In order for a young child to be able to learn in school, he or she must be able to pay attention to information being presented by the teacher. This requires the student to use the many muscles of the legs and core to be able to sit tall, watch the teacher using their eyes, listen using their ears, and write using their hands . Believe it or not, children use their bodies to learn as much as they use their brains. It takes a tremendous amount of core and postural strength for a child to be able sit still for long periods time.
Movements like running , jumping, crawling and climbing, which children naturally do during play time, not only strengthen muscles from head to toe, but, in fact, also help the brain solidify many neural connections needed for learning. This is why children need movement...it literally makes their brain grow.
Unfortunately, over the past few years children have not had as many opportunities to move as much as they should because of the push for increased classroom time and focus on test scores. The idea to cut extracurricular work in favor of more book time has ironically proven ineffective as we now have millions of movement starved children across the nation who are even sometimes considered “learning disabled.” Clearly, more study time doesn't necessarily always mean smarter children. More classroom time also means less time children have access to other activities, some of those activities being coveted movement time like recess and physical education. In years past these were two staples of American education and something rambunctious children looked forward to while in the confines of school. Maybe what kids are missing these days is exactly what was taken away...the opportunity to move. Is it possible that more movement time can help children be more successful in the classroom?
As it turns out, the answer is “absolutely”...according to Active Living Research. When children are exposed to more physical activity, active children were 20% more likely to receive an A in English or math. Over a three year period standardized test scores increased 6%. Amazingly, there was a 21% decrease in time teachers spent on managing behavior. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many other positive benefits of physically active children like eliminating obesity and obesity health- related issues.
So what is so magical about physical activity and positive effect on learning for children? The answers are many, but here some specific examples to better understand how it works:
- Movements like crawling, climbing and hanging that children often do on monkey bars develop strength in the hands needed for fine motor skills.
- Sitting still and paying attention for long periods of time requires significant static strength, balance and posture - all of which are developed through movement and play.
- Children retain information better in segments rather than long drawn out class periods…when movement and recess breaks are given it allows them to process information in small pieces and thus gain a better understanding of the presented material.
- Outdoor movement and play exposes children to sunlight and the production of Vitamin D which has both direct and indirect positive effects on learning.
- Movement and outdoor play allows those children with excess energy and anxiousness to blow off some steam and be calm and relaxed during classroom time.
- Vigorous movement and play releases a certain chemical in the body called BDNF (brain- derived neurotrophic factor) that has been termed by many scientists as “Miracle Grow for the brain”.
- Movement and play allows children to be more creative and become better problem solvers, which has direct and indirect uses in the classroom.
- Movement and outdoor play exposes children to the environment, building stronger immune systems and fewer days missed because of illness.
- Unstructured movement and play allows children to push physical boundaries and gain a better understanding of spatial surroundings.
- Children love movement and play and should be given every opportunity to do so!
If you are an adult with access to children as a parent, teacher, coach or guardian be sure to make time to give children every opportunity to move, play and be physically active. It’s something they were wired to do and thoroughly enjoy. Its makes them smarter, healthier and ultimately happier children.
1. “Ignite Gym | At Ignite! We Practice Enrichment through Exercise.” Ignite Gym RSS2. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
2. Goddard, Sally, Lawrence J. Beuret, and Peter Blythe. Attention, Balance, and Coordination: The A.B.C. of Learning Success. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.
3. Graham, George, Shirley Ann. Holt/Hale, and Melissa Parker. Children Moving: A Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print.
4. Pica, Rae. A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity, and Free Time Create a Successful Child. New York: Marlowe &, 2006. Print.