The More Kids Get Moving, The Better They Do In School

Hi Readers — I was just going to tweet this, but it’s such a cool story, I’m providing the link here. A high school in Naperville, Illinois is holding gym class first period for some kids who struggle with academics. The idea is: Switch on the body and the brain switches on, too. And even in the classrooms there are bikes and balls. (Stationary bikes, that is. Otherwise, I’m not quite sure how much learning the kids would stick around for.)

The program has been running (so to speak) for five years and the students in it are now reading 1.5 years ahead of grade level, according to the story.  So instead of chipping away at recess, as some schools are doing to make extra time for test prep, maybe we should start chipping away at test prep to make time for bouncy balls and square dancing. — Lenore

40 Responses

  1. Sounds like a great idea, and the one comment on the site opposed to it was just plain weird.

    As for me, one more reason to keep the kids walking to school. It’s not a full blown PE class, but it’s exercise.

  2. I’ve seen some studies have having kids sit on the big balls during class, and that can help a lot too.

  3. I home school my perpetually active 5 yr old, and I shudder to think how he would do in a sit-still classroom environment. When he was learning to read, I would have him repeat phonemes as he ran back and forth. To tie in with this, I was just reading an article about how children recall facts better if they learn a gesture or action at the same time. Moving=good for kids!

  4. BRAIN GYM is a program of physical exercises that aid reading ability and learning in general. My wife introduced it in her schools years ago. The Brain Gym website is:

    http://www.braingym.org/

    I’m sure you can also find many testimonials and articles on the net about it.

  5. In my experience – tutoring underperforming kids and with a slightly learning disabled child – the need to move is often linked to learning difficulties. For some people it’s as if their brains are at odds with their bodies. I’ve had good success with jumping jack breaks and with teaching meditation.

    And isn’t the exercise link true for adults too? I certainly think more clearly after a walk.

  6. My only concern here — I can see a lot of good in this idea — is what about the kid who needs extreme quiet and calm to concentrate? I know a family of girls that can hardly stand to have anyone in the same room MOVING while they’re trying to study. They’re quite active at other times, but any kind of actual mental learning time has to be really hush-hush. It’s got to be tricky trying to balance things for the kids who need movement, and the kids who need quiet!

  7. The last batch of kiddoes I nannied (before having my little guy and staying home with him), the little boy was ADHD and I had to supervise his homework. I found it was actually easier to get him to do his math if I set him goals of “5 problems and then you can run around the house twice” or “5 problems and then you can do 20 jumping jacks”. He actually got excited about getting his math done when he had the incentive to be active in spurts!!

  8. I’ve been looking for a reason to require my son to do some morning exercise, and this is it! I will also teach him the new route to his school on his bike (we moved and I’ve been driving him since).

  9. I love this! Probably not something widely needed when kids all walked to school, but now that they are being driven hither and yon, it’s a necessity. Wish my son’s school would do this, although it certainly looks expensive!

  10. Teacher Comments
    My school does this with 5th graders. They have Specials (includes PE 2x a week – music and Art incorporate movement and exercise into lessons) first thing in the morning. Learning went up – fights went down.

    During State testing (Texas untimed all day testing by state law), I encourage my kids to take a bathroom break at the end of each passage in Reading and every 10 problems in math.

    When we group students each year –
    1st we place the legal have to be in certain classes groups. This is mainly G&T, Bilingual, and SPED inclusion (SPED because they have to have an inclusion aid available and we have limited number of aids)

    Then we sort kids into have to move around/need lots of quiet and put them in different groups. I know it sounds nuts. But it is easier to teach a bunch of have to get up and move around kids than a mixed group.

    Another thing we do – is save headphones when they break. We cut off the cords and throw them in a box. Students who need help tuning out sound can use them to block noise.

    Whisper phones (PBC pipe that goes from child’s mouth to ear) help those that HAVE to talk out each problem. They can whisper so low you can’t hear them – but they can hear themselves.

  11. When I was a teacher and was lucky enough to have a small class, I’d keep my desks in a circle so I could walk around the room and, during discussions or debates, I’d encourage them to walk around too. As an incentive, I had a small bean ball that I’d toss around to students and they’d toss back to me. It was fun, it was active, and it was an incentive to work as I may not toss you that ball unless you participated. It is boring sitting at a desk, but moving around gets the brain pumping (in more ways than one.)

