Although many educators and parents know about the correlation between learning and movement, many disregard the connection once children get beyond kindergarten. But did you know that encourging students to sit still while learning and even completing homework could do more damage than good?
Sitting is Bad for the Body and the Brain
The human body was not designed to sit for long periods of time, and research is now suggesting that a sedentary life is as detrimental to one’s health as smoking cigarettes. Sadly, many school age children are now sitting in excess of 8 to 12 hours a day, and this has a negative impact on their bodies as well as their brains.
Three Common Misconceptions:
- Sitting still improves learning.
- Students should stay in from recess when they don’t finish their classwork.
- Classrooms become unruly when students are allowed to move around.
Bringing Movement into the Classroom:
Educators who insist that their students remain seated during the entire class period are not promoting optimal conditions for learning. Instead, teachers should purposefully integrate movement into everyday learning such as daily stretching, walks, dance, drama, seat-changing, and energizing brain breaks.
Why Does Movement Benefit Learning?
Did you know that the part of the brain that processes movement is the same part of the brain that processes learning? When you encourage your students to be active, this:
- stimulates nerve cells to bind which is what learning is, at a cellular level.
- develops new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus which enhances memory and learning.
- triggers the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor which boosts the neurons' ability to communicate with one another.
- increases the release of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine, which energizes the body and elevates mood.
- provides oxygen-rich blood that feeds the brain for optimal performance.
- raises blood pressure and epinephrine levels among sluggish learners.
- improves the ability to handle stress.
- exercises the muscles, heart, lungs, and bones and strengthens the basal ganglia, cerebellum, and corpus callosum.
- fosters hemisphere integration.
- enhances social skills and emotional intelligence.
Kinesthetic Ideas for the Classroom:
Here are a few ideas that can help you to integrate movement into your classroom.
- Teach appropriate movements that your students can make while sitting at their desk such as bouncing their legs under the table.
- Incorporate movement into lessons. Allow students to move from one “learning station” to the next where short, interactive activities can engage students.
- Do crosslaterial movements that go across the midline to integrate the two hemispheres of the brain.
- Offer one-minute kinesthetic breaks in the middle of class where students can do a brain break activity, stretch, or even do a few exercises such as jumping jacks.
- Allow learners to stand and move around the class.
- Integrate activities such as acting out lessons or let your students create plays that illustrate the concepts.
- Offer a kinesthetic corner in your classroom where students can stretch on a yoga mat or roll on an exercise ball.
- Place information to be learned onto balloons or balls so that the students can review material by passing props to one another.
- Get standing desks, kinesthetic workstations, and chairs that allow students to move and bounce. I use the Zenergy ball chair in my office, and I find that it helps my students as well as myself. Place the highly kinesthetic learners on the sides of the class, so that their movement does not visually distract other students.
Clearly, movement is key in the learning process and it also improves overall health and wellbeing. I hope you too can support this in your classrooms and individual work with students.
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials. She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY. To learn more about her products and services, you can go to www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz