One of my favorite stories of all time is my 5th grade game of kickball at my new school in Abington, Pennsylvania. We were out on the blacktop playing a really competitive game (it’s amazing what you think is competitive at 10 years old) against another class. It was my turn at bat and being new to the class, I wanted to make a nice impression on my classmates and the teacher.
I kicked a ball down the left field line and was sprinting full speed around 2nd base. As I watched the left fielder pick up the ball, my thought was, “there is no way I’m letting them get me out!” I slide into 3rd base! Yes, on the blacktop! Even though Mr. Betz called me out, that moment of excitement and fun, along with a large number of blacktop marks on my gluteus maximus always made me think about exercise and moving as a kid.
Maybe it’s my natural bias towards exercise and movement. Maybe it’s my love of watching kids move, laugh and smile. Maybe it’s simply the benefits of play that have inspired me to spend most of my adult life teaching kids about Health/Wellness. Whatever that maybe is, I find it necessary to write about how important it is for students of any age to be moving during Physical Education class, recess or any other class that they attend during the day.
Yes, I’m sure people will say, “of course Craig is rambling on about exercise and moving, he teaches this for a living!” Guess what, they’d be correct! By teaching almost 30 years, in grades from K-12, it’s obvious to me and many others the benefits of moving during the day. If you think about spending at least 7 hours in one place during the typical school day, doesn’t it make sense that getting up and moving would be beneficial for the mind and body? This isn’t just coming from a Health and Physical Education teacher. The data overwhelmingly supports the movement of children. A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that children who are more active “show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.” And a study released in January by Lund University in Sweden shows that students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school. Furthermore, Brian Gatens, the superintendent of schools in Emerson, N.J. says, “In schools, we sometimes are pushing against human nature in asking them to sit still and be quiet all the time.”
“We fall into this trap that if kids are at their desks with their heads down and are silent and writing, we think they are learning,” Mr. Gatens added. “But what we have found is that the active time used to energize your brain makes all those still moments better,” or more productive.
I’ve heard from both my colleagues and others that it’s challenging to get students up and moving during the academic portion of the class. Sure, in the middle of taking an exam, I wouldn’t suggest getting kids up and exercising while tests are on the table. Nor is it best practice to break up an excellent presentation with some random push-ups in the middle of class. What is appropriate though is the following 3 things:
- Think about how long students have been seated in their chairs. There isn’t any “golden rule” for getting them up, but as a habit, every 15-20 minutes or so has worked well for me in the past. Again, this will partially be dependent on age, grade level and the schedule your school follows. If periods are really brief, say 30-40 minutes, then even one break in the middle might do the trick. On the other hand, our school is transitioning to block scheduling, where the classes are approximately 90 minutes long. We never want to assume anything about education, but sitting for that long a period is a recipe for lots of boredom and tired students.
- Consider your lessons for the day. If you happen to be doing “gallery walks”, or another type of activity where students are already circulating around, then you might already have everything covered. Remember, the movement doesn’t have to be, nor should it always revolve around a set structure of exercises. Anytime students are standing and even walking, that’s considerably better than staying seated.
- Allow students to get up on their own. This may cause you to see a “red” flag, but in my experience, just the opposite happens. When you tell students that they can stand if they need to take a quick break from sitting, it doesn’t mean that your entire class will all of a sudden get up and pledge to the flag. More often than not, those students who truly need to get up, will! When students do that in my class, I actually applaud their willingness to think about their bodies and minds. They are reflecting enough to know they need a second or two to get out of their seats. This does bring up the topic of bathroom breaks. If you don’t happen to have a bathroom rule for class, reflect on how many times students are asking you to go to the bathroom. If they are asking frequently, this may be a signal that it’s time to mix it up a little bit. Of course, they may need to really go!
Here is a great short video that sums up things really nicely!
Thanks for checking out this blog post! I welcome your comments, questions or suggestions!
Have a great day!