  12. I’ve actually used this on myself with a treadmill when studying… I only walk at like 1 mi/hr, which is super slow, but I’m moving, and it seems to keep my brain more engaged.

  13. I have one daughter who is visually impaired and doesn’t have a great visual memory. However, she is a very physical child. I figured out ways to connect physical awareness with grapheme awareness. For example, form your fingers into a “v” or your body into a Y (yay!). I found some ABC books where the letters were formed by people posing in straight lines and curves. I also picked an ABC of dance and some kid-friendly poetry books relating to physical phenomena such as wind. I’m happy to see some other ideas in the above comments. I have seen improvement and, more importantly, a greater interest in graphemes.

    I don’t expect that the local schools will provide more institutionalized exercise. So I do what I can to facilitate their activity during unstructured times. There is no question in my mind that the activity keeps their minds sharp. However, combining learning and exercise at the same time doesn’t work for all kids. My more academic, less athletic child just wants to sit quietly and read. Whatever works for the individual, right?

  14. By high school, the ability to concentrate on a subject or a task one finds boring for (horrors) a WHOLE hour is probably a valuable job slash life skill skill.

    Nor is it unreasonable to expect high schoolers to figure out “I concentrate better after I exercise” and jog a mile or something before coming to school all by themselves.

  15. Sorry for the “skill skill”🙂

  16. We run a special needs high school for learning and behavior problems and always do PE first. There is a lot of research that supports this schedule.
    We have been training students through Martial Arts for PE class and have improved results beyond regular PE activities. Schools should definitely include this type of schedule.

  17. Is there any difference as to the time of day? The way you worded the post, it implies that the fact it’s first period made a difference. Just curious.

  18. Brain studies show that tween and Teens are operating on a different clock that most of the rest of society. Their shift towards later nights and sleeping in may be a biological shift.

    Activity + starting learning at a later hour is probably the best combination.

  19. The fact that ABC News is picking up on this is amazing really. This means the idea is getting into the mainstream.

    The ONLY reason I ever expect my preschoolers to sit in one place during our school day is because I know their kindergarten teachers will expect it and they’ll need the practice, but even then we might sit for a total of 15 minutes the entire school day. Every preschool teacher knows that children learn best when given the chance to use their whole bodies. I don’t see why that should change as we get older.

  20. Speaking of school… I was watching “Phineas & Ferb” with my kids and something hit me. In many of these shows (that qualify for E/I status, I might add!) the kids are wandering all over town and having marvelous adventures and are learning new socialization and creativity skills while mostly unsupervised by adults. I present Phineas & Ferb (as mentioned before), Dora the Explorer, her cousin Diego, Dragon Tails, Cyberchase, Kai-Lan, Max & Ruby, Little Einsteins, Backyardigans, Sesame Street, Wonderpets… the list goes on. Why do parents encourage children to watch these “educational” shows and then not let their children actually try to utilize what they’ve seen?

  21. My son has a sensory integration issue and I am constantly trying to sell my sons’ school on this. It was interesting to watch him at an occupational therapy session and witnessing how he could actually focus and follow instruction better when he was moving/swinging. Thank you so much for posting this!

  22. One of the local schools in the area replaced the chairs in a couple of classrooms with exercise balls on a trial basis. I gather it went well.

  23. Off-topic… but Leonore you should head over to the Doctor Grumpy blog and read the April 17 post on the parent who gave him a checklist form to sign for his daughter’s sleepover.
    Amazing:
    drgrumpyinthehouse dot blogspot dot com

  24. I think this idea could apply to more than just kids. I used to work at a museum of a historic site that included some corporate heritage. The entire town was built by this corporation, they actively assisted employees with buying homes there, and the people’s entire lives used to revolve around their work friends. The corporation built a huge gym and had intramural basketball, a bowling league, and a few other sports. I even found old photos of men in suits doing group calisthenics in the offices.

    Their results spoke for themselves. For decades, they were the leader in their field. They made housewares. I don’t exactly want to blow my anonymity by saying what they made and who they were, but I can guarantee that everyone reading this blog has used their product at some point in their lives, and probably owns a few. A union once came in, seeking to unionize, and concluded that they couldn’t do any better for the workers than what they already had.

