunchtimes, and the student council is strong and has a voice. Students know that an idea can be taken to staff and implemented … Students are a lot more confident about having a voice, and agency. They are more prepared to take an opportunity to have a say knowing they won’t be shut down.

(School leader)

Some schools are increasingly looking to how they might collaborate rather than compete with other local schools. Watch the below video of local secondary school student leaders ran a kī o rahi tournament for local primary students. Community events like this tournament are highly valued by the participating schools as they provide new ways of celebrating students’ cultural backgrounds, values, and knowledge and creating a space for Māori students to enhance their leadership skills. These events also assist schools to offer students a wider range of physical activity beyond traditional games and sports, and build relationships and connections between students, schools, and the community.

Watch how teaching and playing Kī o Rahi brought together a community

Student leadership resources

Contact your regional sports trust or city council for information about student leadership programmes such as Ngā Kaea mō Apōpō (MKMA)—The Leaders of Tomorrow (Sport Waitākere)

TKI Inclusive education–Student leaders with opportunities for responsibility within the school 

Thinking strategically about external providers

It can be common for schools to use external providers such as local sporting groups to provide a “PE” programme that centres around building sports’ skills rather than the Health and PE learning area.

Physical Education New Zealand (PENZ) have written a position paper on ‘External Providers and Teaching Quality Physical Education’ 

We have moved away from [using providers in PE] as we have this focus on our own pedagogy in our own school. We used to have a lot of outside agencies—but quality differed. Some were good, some not. If the facilitator was not great—it was a waste of money ... We mostly ended up doing behaviour management. So it was not good learning for us as teachers.


With support and involvement from several agencies, including schools, Regional Sports Trusts, Physical Education New Zealand – Te Ao Kori Aotearoa (PENZ), sports and physical activity providers along with insights from tamariki themselves, Sport NZ has put together this guide to assist primary schools, kura and external providers where they may choose to work together.

These guidelines are designed to:

  • support situations where schools and kura may be considering engaging an external provider to deliver programmes or activities in physical education, sport, active recreation or play
  • help to inform the decision of whether to use an external provider or not
  • support external providers in understanding the priorities of the primary school and kura environment inviting reflection of their role
  • facilitate effective relationships when primary schools and kura choose to utilise external providers
  • support and complement relevant resources produced by the Ministry of Education.

If you require an accessible version of any content on the site please contact us and we will be happy to assist.

Get Active
Find a sport or recreation activity
Browse Directory
Sport NZ
Who we are and what we do
Information on funding
Stay updated
Me whakahoutia

Sign up to our regular newsletters that connect Sport NZ to all those involved in the play, active recreation and sport sector.

burger close icon

Stay updated

Me whakahoutia

Keep up-to-date with news, events, and initiatives across the play, active recreation and sport sector.
No thanks