Photos by ©Kelly Wegel 2011
Have you ever been sitting at your desk … for a test or a long class period … and felt as if you needed to jump up and run around the room just to DO something? That could be your brain reminding your body that MOVEing helps you think and learn.
Dr. Phillip D. Tomporowski, coordinator of the exercise science major at UGA, says, “There’s a reason that teachers use physical activity such as recess as a reward. When students finish what is needed academically, they get to go outside.” In a study that included students who are eight to 12 years of age and engaged in an after-school program, Tomporowski proved that “brief periods of physical activity help with learning by stimulating brain activity.”
This is not news to most educators and parents. The director of a nearby community orchestra will often stop in mid-rehearsal – or even in the middle of the music! – to have the players stand up, turn around and run in place before continuing. He knows that the musicians’ energy and acumen increase immediately, and that translates to better music! A local teacher has D.E.A.R. time in class – Drop Everything And Read – but first the children must do 20 jumping jacks and go to a completely different part of the room before settling in with their book.
“The key is to have adults think of exercise not as adults, but as kids for kids,” says Tomporowski.
Adults do not always do very well at being motivated to exercise. Often, their motivations are health, wellness, preventing injury and even obligation. They are ‘supposed to’ exercise because they know it is good for them.
Children, on the other hand, play just for the sake of having fun. They do not – at least early in life – know or even need to know that playing (read ‘exercising’) is for anything other than pleasure. When children play, they associate it with fun and friends. What they may not realize until later in life is that they also feel and think better after they’ve been at play.
With this in mind, teachers, moms and dads are encouraged to engage children in physical movement by playing games and pursuing activities that successfully incorporate moderate to vigorous physical activity and learning. For example, if your children or students love to play hop scotch, start with the basic game and then have them:
- Count out loud as they hop
- Hop a certain number of times in each square
- Turn around as they hop
- Bounce within each square
- Make up their own game-within-the-game
In other words, take a traditional or well-known game and make it:
- Last longer
- Be more challenging
- Feel less repetitious
- Increase brain function
- Encourage creativity
Many exercise ‘fads’ have come and gone over the years, and some have come to stay in the same or an evolved form. The reason many exercise routines change or even disappear is because all of us – young and not-so-young – want to have fun when we are active. If our routine is, well, routine, it can cease to be enjoyable. From jazzercise to Zoomba, yoga to pilates, kickboxing to Tae Bo, P90x to CrossFit, exercise options update constantly to challenge us intellectually as well as physically.
Helping your student learn in the classroom does not always have to mean sitting them in front of a computer. Some skills that help in cognitive thinking work can be learned in that setting, but they are learning to be sedentary at the same time. Teachers and parents don’t have to be exercise trainers to know that kids like to play while they learn.
“In our study,” states Tomporowski, “we confirmed that brief periods of physical activity help students during a learning activity. Movement stimulates brain activity. Changing things up on a shorter basis helps, too. Adults can take advantage of what students do naturally on a daily basis, thereby helping them be more successful academically and intellectually. Rearrange a room in the house by asking your kids to help move furniture; offer incentives for them to deep-clean their room; make yard work fun by allowing them to jump into the leafpile (and re-rake all the leaves!), helping them climb a tree, having a weed-pulling competition. Every bit of physical activity will help them feel better while they’re having fun, and ultimately their brain is engaged just as fully as their body.”
You can read Dr. Tomporowski’s complete study at http://1.usa.gov/thfMMr.
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