5 Reasons to Get Students Moving!

5 Reasons to Get Students Moving Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lloyd via Flickr, CCL 2013

Last week I had the opportunity to present a professional development session to a local faculty on the topic of movement. Specifically, the title of the presentation was “Managing Movement in the Classroom.” It’s one of my favorite PDs to deliver because it is so engaging and fun! We were up and moving all morning. The positive response from the teachers motivated me to get busy sharing more movement tips and ideas on this blog. But before I get into the “how” let’s talk about the “why.” Why should teachers work to bring more movement into their classrooms?

1- Movement enhances memory – We have learned so much about the human brain and how it learns. I could spend a month of posts on that topic alone. However, the main idea for today is that physical movement is a powerful hook for memory and long-term learning. In fact, brain researcher Eric Jenson says that the part of the brain that processes movement is the same part of the brain that processes learning. Numerous brain researchers tout the benefits of hands-on, “up and active” learning experiences. Learning that is experienced kinesthetically is much more likely to “stick” than sedentary learning experiences. (And do we really even need researchers to tell us this information? Think about the learning experiences that have stuck with you over the years. I’d be willing to bet that many of them are connected to a kinesthetic, “hands-on” experience.)

2- Movement raises energy levels – The more you move, the more energized you will feel. Even short bursts of movement (like classroom movement breaks) can build stores of energy that help us think more clearly and accomplish more work.

3- Movement helps kids concentrate – Did you know that when we exercise, the brain releases endorphins which help us prioritize our thoughts, block out distractions, and focus?  For example, a 2007 study found that students who received 15 minutes of physical activity scored better on a test than students who remained sedentary but received an extra lesson on academic content. In other words, one lesson and a recess break was better than two lessons. How’s that for proof? It goes to show that sometimes we need to stop talking and get them moving.

4- Movement improves our mood – Don’t believe me? Get up and do the Hokey Pokey. It’s hard to stay grumpy! Researchers in the mental health field have found that regular exercise makes us feel better- physically and emotionally. In fact, clinically depressed adults who participated in regular exercise improved as much as people who took prescription anti-depressants! When you move, your body releases endorphins (feel good chemicals), suppresses chemicals in your body that cause depression, and raises your body temperature (which can cause us to feel calm and secure.) Got a classroom full of grumpy kids on a Monday morning? Get them moving!

5- Movement is fun! Brain research actually tells us that for learning to survive long-term in the brain, emotional context might be the most important factor. In other words, hum-drum mundane activities like sitting in your desk aren’t going to be very memorable. On the other hand, active, authentic and hands-on learning experiences produce memories that last for a lifetime! (See the Shoe Store Project as an example.) Fun matters! When our students are up and moving (whether pantomiming a moment from history, “dancing” the water cycle, hopping on one foot while skip counting, or simply taking a quick movement break between lessons) they are breathing more deeply (increasing oxygen intake), laughing (releasing endorphins and adrenaline) and “waking up” their bodies. This produces positive effects that last much longer than the duration of the movement itself.

PS– This list isn’t just for teachers of young children. It’s for learners of all ages- PreK through adult! So just because you might teach high school students, don’t think you’re off the hook. Their attention spans are a bit longer, but they need to move just as much as the littles.

Note: I have linked to outside resources throughout this post so you will know that I’m not just making this stuff up! Please know that these links are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to research about movement, the brain, and learning. There are entire books and websites devoted to the subject. If you want more information, I encourage you to seek it out! And if you have any resources to share, please note them in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

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