Movement in the classroom addresses the reality that students are not meant to be seated all day. Research has shown that movement allows students to be focused for longer periods of time, engaged in the classroom environment and have less overall anxiety. Locomotor movement is needed for physical and mental health, but it also supports student learning.
According to AboutKidsHealth's website, “…exercise leads to improved motor skills (such as hand-eye coordination), better thinking and problem solving, stronger attention skills and improved learning. Not surprisingly, these all combine to benefit school performance.” An article by R. Naeurt supports that physical activity can help students gain social skills, such as leadership and empathy, which help children learn healthy behaviors. These skills prove to impact students, as “research indicates that children can be empowered during a critical period of their development and that they can make a difference in their own life.” Movement can be incorporated in daily lessons and mindful breaks throughout instruction.
Movement to Support Learning
A research study, by Carrie Braniff (2011), identifies that movement and physical location impacts student engagement. Research supports that “implementing exercise activities throughout the day can help improve academic performance and reduce disruptive classroom and problem behaviors” (Braniff 2011). This is important to know so that educators can take proactive steps towards positive interactions with students.
According to a Jensen (1998) research study, transitions can be an “easy” way in which to get a student's attention. Transitions are a part of the school experience, in and out of the classroom, which can be a challenging concept for some students. Braniff suggests that transitions can vary, but ultimately can allow students a “brain” break in instruction. To transition between subjects, Braniff included 30 second intervals of physical movement, like jumping jacks, twisting, jogging or air guitar, into her routine. To include a physical transition, educators can include music, dance, stretching, or other stationary movement that can include drawing, writing or talking to a peer.
Depending on the classroom culture, students might ask for their individual breaks in various ways. Educators can model how to ask for these breaks early on, which can teach students how to advocate for themselves and also supports a positive classroom environment. By allowing students to stand up, move frequently, or work around the room, the teacher is supporting the needs of the student.
- Gallery Walk - This begins with students being broken into small groups. Each group starts at a different point around the classroom (typically at a poster or image hung on the wall). The groups spend an allotted amount of time at each station to complete a task and then walk to the next station.
- Scavenger Hunt - This activity can be tied into academics by having students search for clues such as right angles, state capitals, specific quotes, or elements on the periodic table.
- Stations / Centers - These are intentionally designed places around a classroom that have different activities for small groups to interact with or participate in.
- Learn Outside - Outside learning can be a great way to shake things up later in the school year. You can easily cover topics from measurement to metaphors while outdoors.
- Brain Breaks - If you notice the whole class is having a hard time focusing, offer a brain break to activate different parts of the brain and satisfy the need for movement. Think of quick movement breaks between difficult tasks.
- Breathing Exercises - These can take various forms. “Box breathing” is a popular technique where you take 4 seconds each to inhale, hold, exhale, and hold again. During this time students can use their pointer finger to draw a box along with the breaths and holds.
- Yoga stretches- The meditative mind muscle connection of yoga allows students to work on creating awareness in the present and calmness in the future.
- Walking Meditation - Moving while meditating gives students a mental break as well as a chance to get out of their seat. One way to do this is to have students do a “body scan” as they walk, noticing how all they feel from their feet to their head.
The end of the school year can be tough on both students and educators. Cross Country Education recommends these movement strategies to help each day flow more smoothly. By adding more movement into the classroom, students will become more engaged and focused when needed. If movement in the classroom is new to you, try starting small and make it a goal to implement at least one strategy per day. Not only are students in need of physical movement, but educators can feel refreshed afterwards, too!