As state testing time rolls around, I am starting to think of things that will help my students succeed. We have been working hard all year on the state standards and applying the rigor that is needed for common core, but as I contemplate how to help my kids do their best, I am realizing there is more to it than just academics. It seems that every year I teach, I notice students becoming more fidgety and higher numbers of students diagnosed with ADHD. These kids can’t sit still in their seats and I cannot count how many students have rocked back in their chairs and fallen backwards, sometimes hurting themselves. Kids need to move and yet for 6 hours a day they are supposed to sit still. I think we are doing a huge disservice to students by not accommodating movement more within the classroom. Engagement and test scores will go up if we fostered more of a movement environment within schools and the research proves it.
As the brain develops in kids, sensory systems respond to movement. This in turn helps teach the fine motor skills that are at the basis of learning. Students need to move and this can help them feel active and alert, which in turn helps their learning. How often as an adult do we zone out or fall asleep in meetings because we are required to sit still for long periods of time? The same goes for students. As adults, we learn how to cope by choosing to sit in positions that are more comfortable or move our arms and legs in order to stay alert and engaged.
Today’s kids are more sedentary than their parents at the same age. Students spend more time sitting and being on technology than doing active activities. Research has proven a link between fundamental movement skills students becoming proficient in reading and writing.
So what can we do to help create an environment of movement within the classroom? There are several things that can be done that don’t use any money to implement. One of those is using brain breaks. Kids of all ages can benefit from these. My district has even started implementing them during professional development trainings. Spending just 30 seconds up and out of their chairs can cause students to become reinvigorated and be able to refocus back on their task. It can be something simple as doing jumping jacks to doing desk or chair push ups, to playing rock/papers/scissors with your feet with a classmate. Another great free option is Go Noodle. Even my 6th graders love doing Go Noodle. These simple song/dances get the kids up and moving in an engaging matter. I’ve gotten creative over time and made my own based on what we are studying. For example, when studying Ancient Greece and working on Greek prefixes/suffixes/roots, we learned the Greek alphabet. To help my student memorize the alphabet and also move, we stood on one foot and traced the alphabet with our other foot in the air. This could also work in younger grades with just the regular alphabet. If you do an internet search for brain breaks, tons of activities will come up.
Other options that help foster movement in the classroom are flexible seating arrangements. This has become a big movement in the past few years. I have several students in my room who use a rocking chair. Rockers encourage movement in a moderate range of motion that is non disruptive through the power of rocking. My school is going through a remodel and we are hoping to replace all chairs with rockers. You can also use adjustable or swivel chairs that encourage movement. Some classrooms now are changing their desks to having a selection of ways for kids to work by offering standing desks or even desks that students sit on the ground at. A cheaper alternative is to buy resistance bands and tie around the legs of chairs or desks that students can bounce their legs or feet on. This helps students move while being non-disruptive.
I have been very lucky this spring to get a class set of stability/yoga balls as chairs. Students are able to bounce and roll and move in a non-disruptive way and are way more engaged while sitting. I had to set ground rules and all students signed a contract in order to use the balls as chairs. It definitely had a teaching/transition period. My students love it and so do the parents. Many parents were very encouraging when they heard about it.
Another way to include movement is to plan activities during teaching that encourage movement. Some ideas include:
- Play charades to review main ideas or other content review.
- Students could pantomime to dramatize a key point.
- Play a ball toss game to review vocabulary, spelling words or math facts.
- Play a tug-of-war game in which everyone chooses a partner and a topic from a list of topics that every student has been learning about. Each person forms an opinion about his or her topic. The goal is for each student to convince a partner in 30 seconds why his or her topic is more important. After the verbal debate, the pairs form two teams for a giant tug of war for a physical challenge. All partners are on opposite sides.
- When reviewing for a content test, do a maze activity where students work together as a team to walk through a maze of review questions.
I’d love feedback on ways that you are encouraging movement within your classroom and I challenge every teacher and administrator to try and get students and staff members up moving for at least 30 seconds every 30 minutes. I think you will notice students will be more responsive and engagement and test scores will go up!