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Movement in the Classroom


A culture shift seems to be taking place in our nation’s schools. While some schools, driven by the desire to increase test scores, are shortening or eliminating recesses and requiring students to sit for longer and longer periods, other schools, inspired by the belief that more movement will help their students learn, are giving students longer, more frequent breaks. So, who is right? Do kids need to move? And if they do, at what age does that need stop? Is it just Kindergarteners, just grade schoolers? What happened to the days of rows of pupils sitting silently at their desks, absorbing all their teacher has to say?

Many studies have confirmed that movement helps with learning. Not just for young children, either. Movement helps everyone learn. Donna Wilson, psychologist, author, and writer at Edutopia, states: “Studies suggest that regular physical activity supports healthy child development by improving memory, concentration, and positive outlook. For example, researchers found that children who had an opportunity to run for 15 to 45 minutes before class were less distracted and more attentive to schoolwork. These positive effects lasted two to four hours after their workouts.”

Benefits

The benefits of movement are many. Students of all ages can benefit from moving more during the school day. Of course, more movement is also highly beneficial for children with special needs; especially students with Sensory Processing Disorders or ADHD. The following benefits are found in classrooms where movement is valued and practiced regularly:

  • Better Focus: Students who get plenty of opportunities to move throughout the day increase their ability to focus for certain amounts of time. Kids who get in vigorous exercise are even better able to sit still and focus when it is needed.
  • Better Health: Each year, children tend to move less and less. Childhood obesity is rising, and with it, a variety of health issues in children. Kids who get to move more during the day are healthier than their more sedentary peers. Their minds are clearer, their hearts are stronger, they feel better, and so, they focus better.
  • Brain Connections: Certain types of movement help students learn. Crossing the midline can help students with some types of disorders who are having difficulty making connections between their right and left brain. These types of movements teach the two halves of the brain to ‘talk’ to each other:
  • Happier Kids: Movement boosts mood, reduces stress, and helps students feel happier and more content at school.

Incorporating Movement

There are many times you may want to incorporate movement into the school day. For example:

Take a Break: Beyond recess time, students need regular breaks to move around the classroom. Here are a few ideas of fun things to do during whole class ‘brain breaks.’

  • Dance
  • Play a movement game such as Simon Says or Mother May I?
  • Go for a walk
  • Do some stretches
  • Do Arm circles
  • Run in place

Morning Routine: Incorporating movement into your daily routine makes it easier to be consistent and to give students opportunities to move regularly. The morning routine is an especially important piece of the day and a prime time to incorporate movement.

  • Songs with actions
  • Whole class games such as charades
  • Active Greetings: Give students two minutes to walk around the classroom and actively greet their peers (high five, fist bump, etc.)

During Learning: Movement isn’t just for taking a break; it can be incorporated right into your lessons. Integrating movement into learning helps students retain knowledge better. Teach Magazine states: “Movement also helps to stimulate the hippocampus—the part of the brain that is associated with memory. After a student has moved, their hippocampus is more efficient at storing information as well as creating the necessary neural connections to recall the information quicker when needed.”

  • Give students the option to stand.
  • Incorporate a variety of seating arrangements to facilitate movement.
  • Practice math or spelling outside with chalk
  • Practice spelling words, math equations, or new vocabulary while tossing a ball
  • Do jumping jacks, push ups, lunges, etc. while counting or reciting times tables
  • TPR or Total Physical Response. This is a method of teaching in which students repeat after the teacher including movements.

Emotional Regulation: Movement helps students to regulate their emotions. Movement isn’t all jumping jacks and running; incorporate slower, more purposeful movement as well.  

  • Deep breathing. Teach students to breath in through their nose and out their mouth. Proper deep breathing has an excellent effect on mood and can help students calm themselves. .
  • Yoga: Teach students a few yoga poses or follow a yoga for kids video
  • Do stretches to calming music.

By: Amy Curletto 

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

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