    I’ve read that some modern companies are trying stuff like this. I know I always work better after I take a brief walk.

  25. Brain gym, Bal-a-vis-x, and yes movement first thing in the morning. Neurologists love this appoach. Movement and concrete (physical) experiences myelinate the neural passageways—-and then information is more useable. There is a ton of research on this.

    But don’t just have kids on bikes/balls only——let them also have the social experience of games! As usual, good find, Lenore!

  26. Victorian-era schools – which required the students to be mostly seen-and-not-heard, included daily calisthenics in the classroom. In fact, they did some pretty crazy PE stuff too!

  27. Take a look at “No Impact Man.” I really feel for those over committed kids. So much for relationships 😦

    viv in nz

  28. The stuff happening in Naperville is the basis of the book “Spark” by Dr. John Ratey- he does a talk on TED that is really good (I believe it is on Youtube too). The book’s first chapter details what was done, and what the results were. The rest of the book is heavily into neuroscience, brain chemicals, etc etc- gets a bit dry for us social science types. But if you have the chance, the beginning is pretty interesting.

    Reminds us once again of how detrimental the standardized testing has become for the educational system.

  29. I had never made the connection, but when I was in high school in the 70s my (small-town midwestern) school had before-school intramural volleyball in the gym during the winter months, and while this was ignored – if not ridiculed – by the mouth-breathers in the letter jackets, the participants did include most of the honor-roll students and pseudointellectuals. I was on a team called the Nads, and our girlfriends would sit in the bleachers and chant “Go Nads! Go Nads! Go!

  30. The commenters above recommending Brain Gym need to read seven years worth of posts by Ben Goldacre at http://www.badscience.net/category/brain-gym

    Yes, exercise is undoubtedly good for children, but it does not need to be accompanied by a pseudoscientific psychobabble overlay. May contain nuts.

    “Movement and concrete (physical) experiences myelinate the neural passageways” – another reason for walking to school?

  31. “My only concern here — I can see a lot of good in this idea — is what about the kid who needs extreme quiet and calm to concentrate?”

    That’s me. I would have done HORRIBLY in this environment. My daughter, on the other hand, struggles in a sit still environment and can happily learn while running in circles. I think the important thing is to have more choices in education, less of a one size fits all mentality – vouchers, perhaps, so people can go to the types of schools that best suit their kids.

  32. “This isn’t your old-fashioned gym class, where the teacher is wearing a whistle acting like a drill sergeant. These kids are learning to square dance.”

    Ummm…Sounds pretty old fashioned to me. That’s exactly what we did a few decades back in 6th grade.

  33. Our preschool was doing this for awhile, too. My son was a part of a class that was mostly very active boys. The teachers found that the students were able to concentrate much better if they had playground time at the beginning of class rather than at the end. 🙂 Our elementary school also has the children go out several times a day for mini-breaks–but that may be attributed more to the fact that they’ve cut PE down to 2x/week.

  34. Gee, and our local elementary school makes the kids sit in the gym in lines waiting for the bell to ring. They eliminated the before school playground time because the teachers and aids thought it was too hard to keep an eye on the kids. Guess our test scores will be going down soon.

  35. Sky – I was never a very athletic kid so the times we had square dancing (in 7th and 9th grades, maaaany years ago) I LOVED it. Plus we didn’t have to get changed.

  36. By contrast my daughter’s after school program canceled all playground time yesterday because a few kids wouldn’t stop talking when asked to. My daughter, with her strong sense of what’s fair, was very annoyed (she wasn’t talking, so couldn’t see why she should be punished, and anyway the punishment was stupid and counterproductive). I’ve sent an email to stress that outdoor exercise is just as important as sitting inside doing homework, and please don’t cancel it again. Don’t know if they will take any notice.

  37. This is a great idea. It is sad to me, though, that schools have to take on so much that parents should be doing, such as encouraging their children to get regular outdoor activity.

  38. Is that so? Thank you for the information.

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  40. That’s great! I know I’ve had to establish a small area (a rug) for kids to get some of their energy out during tutoring time. I work with kids with ADHD and anxiety issues, so this is a huge help, and allows them to focus better.

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