This article first appeared in Journeys Fall 2017.
Jump. Skip. Run. Play. Get on your feet. Just move!
The Singapore American School Instagram feed is ripe with teachers showcasing down time between lessons. Kids breaking out into a song and dance; short, quick brain breaks; a move and freeze game—all contribute towards movement. Movement that matters.
The underlying belief is: if you move well, you think well. Feel well. And live well.
Every major health organization from World Health Organization to the Center for Disease Control, and even United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommend that students get at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
Whoa! Really? Sixty minutes of play?
If you find that unbelievable, get this: schools in Finland offer students a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of classroom time. During this break, students are almost always encouraged to play outdoors.
A recent article in The Washington Post talks about how sitting for longer than about 20 minutes causes changes in the physiology of the brain and body, robbing the brain of much-needed oxygen and glucose, or brain fuel. The brain essentially just falls asleep.
In most parts of the world, kids today spend their free time using technology. Interestingly, this leads to challenges within the classroom because children are not moving their bodies. At least not enough for it to make a difference and stimulate their brain cells.
Usually, people do not see movement as a top priority in children’s lives and education. There is increasing pressure to cram more instructional time into one school day in an attempt to increase learning and boost scores, slowly shortening recess time. But, if holistic education is the goal, movement must be an integral part of the the offering.
KIDS ARE BUILT TO MOVE
How many kids can sit for hours at a desk laboring over lessons and homework? Even though it may seem counterintuitive at first, longer time on task doesn’t make for better results. To the contrary, it only leads to faster and greater burnout.
If you give children time for unstructured, outdoor play, you hit the reset button— an amazing tool to re-stimulate those brain cells to focus. This down time helps to break the day into shorter sessions, allowing kids to take the pressure off and thrive in an environment where the mind-body connection can flourish.
“Physical activity is cognitive candy,” says developmental molecular biologist Dr. John Medina. Exercise boosts brain power. This presents a huge opportunity for and drawbacks suffered by students who don’t get enough exercise.
According to third grade teacher Gary Gray, “Allowing exercise and movement throughout the school day makes students less fidgety and more focused on learning and building friendships. Students find a more positive outlook on learning and enhanced attention to detail, and generate a buzz for all subject areas.”
“As a teacher, I find that flexible seating, song and dance, and frequent energizers improve student on-task behavior. Every morning we like to sing songs and dance. At the beginning of the year, we practice a classroom morning song and routine and try to start our day with movement. This is often followed by our morning meeting that involves an active greeting, sharing, and activity that normally involves kinesthetic learning,” he adds.
Play is also linked to improvements in academic skills, classroom behavior, healthy emotional attitudes, and better adjustment to school life. The case for children doing something physical every day is growing. Jenny Seham of the National Dance Institute in New York City says she has observed for years the measurable academic and social results of school children who study dance. She notes the positive changes in self-discipline, grades, and sense of purpose in life that her students demonstrate.
THE EAGLE WAY
Regularly scheduled movement breaks throughout the day and movement used within and between lessons results in better-behaved, more engaged students who can more easily focus on and retain what they are supposed to be learning. Educational activities occurring simultaneously with physical movement influence academic achievement.
Many of our classrooms at SAS have flexible seating which gives students another opportunity to stay active. Flexible seating allows students to burn more calories, increase motivation, and improve metabolism and core strength. There are steppers, balance boards, exercise balls, soft mats, and floor peddlers inside classrooms. These tools not only keep students engaged, but also help the teacher with classroom management.
The new flexible learning spaces are designed so that opportunity for movement is maximized even in a classroom setting. It helps boost language development, problem solving, risk management, and independent learning skills.
The physical education program at SAS is a robust program designed around the philosophy of lifetime activity. Physical education classes cover a variety of athletics and help students learn the value of daily exercise. Students apply concepts like collaboration, communication, and character as they learn to play different cooperative games.
Purpose-built facilities encourage students to play sport and adapt to a healthier, well-balanced lifestyle.
All we need to do is move.
- Social, Emotional and Service Learning