Get active! Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign highlights the benefits of physical activity every day. Many schools are extending that lesson to highlight the importance of exercise to overall physical and mental health of students. Psychology Today author Michael Otto argues that physical activity is so important, the fourth R might well be recess.
Historically, schools have provided time for gross motor movement — large body movements such as walking or running, jumping, reaching, and balancing — during recess on the playground. In addition to being good for kids’ physical health, this type of movement provides stimulation that helps them feel calm and able to focus during the rest of the school day.
Increasingly, though, schools have shortened recess due to time constraints, removed it for disciplinary purposes, or cut it out altogether to devote more time to curriculum content. Because shortened or eliminated recesses mean more fidgety and less focused children, it’s important to work some exercise into the regular daily routine.
5 ways for teachers to add gross motor movement to the classroom schedule
Here are five excellent ways to work gross motor movement into the classroom.
1. Transition dance party
Music is a great way to lift everyone’s spirits and a short musical movement as students transition from one section of the day to another can help them get their wiggles out.
- Turn on a fun song – not too fast, not too slow – and encourage students to reach high, stretch their wings, and touch the floor.
- If students are extra wiggly, include jumping or a “walk like me” line dance through the classroom.
- It is important to let the students know that wiggle-time is while the music is playing; once the music stops, they will need to calm their bodies and sit quietly for the next section of the school day.
Highlighting gross motor movement during transitions can help especially fidgety students calm down and focus for the next section of the school day.
2. Roll the dice
This activity cube is great for choosing exercises like jumping, spinning, hopping on one foot, or having the aforementioned dance party. Consider using an individual-focused-cube as a reward or change of pace when a single student is disruptive or having a hard time focusing on the lesson, and a cube created for the whole class as well. A short break in the middle of a lesson might be just what the entire group needs to recharge and refocus.
Sometimes students just need a simple stretch and a deep breath. In her article “Yoga in the Classroom,” Marilisa Sachteleben suggests that practicing yoga in the classroom has serious benefits.
Not only do students learn to relax, they also oxygenate their systems and increase their own comfort. Different from meditative or religious yoga, these mindful stretches simply link breath and body movement. For young students, these stretches can be related to animals (cat, cow, elephant).
4. Desk workout
It might not be another recess, but a short desk workout like this one from the blog OT Mom Learning Activities can be scheduled into each day. Even five minutes of class time devoted to gross motor activity is a solid investment to help students be more focused.
Consider having students make “Lazy 8s” or do chair push-ups. Switch up the exercises every day and then take requests on Fridays. These can be great during writing time to exchange the small motor movements of writing with larger-muscle movements.
5. Integrate movement with learning
Whenever possible, consider integrating gross motor movement with the learning itself. Math lends itself to this idea with hopscotch, moving around the classroom, or grouping students to count. Younger students can learn sight words from reading them off ping pong balls they toss back and forth (or you toss to them) or do a phoneme-based toss game with letter or sound-marked beanbags that match the word on the can.
However you do it — worked into the lesson plan, as a surprise, or during transitional times — integrating gross motor movement into the classroom will pay off. Consider adding it to the lesson plan or to your emergency bag of tricks for particularly tough days so that your students’ minds can also get moving.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.