Studies Show Physical Activity Helps Students Learn & Behave Better

Physical Activity in school_ kids jumping

I like to go for a walk before I write. It’s the distraction-free pause I need before beginning a thoughtful task. I begin preparing myself for the work ahead by moving my body that, in turn, clears my mind enough to make the mental space I desperately need. I was taught to “move to get the creative juices flowing” and it’s a sentiment I’ve never strayed from.

Unfortunately, many children in classrooms across the country are drilled with a very different notion, usually in the form of a command:

Sit still!”

Usually, it’s from a well-meaning teacher, principal, or other school official working within the latest “sit still” guidelines that have been created by superiors.

Students can’t take standardized tests without sitting still. How could students and teachers possibly complete a thousandth hour of math or an umpteenth hour of reading if students aren’t seated? If classrooms aren’t using every possible moment for college and career readiness, how will the children ever compete with those from other countries?

However, changing the way students and teachers approach this “sit still” mentality isn’t about lowering the bar for kids; instead, shifting the focus from sitting to moving could raise the bar in more ways than one.

A University of Illinois study shares evidence that aerobic fitness benefits the brain during childhood; fitness and cortical brain thickness directly relate to academic achievement. In other words, the more active and physically fit the child was during the study, the thinner their cortical sections were, creating significantly higher brain maturation. Ultimately, body activity equals brain activity.

Aerobic exercise isn’t always 1980s sculpting classes. Aerobic exercise is simply any movement that increases the oxygen intake. How do we trigger this phenomenon within the guidelines of our classrooms? Here are a few methods that can get kids’ brainwaves moving:

1. Let them dance it out.

Audio tape _ Physical activity in school

I know, I know. The thought of actually giving an already-rowdy classroom of thirty permission to jump around is a little terrifying. You may ask yourself, “how can I possibly settle them down after telling them to dance?!” Fear not, teacher friend. While instructing your students to let loose can be a cringe-worthy experience, the action will relieve stress in the mind of your students, which may very well have a domino effect on your own mindset. Whether the class is “walking on sunshine” with Katrina and the Waves or whether they’re doing the “Cha-Cha Slide,” the students will receive a necessary break that will actually create a more relaxed and productive learning environment, according to this mindfulness program and study (Affiliate link). Find a clean, classroom-approved playlist here.

2. Incorporate movement into the lesson.

Physical activity in school

One way to be positive that movement is a part of your daily classroom routine is to write it into the lesson plan. One resource that has become a popular platform for movement-learning is Go Noodle, a website that uses smartboard technology to encourage students to wiggle and dance through interactive games. You can also look to social media for inspiration on movement-learning; this physical education/vocabulary game from Miss Physical Education merges two subjects and encourages physical activity in the classroom.

3. Make rewards movement-based.

Physical activity in school

Instead of that class pizza party, offer an outdoor game or free-time as a reward, if possible. Physical education classes are a constructive approach to movement, but can often lack the freedom that young minds crave. Rewards are a common occurrence in the classroom after students have reached a goal; incorporating movement into those rewards can be productive and enjoyable for all involved.

For educators, it can often seem as if the restrictions are endless; however, by implementing one or more of these movement methods in the classroom, it can give teachers the ability to greatly improve their students’ mental capacity. Most importantly, it can help students regain focus and excel mentally, physically, and academically.

Physical activity in school_ studies show Pinterest

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Whitney Ballard is a writer and teacher from small town Alabama. She owns the Trains and Tantrums blog, Whitney went from becoming a mom at sixteen to holding a Master’s degree in Education; she writes about her journey, along with daily life, through a Christian lens on her blog. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her in the backyard with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.

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