DPA, Self-Reg, And Transitions: How Do You Marry It All?

This is not a post full of answers, but instead a way to share questions/wonders, and hopefully start an important discussion. It’s a conversation that I began yesterday morning with an individual at school (I’m not going to name this person here, as I didn’t ask for permission first), followed later by a discussion with my teaching partner, Paula: another person that I really respect. I decided that my goal for this year is “questioning,” and maybe blogging about this topic is a way to voice my questions, and hear various perspectives. My wonders stem around the connection between DPA (Daily Physical Activity), Self-Reg, and transitions.

I started doing some of this thinking on Thursday, when our whole school had the opportunity to partake in a Groove EDGEucation experience. As I was observing the children dancing, I found it interesting to watch those that were participating, and those that eventually sat out. 

  • Why did they do so?
  • Was this demonstrating their ability to self-regulate?
When the noise became too much, some children sat around the outskirts of the gym and plugged their ears. Our instructor was fantastic though, and when asked, she turned the volume down, which helped reduce this stressor for kids. It was interesting to watch when some children chose to go to the sidelines. It tended to be during more exciting dance times, when the desire to get silly with friends became too much. I found it amazing that at the times when Paula or I were tempted to go and speak to a child, that child actually removed him/herself. Did the child know that a break was needed? That said, by sitting at the sidelines, kids could also re-enter as desired. Many did … especially as the music and movement started to calm a bit. When it was time to do some body poses, and then cool down at the end, everyone was involved again.

Thinking then about Self-Reg and the need for Daily Physical Activity (DPA), how might Groove connect — or not connect with both? My wonder stems from the fact that Shanker’s Self-Reg is so personal: what dysregulates one person, might calm another. The ability to move and express themselves through dance was fantastic for some of our kids. They stayed involved the entire time, and even though our outdoor learning time was cut short on this day, they came back to the classroom calm. For others though, the opposite was true. A few children actually had to engage in Self-Reg — from creating with the plasticine to reading a book — before they could join the morning meeting time. And here is where I’m stumped, for students in Grades 1-8 are supposed to have 20 minutes of DPA a day, but …

  • How do we meet the diverse needs of kids within this 20 minute time frame?
  • How do we get heart rates up, without dysregulating our students and negatively impacting on their other learning time?
  • Within this 20 minute time frame, how do we gradually reduce the type of strenuous activity that we provide for kids, so that when we transition to a more sedentary activity, they can also complete it successfully?
  • How do we work in these 20 minutes without providing too many quick transitional times that can further dysregulate our neediest of students?
  • How do we also make DPA part of our regular schedule — in a regular way — so that the consistency of it also helps reduce the stress for our learners? Routines matter …

In my conversations yesterday morning, I wondered about providing options. Could we have various types of DPA options available for kids, so that they can choose what works best for them? If needed, we could also support them with making this choice. Maybe connecting with some other educators might assist us with providing more of these options. We could even try mixing the groupings of kids. But this does not address the need for an additional transition due to this 20-minute time frame. As a Kindergarten educator, I can’t even imagine adding in this kind of quick transition, and even when I taught Grade 5 and tried to reduce transitions, I would have struggled with adding in such a short one. So what then?

Please don’t get me wrong: I see the need for and value of this movement. Our class is outside for almost 1 1/2 hours every day, rain, snow, or shine. We embrace it all! And our kids spend at least 20 minutes engaged in this type of big, heart-raising, gross motor play, including many opportunities to run and climb. Our situation is different though. With our longer time outside, the transitions between this active play and calmer play can be more gradual, but this is certainly an easier option to consider in Kindergarten. What about in other grades?

This thinking led to some of my other wonders.

  • In classrooms with more flexible seating options, which might include exercise balls and stationary bikes, how does this connect with DPA? Does this sometimes change the need?
  • What about at times when we read kids wrong? Sometimes we consider DPA when we notice children getting restless or becoming more energetic, but do they need to get their energy out or is this when Self-Reg is necessary? How do we decide?
  • DPA often seems to be shown as a full-class activity, but what if there was a space in the room where DPA could always exist? I remember reading some tweets about when Maria Marino, a teacher in our Board, collaborated with her students to help design a gym in their Grade 1/2 classroom. This made me wonder, what if we created spaces in our classroom for this type of active movement as required? Maybe these spaces even include an iPad with earphones for some dancing options. They could also include some Yoga cards or Brain Break resources to help children quiet back down after moving around. What if there was a time timer in here, so kids could set the timer for 10 minutes and see it counting down? The thinking is that every child needs two, 10 minute sessions in this space during the day. Students could choose the times when they require it. It’s kind of like what we do with our open lunch table: if our Kindergarten children can choose two times to sit down and eat, then it stands to reason that older students could do the same when it comes to exercise. Then the movement in this space is more fluid. The options can be targeted for the different children. The teacher can help support this space as needed, but knowing that kids should become more independent as the year goes on. Then too, if some children need more time here, they could have it, or even group their two 10-minute times together. This might also allow for smoother transitions, and some high impact exercise that happens throughout the day. The location and support of this space would take some time to coordinate, but I see a lot of potential here. I also wonder if some of the recent DPA suggestions could be incorporated into this area. Has anybody tried something like this before and how does it work?

I know that we all want to create the best possible learning environment for our students, and I think that DPA, Self-Reg, and minimal, smoother transitions are all part of this. The hard part is making all of these things work together. I’ve never been somebody that backs down from a challenge. Please help me out here then, and maybe in turn, we can also help each other. My questions are numerous, the answers probably aren’t easy, and a solution might not be the same for everyone. What do you think? What have you tried? As the school year comes to an end, and it becomes the perfect time to experiment with a few new things, maybe we can all experiment and share together. 


