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Movement in the Classroom – a healthy way to learn

Quit squirming. Sit still. Pay attention!

It’s not the first time you’ve had these orders barked at you. In fact, you were likely on the receiving end of these all too familiar commands as a kid. Perhaps, against your better judgement, you catch yourself muttering these same phrases to your children or students from time to time.

Now it’s time to ditch these expressions – they don’t belong in the vocabulary of anyone involved in childhood learning. Thanks to substantial evidence resulting from numerous studies, experts can now prove that this out-of-date mindset is all wrong for kids and adults alike.

Think about yourself for a minute. Picture a typical day at work, you sitting at your desk, working on a project. Do you sit motionless except for your fingers flitting across the keyboard? Do your legs remain firmly in the same place during hours of work. Do you fight the urge to adjust positions from the moment you sit down until you finish your project?

Chances are, probably not.

It’s surprising then, that children are expected to resist the urge to wiggle and fidget during the school day. This is not what’s best for children anymore – if it ever was. Indeed, kids should move around – it actually helps solve the problem of restless, unfocused children.

Squashing Traditional Thinking

For many people, the idea of encouraging kids to move around in the classroom seems counterproductive. They utter comments like, “Children get riled up when they play - exercise and games don’t belong in the class!” Or, “we shouldn’t be sacrificing learning time in order to increase activity levels among kids. This is the parent’s job, not the school’s.”

Schools want to improve student education; teach them more, not less. Does that mean promoting more movement comes at the cost of quality education?

No, not even close.

Rather, the opposite appears to be true. Studies now show that increasing movement in schools has positive effects. These studies go a long way to squashing the old-school ideology.

Why Movement Is Important

The brain actually depends on movement in order to learn. Motion helps coordinate the body and the brain to make it possible to focus on a task. An American association focused on education suggested that, “sitting for long periods of time actually works against the ability of students to learn effectively. As students remain stationary, blood begins to pool in the buttocks and legs, creating a depression of brain attention, function, and learning capability.”

If focused, ready-to-learn kids are the goal, allowing them to move around is necessary. Concentration may not be possible until they quite literally, “shake the sillies out!” By engaging in physical activity, kids shake things up: release tension and reengage with what they're learning about.

Physical activity in the classroom has an impact on more than just a child’s ability to learn. Obesity rates are skyrocketing: the Childhood Obesity Foundation estimates that by 2040, over 70 percent of Canadians will be obese. If the school system doesn’t do its part to slow, and hopefully reverse this trend, Canada will have more to worry about than childhood education.

Not surprisingly, the odds of a child who lives a primarily sedentary lifestyle growing into an active adult are miniscule. Schools have a unique opportunity to teach children not only the curriculum, but also about the benefits of wellness. Empowering kids with an understanding of what their bodies need to learn effectively is a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Thankfully, the movement-based learning ideology is finally transitioning from a novel, progressive approach to a logical one.

Healthy Ways To Move

Implementing activity time throughout the day doesn’t need to be complicated, take up large chunks of time, or even require extra space. A few great options include:

For the extra keen teacher, finding ways to integrate movement into the curriculum offers even more benefits. Teachers can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, since it is understood that people absorb and retain information better while actually participating in a lesson. Examples of integrated movement may include:

As Benjamin Franklin said: "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Regardless of how a teacher encourages movement, the most challenging part is changing mindset. Once a school district, educators, and parents embrace this concept, the results are remarkable.

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