Fostering Cognitive Development in Physical Education Programs

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Social & Emotional Factors Influencing Physical Education

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 Cognitive Results
  • 0:47 Equipment & Activities
  • 2:12 Inclusion & Activity Level
  • 3:17 Other Important Factors
  • 3:48 Assessment
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kathryn Lawson

Kathryn has a doctorate in clinical psychology and a master's degree in criminal justice. She has experience with college instruction and staff training.

This lesson discusses strategies for using physical education to promote critical thinking, goal-setting, decision-making, problem-solving, and analytical skills in students.

Cognitive Results

Forget about dodgeball and other old-school games designed to humiliate unlucky students. More updated and effective physical education curricula can do more than promote physical fitness and health. Physical education can also contribute significantly to cognitive development in students.

Research shows that children who engage in more physical activity have larger brain involvement in areas associated with memory and cognitive control. They also show increased concentration and attention span, both of which are foundational to improving the ability to learn other subjects. In addition to the benefits of free play and general physical activity, physical education that incorporates the best practices is the most beneficial.

Equipment & Activities

High-quality physical education has adequate physical space and equipment for students to engage in planned activities. These activities include significant group and team efforts in which students cannot help but improve their critical thinking skills. They attend to the rules of the game or activity, analyze strategic moves and the placement of teammates and opponents, and evaluate different options for play. After weighing these options, the student selects a move or play. In order to improve performance, the student must then assess the effectiveness of his or her play. If the effort did not yield the desired results, the student must engage in problem-solving to improve future attempts.

For example, Maria is playing soccer during her physical education class and is in possession of the ball. She considers her position and its role (offensive vs. defensive) and scans the field to assess whether any of her teammates are available for a pass. Finding her teammates heavily guarded but seeing an open path for herself to the opponent's goal, she decides to dribble downfield. As Maria approaches the goal, a defender blindsides her and steals the ball. Maria analyzes her decision and its consequences and considers options to improve her next play. These complex cognitions occur over and over in the space of a single physical education class period, provided other key elements are also present.

Inclusion & Activity Level

Physical education activities should foster inclusion and offer opportunities to be physically active for most of the class time. Let's return to dodgeball and other activities of that type. For much of the time, these games have the majority of the students inactive for long periods of time after getting out. No physical or cognitive development is occurring as they languish on the sides. More modern conceptions of physical education recognize the need to encourage active participation among all the students. Ideal lessons are also far more sensitive to issues of embarrassment and exclusion. After all, activities in which a student is worried about shame or even possible physical injury is not one in which higher-order brain functions get much attention.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account