Can exercise improve children’s learning?

The natural order of classrooms has always been for children to sit. Whether it involves talking, discussion, working in groups or just listening to teachers, most of the time children do this from the comfort of a chair.

On average, most primary school children spend 70% of their classroom time sitting down. Outside the classroom the number of children walking to school has decreased and, at the same time, many more children are now spending longer staring at screens. A 2015 study found that children aged 5 to 16 now spend an average of six and half hours a day in front of a screen. This is compared with around three hours in 1995.

Due to these changes to children’s habits outside of school, it’s becoming increasingly more important how children spend their time in school. The UK government’s recent childhood obesity strategy, detailed in a blog post back in August, recommends “active lessons’ as one way in which schools can work towards providing children with at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

What are the benefits of an active classroom?

It has become increasingly clear a lifetime of sitting and inactivity can lead to higher risk of early death, type two diabetes and heart disease in adults. Although evidence is still limited when it comes to children’s health, it’s argued that sedentary behaviour habits are formed in early life, making targeting children a logical step.

Perhaps more importantly for schools is the growing evidence that links increased physical activity in the classroom and educational benefits. These include improved attention to tasks, as well as an increase in pupil’s enjoyment of lessons and their motivation to learn. For some pupils in certain subjects, academic achievement has also been shown to improve. A recent article in the Kinesiology Review, published by Human Kinetics details the effects physical activity can have on the brain and children’s cognition.

How can you bring it to the classroom?

Of course, many teachers already lead active classrooms and many others might only need to tweak their teaching practices to make them a little more active. A range of initiatives have already been trialled in countries such as the US and Australia. The majority of these studies have implemented either physically active breaks or physically active lessons.

An active break is described as a short interjection of a couple of minutes in which children perform simple physical activity. This could involve children moving around the classroom pretending to be a certain animal or even someone from a certain period of history.

In some cases, curriculum content can also be integrated into these breaks, for example by jumping or squatting a number of times to indicate the answer to a maths question.

Physically active lessons can go further than this and actually “teach through movement”. As an example younger primary children can physically embody punctuation marks as an another pupil reads aloud a passage from a book.

Physically active learning

This has since lead Loughborough University to begin a project entitled Class Pal, which hopes to help get children in the classroom moving. As part of the project, Loughborough has worked together with teachers to create a one-day training workshop. This gives educators the chance to develop and share ideas, as well as methods on how to better implement active teaching. As well as the workshop, they’ve set up a website with online examples of active breaks and lessons.

Source: The Conversation

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