Getting Kids Moving Helps Build Brain Power
Children are born movers. They squirm, run, walk around and stay active anytime/anywhere.
Yet when they get to school, it’s all about sitting still and keeping silent. Of course, we have to establish an expectation they stay still and silent because that helps everybody pay close attention. And we have to keep control in the classroom,
But skilled classroom teachers know when students need to be quiet and when they need to move. There’s no need to fear a busy, active classroom. You might even consider adding formal times for movement into your daily schedule.
Here’s how to get more movement in your classroom:
Get kids thinking without thinking
Ever have the solution to a vexing problem or a new idea pop into your head when you weren’t trying to think about it? Our brain does some of its best work when we’re not asking it for a solution, which is why having students spend some time on a seemingly non-academic, movement-based task will help bring their brain to life.
Examples include getting up to stretch and move around the room, do a quick set of jumping jacks and deep squats, and, if space allows, to run around outside for a bit. As part of the exercise, encourage them to keep the problem or classwork that they’re currently addressing in the back of their minds. Some will return from that break with a new solution or approach.
Consider ‘Brain Breaks’
Steve Boyle, founder of 241Sports and widely considered the national leader on physical literacy, often speaks about the important connection of movement to learning. “It’s great to see schools come alive to the idea of movement as being integral to the classroom,” Boyle says, “and we need to remember that schools need to nurture the mental and physical sides of their students.”
He further advocates that teachers take time each day to offer students “brain breaks,” which 2-4-1 has coined “BrainErgizers,” and end with a moment of mindfulness. Experience has shown that getting them up and out of their seats during class helps to re-energize and refocus them for continued learning. Boyle urges us not to fall into the trap of thinking that being still and silent are the only ways to learn.
Take advantage of mental movement
Movement can also be a bit more mental than physical. Many teachers have made great use of jigsaw puzzles, card games and other problem-solving games to get students up and moving about the classroom. Getting moving and communicating with fellow students builds brain power and helps them burn off energy, experience a good challenge and develop essential interpersonal skills.
A recent phenomenon is the popularity of Scramble Squares. These nine-piece puzzles are easy to use but difficult to solve, and I’ve seen them become a near-obsession with our elementary school students.
Avoid the creep of becoming sedentary
The explosive growth of our connected society encourages sitting and being still. Smartphones and computers can keep students glued to their screens for hours at a time. More worrisome is the possibility that all the activity in games tricks our children’s minds into thinking that they’ve actually been moving, and this sends a signal that it’s OK to be still.
Speak of this with your students and their families, and think about recommending a blackout period for screen usage at both school and home. The trend toward being still with easy access to calorie-filled, but nutritionally empty food can spell a health disaster if we’re not careful.
Spread movement into the home
Send home information to parents outlining how children will move in your classroom. Offer parents tips and guidance on how movement is essential and encourage them to send their kids out to play, take them to a local playground, or use some family time for a hike or walking trip around the neighborhood.
Emphasize the connection between academic success, a strong body and how both can add up to a healthy brain. Also tell them how food and nutrition are often the most important — but missing — ingredient in a child’s day-to-day life.
Set class goals
Fitness trackers, worn on one’s wrist to track all sorts of movement, have become quite popular. People enjoy measuring their performance and the ability to challenge their friends to see who can move the most.
Set up a similar challenge for your class, and recruit colleagues who may want to do the same. A head-to-head challenge, with a fun prize at the end, is a wonderful way to motivate your class and drive home the importance of getting up and moving around.