6 thoughts on “DPA, Self-Reg, And Transitions: How Do You Marry It All?

  1. There are some big questions here, Aviva! I’ll probably be back to say more later. 🙂

    I love the gym in the classroom. Very clever way to help children view exercise as a self-regulatory activity.

    I have found, over time, that exercise can be very dis-regulating for some children. I hated organized exercise or active games played with a group of my peers. For some of my students, 20 minutes is not a good amount of time. They need at least an hour before they are tired and can calm again. This year I have found that kids who are given opportunities for calm movement seem to benefit while those who are taken to the gym to run laps, for example, actually return to class hyper-aroused. This has probably been happening all along, but now that I’m learning about self-reg I notice it. 🙂

    This year I have discovered the work of Dr. Gillian Judson. After hearing her talk about The Walking Curriculum, and reading her book titled the same, I have been making a big effort to get my class (grade 2/3) outside at least once per week. We have gone at different times of the day because I wonder about the lasting affect of the walk. We have gone different places around our school. We have always had a provocation related to curriculum I am trying to teach. It has been incredible to take these walks in the woods. When we walk through the “junior yard” at our school to get to the forest path, there is an open opportunity to run, which invites yelling, which leads to lots of dis-regulation. But when we take the “path” around the primary yard fence to get there, our walks are less chaotic. This path is hilly, there are brambles to avoid, there is lots of vestibular stimulation as kids have to manage their way without falling. By the time we get to the forest, everyone is a bit tired already and we get some actual work done while we walk. Anyway…I’m rambling. I guess my point is that the DPA comes in so many forms. I hadn’t really thought of these walks as DPA time, but they certainly are. I haven’t actually thought about DPA in a long time.

    • Thank you so much for starting off this conversation, Lisa! What you shared about physical fitness is something that we often notice as well. I wonder if part of the problem is that we need to also consider how to pair this active movement with calmer movement. Maybe that “big run” is good for some kids — maybe many — but how are we also helping kids come gradually back down again? What I did love about Groove is that they moved from lots of physical activity, to some poses, to an eventual rest. By the time that everyone was lying on the floor, breathing, the vast majority of students were able to do this. While we did have some kids that benefited from Self-Reg when they got back to the classroom, I think that the gradual reduction of activity helped ensure that children didn’t go flying back into the classroom. That said, we spent about 45 minutes in the gym, moving. What might this look like in 20 minutes? (I really think that you’re right about Self-Reg and how it changes how we perceive everything, by the way.)

      I love the sound of this walking book. I’ve never read, The Walking Curriculum, but I’m going to put it on my list for the summertime. I wonder if walking counts as DPA. How much exertion do kids need? Could we sometimes couple walking with running? You have me wondering. Maybe the book would also help.

      I’m definitely grateful to be in a school right now that is thinking about DPA, and is causing me to think about it more too. Thanks for also getting me to think!


  2. There’s no doubt now that exercise is reducing my biological stress. However, as a kid, and even sometimes now, it brings up social stress (I look like an idiot! I should have worn different shirt that would stay put.) cognitive stress (the rules never came easy for me, and I was not a strategies!) emotional stress (disappointed in my performance and worried about letting my team down.) I do only individual “sports” now, never team things, but I still feel some of this. In years when I have taught gym, I have tried to have more “centre” based activities where students could choose what they want to do to be active. Of course they need to learn some rules for games, but Primary students can really benefit from the gross motor activities that centres can provide. There is plenty of time for game rules later!

    My FitBit tells me the walks count as DPA. 🙂 We mix in some jogging if we’ve stayed too long. But there is no doubt for me that the students are physically exerting themselves.

    • Thank you so much, Lisa! I can really see some value in choice within the gym. This way students can do what they feel comfortable with and what works for them, while also trying out some new activities, and meeting their Self-Reg needs. Groove really focused on the idea that you “can’t do it wrong,” and while we said that aloud even when we participated as educators, I had to wonder. There are definitely different stressors at play for me when it comes to some forms of exercise, and I want to keep in mind that the same may be true for our students. Having different options, and activities that do not necessarily involve complex rules and winning, may help. It’s just like we set-up different entry points for kids within our rooms.

      Thanks for your note about walking as well. That makes a lot of sense to me. I do like the idea of experiencing the outdoors at any time of the year, and just as we extend our time outside, with different curriculum connections, the same could be true for any grade. Maybe this also helps with giving a chance for children to engage and calm down before entering the classroom again.


      • True! I have to say that mostly my people arrive at school ready to go. It’s later in the day that they need more help with regulation. When we have a walk on a Tuesday afternoon, I think we reap the benefits into Wednesday! I’m slowly figuring out how to be outside more often, not only for the regulatory skills, but also for all the other benefits!

        What do you think about planning the DPA to coincide with a natural transition? So instead of transitioning twice, you really do it once. Do some DPA right after visiting the library, or right before getting ready to go outside…sorry – I’m having trouble picturing transitions in an ELK class. LOL My 1 year as a K teacher was long ago.

        • So interesting that you say this, Lisa! You make me think about the importance of knowing our learners. For you, doing DPA is less valuable in the morning than the afternoon, due to what you know about when your kids need this movement time most.

          As for coinciding DPA and a natural transition, this makes a lot of sense to me. The thing that I always think about though is, “why do we do DPA?” While linking it with another transition would help from a Self-Reg perspective — less dysregulating than when it happens right in the middle of something else — does it help with addressing the value of DPA itself? Is this movement time ultimately helping children learn? Maybe getting our heart rate up right before library is less valuable to learning than getting it up right in the middle of math, when kids are losing focus. But does adding another transition at this time, benefit them? It’s hard to know.

          Thanks for the continued conversation! You’re giving me even more to think about.

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