Hints and tips for PE lessons

Younger children

  • Not all children can learn by watching others, those with coordination difficulties may need to be taught all skills.
  • Help the child to position himself properly before starting an activity by placing his feet and hands correctly. Use the child as a model to demonstrate the starting position to the rest of the class. Provide hand-over-hand guidance to help children feel the movements.
  • Give clear instructions one at a time, allowing the child time to organise their body into the right position before the next instruction is given.
  • Children with coordination difficulties can find it hard to catch, throw and hit balls so have a variety of equipment available, for example balls with ribbon tails, larger bats and beanbags as well as ordinary balls
  • Use music, counting or a rhythmic rhyme to reinforce movement patterns. Some children have difficulty getting started or knowing what to do next so using repetitive phrases such as “I can move my left arm, left arm, left arm, I can move my left arm just like this” may help.
  • Provide children with a marked spot, gym mat or hoop on the floor to indicate the “space” that they should return to when directed by the teacher. It helps the child to have somewhere to aim for, rather than wandering aimlessly or getting in the way of other children.
  • Use cones, lines on the floor or other markers to indicate the area in which the activity is to take place. This will help children to contain their movements if they are prone to “over-shooting” when moving around.
  • Encourage the children to verbalise their plans for movement. For example ask the child what they are going to do next, do they need to throw harder? What could they try to improve their performance?
  • Encourage children to beat their own records for example, how many times they are able to bounce and catch a ball. Asking the class “How many people beat their own record?” gives the child with dyspraxia the chance to share their success.
  • Children with dyspraxia often cope with PE lessons that focus on learning skills. They struggle when they have to apply these skills in a group or team setting when the environment is constantly changing. They often feel they are letting their team down and may choose to opt out of team games. Where appropriate allow the child with dyspraxia to continue to focus on skill development, rather than team games.
  • Reward effort and participation.

Older children

  • Focus on the development of physical skills rather than on team sports. Young people with dyspraxia find it very difficult to plan their movements while at the same time responding to an ever-changing environment with lots of distractions.
  • Keep the environment as predictable as possible while teaching new skills.
  • Sports involving ball skills or the manipulation of objects are often more difficult for young people with dyspraxia. Provide opportunities for participation in alternative sport activities that will still help the young person to develop strength, stamina and physical fitness.
  • Non-competitive sports such as golf, climbing, rowing, cycling, martial arts, yoga and swimming are often more appropriate for young people with dyspraxia. They are also “life-style” sports that can be continued into adulthood.
  • Young people with dyspraxia may do well at running on a track, but are more likely to trip when doing cross country because of the uneven ground. Young people with dyspraxia should always wear appropriate safety gear when cycling and so on as they are at greater risk of falling or knocking into people and objects.

Encouraging general physical activity in children of all ages

Difficulties with motor co-ordination often affect children’s participation in physical activities both at school and at home. Frequent failures mean that children may not be motivated to join in or to try new activities and their physical difficulties can make them feel isolated from their friends. If children continue to avoid physical games and activities, over time this will affect their overall level of fitness and well-being. With support and guidance however, children with dyspraxia/DCD can be encouraged to participate in physical activities which will help them to be healthy throughout their lives.

  • Activities that don’t require much hand-eye coordination may be easier to manage. They include yoga, swimming, hiking, running, cycling, skating, aerobics and tai chi.
  • Emphasise fun and participation rather than achievement. Where possible avoid competitive sports, only comparing a child to their own previous performance.
  • Break down the activity into smaller parts and practice individual skills in an un-pressurised environment before joining in with a group.
  • Encourage the young person to think about what they are doing: do they need to throw harder or not quite so hard?
  • If a young person is interested in a sport, even if they can’t play it well, then their interest should be encouraged. They might become an expert on players and team form which can help to maintain their street-credibility with their peers.
  • Above all, find something the individual can do, and encourage their improvement and participation.