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Ramadan & Physical Education

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

Embracing Cultural & Religious Differences: Safe & Purposeful Learning for All Learners

I taught Physical Education (PE) in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) for two years. It was my first time being exposed to Islamic culture. I am from rural Alberta, Canada. It was all new to me.

During those two years, Ramadan was situated at very hot times of the school year. Looking back, I did not do a great job of educating myself and providing meaningful PE activities to include all my fasting students. At times, I was not sure why students who were fasting during Ramadan observance were swimming and why others weren’t. Or why some students were physically active in normal PE lessons but others were sedentary.

There is not a lot of literature on Ramadan and how it relates to PE in schools. The most relevant articles I have found on the topic are below (special shoutout to Ali Alshuraymi for sharing his and Dr. Wright’s article!).

Alshuraymi, A. N., & Wright, P. M. (2022). Teaching physical education during Ramadan observance. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 93(3), 51-53.

Trabelsi, K, & Chtourou, H. (2019). Teaching physical education during Ramadan observance: Practical recommendations. International Journal of Sport Studies for Health, 2(1):e88013.

The purpose of this blog is to disseminate information to educators (specifically those who teach PE) so they can ensure that their students who are fasting during Ramadan observance can safely access purposeful learning engagements in PE. I am not, nor do I claim to be, an expert on Ramadan or Islam. I have included member checks to help provide accuracy and credibility for this blog piece. Special thanks to my friends & former colleagues Afzal Shaikh (@EduShaikh) & Megan Lockett (@LockettMeg) for their time and assistance.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the month of fasting - one of five pillars of Islam practices (Rizal & Kuan, 2018; Mughal, 2014). This year, Ramadan began on March 22/23 and ends on April 20/21 (dependent on your current living location). In the context of school-aged children and youth, healthy pubescent students must abstain from food and fluid ingestion from dawn to sunset over the span of approximately a month (Boukhris et al., 2019; ; Aloui et al., 2013; Chtourou et al., 2012). Ramadan advances by approximately 11 days each year and consequently, Ramadan can occur during any of the four seasons (Trabelsi et al., 2018; Baklouti et al., 2015; Chtourou et al., 2014; Rebal et al., 2014). Ramadan can take place during long summer days or short winter days which can present a greater challenge (e.g. long sunlight days) for fasters (Boukhris et al., 2018; Trabelsi et al., 2018).

Why Physical Activity & PE?

Children and adolescents should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day (Nathan et al., 2017). We also know that schools, via PE, outdoor play at recess, transitions between classes, extra curricular activities, etc., is a setting that helps provide opportunities for students to move throughout their school day (World Health Organization, 2008). PE has many benefits including increasing self-confidence and self-esteem, enhancing social and cognitive development, and increasing academic achievement (Talbot, 2001). PE provides opportunities for students to develop the skills and knowledge to be physically active for a lifetime (Hands, 1999).

PE During Ramadan Observance

Should fasting students participate in PE? Yes, but with appropriate modifications. “It is imperative that physical activity is done throughout the year, even during the fasting month of Ramadan” (Rizal & Kuan, 2018, p. 178).

Students in our class(es) all have a wide range of individual needs. It is common to teach students who have diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Students’ perceptions of a supportive and inclusive classroom promote a positive in-class experience (e.g., Cox et al., 2009; Wentzel, 1997). So how can we, as PE teachers, provide a learning experience in PE that meets the needs of all students? Alshuraymi & Wright (2022) shared the following recommendations to make learning appropriate and accessible for Muslim students who are fasting during Ramadan observance.

  1. Be Curious - Ask questions and build connections with students. Model open-mindedness as a teacher and promote a safe space for students to respectfully share, and be curious about, multiple perspectives and viewpoints. As a teacher, proactively learn and read about Ramadan and the fasting period that students in your class will participate in. This can better inform your planning for when Ramadan arrives.

2. Make Individual Accommodations - We consistently make accommodations for our students to ensure students have their needs met. In PE, it might be providing a larger ball to help a student with catching. It might be providing choice for a running distance so that the distance travelled is an optimal challenge for that particular individual. It might be providing a balance bike instead of a two-wheel pedal bike for a student during a cycling or wheels unit. During Ramadan, plan units and lessons that focus less on strenuous physical activity and more on social, emotional, and cognitive outcomes. Plan units that avoid being out in the heat, or if not possible, make sure students have access to shade and build-in frequent breaks to avoid dehydration and heat stroke. Plan a Sport Education unit (see this Vlog by Dr. Goodyear for more details) and provide students the choice to engage in activities in different ways (e.g. reporter, coach, referee, scorekeeper, videographer, photographer, etc).

There are various ways in which Ramadan fasting is practiced (Alkandari et al., 2012). Be mindful that some families will encourage their child(ren) to participate in all activities during PE, while others will not. Some Muslim students/families may choose not to participate during in-the-pool activities because water must not enter the stomach (Carroll & Hollinshead, 1993). During a swimming unit, encourage out-of-water opportunities for peer assessment and coaching while analyzing peers’ swim strokes.

Be respectful and provide learning opportunities for both fasting swimmers and non-swimmers during Ramadan. Also, keep in mind that some students will participate ‘as usual’ during PE lessons, while other fasting students will choose to/have the energy to perform tasks at low intensity. This supports students and their spirituality of getting to know themselves and their bodies.

3. Create Teachable Moments - PE can achieve a wide range of educational outcomes for school-age children & youth (Kirk, 2013). The core values of Ramadan (e.g. kindness, self-discipline, empathy, forgiveness, setting goals, resolving conflict, and self-control) align with many values from models-based practices in PE. This includes Sport Education (as mentioned earlier), Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR), Cooperative Learning, and Adventure-Based Learning. Adventure Challenge units, which include cooperative activities that often promote working in a group to problem solve and complete a team challenge, would be an ideal fit during Ramadan. Activities are often low-intensity and focus more on conflict resolution, decision-making, self-control, communication, and collaboration.

Effective PE teachers strive to be culturally responsive and aware of their students’ diverse backgrounds (Alshuraymi & Wright, 2022). How can we, as PE teachers, ensure ALL students are safe, comfortable, and purposefully learning in PE?

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