Welcome back, from the PBIS Indiana Team. We trust your school year is off to a terrific start!
Research demonstrates the power of movement, to support students in exhibiting better focus, cognitive processing, and more successful memory retention than kids who are idle. When we are active, we increase blood flow to the brain, promoting mental clarity, physical and neurological health.
I have supported teachers by teaching them how to use media in the classroom for breaks. YouTube is a great resource for finding videos to guide movement breaks and exercises. Teachers can also allow for free dance or movement periods during their classes.
Here are a few other ways teachers can seize opportunities that allow children to be more active:
1. Set ground rules for play.
Inviting children to move around more in the classroom can feel like inviting pandemonium. But as with all new strategies, the key is to set ground rules so children know what to expect. Before inviting them to move about, explain the purpose of an exercise that requires physical activity. Plan lessons and activities—even non-educational ones like jumping jacks—beforehand with clear objectives, time limits, and a backup plan in case the activity doesn’t go as expected.
2. Make learning activities more active.
Create gallery walks in which children must travel around the room to observe visual aids for different parts of a lesson. Have children form groups to discuss and answer lesson questions, then have them write their answers on the board. Play board games tied to the current lesson and include spaces that call for students to do push-ups or jumping jacks. Making children carry their assignments to your desk, rather than passing them forward, can also introduce more movement into their day.
3. Encourage periodic breaks.
Midmorning snacks are an important way for adults to hold their hunger in check until lunch, and kids should have the same opportunity. Hunger can be one of the biggest distractions to learning, and offering snacks can also be a physical activity. Line up juice and snacks on a table at one end of the room, and have children take their refreshments back to their desks or to another designated area for some variety.
4. Take midday walks.
Taking a quick walk outside can do wonders to help lift the fog from a child’s brain. If possible, plan lessons that can occur outside, or incorporate a 10- to 15-minute window around noon for the class to take a walk around campus. Walking offers fresh air and is one of the simplest and most effective forms of everyday physical activity.
There's a long way to go before incorporating physical activity into general lesson plans becomes the norm. In my practice, therapeutic play that emphasizes physical activity is paramount for children to acquire important cognitive and physical skills. When kids are moving, they’re having more fun, often making lessons feel less like work.
However, we can’t just state that activity is good for learning; we also have to prove it by tracking the performance and development of children who are more active. Once we begin to measure these effects, we can better understand how to implement activities into the broader educational system and better gauge which ones will give children the greatest health and learning benefits.
Marwa Abdelbary is a physical therapist and co-founder of Tiny Tots Therapy, a multidisciplinary and multilingual team of occupational, physical, and speech therapists based in Columbia, Mo. Tiny Tots collaborates with pediatricians, counselors, and psychologists to provide individualized therapeutic services for children.