At a time when schools are canceling recess for more reading and math instruction, the best test prep may be exercise. Getting students up out of their seats wakes up and enlarges their brains!
Recently I’ve visited classrooms in which students have excellent self-control. They sit up straight in their chairs and work quietly, but their lack of movement is noticeable and worrying.
As teachers there are times during the school day when we can and should promote movement.
Do Brain Gym Exercises — In mid-morning my class does Brain Gym exercises, which I learned from an occupational therapist. Many Brain Gym exercises, such as “Touch your elbow to your opposite knee,” cross the midline and help handwriting skills develop. We do Brain Gym exercises right before our handwriting lesson to train our brains, as well as to relax and focus. You can get information about Brain Gym on the Brain Gym Web site or locate a resource book like the one pictured above.
Run at 2 p.m. — At 2 p.m. I give students an exercise break to increase their focus and attention for the last hour of the school day. Every day at 2 p.m., weather permitting, my students line up at the back door. I give a series of instructions, turning the playground into an obstacle course. For example, I'll say, “Run to the fourth maple tree and touch the trunk, then run behind the red swings and touch the green ladder on the big slide,” usually giving them about five steps in all. Students take turns leading the group. Sometimes I use a stopwatch to encourage racing. Those who tire easily walk part of the way, but everyone completes the course.
Add Joy to Your Classroom — One benefit of impromptu exercise is that it brings joy into a classroom. Yes, school is serious business, but a few minutes of exercise put a smile on students’ faces.
Get Parents’ Support — Most parents understand the importance of exercise, but mention the connection to learning and brain development at this fall’s parent-teacher conferences. Reprint one of the articles referred to below, or copy a list of Brain Gym exercises for parents to take home. A parent may tell her child to sit right down after school and complete his homework, while 30 minutes of exercise first would make homework time more productive.
Discover What Experts Say — Read “The Fittest Brains,” by Gretchen Reynolds, in the September 19, 2010, issue of the New York Times Magazine or a New York Times article entitled “Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?” You might also read the abstract of the University of Illinois study of the connection between brain development and aerobic exercise in children. Finally, visit Brain Rules, a Web site by Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine. With a sense of humor he illustrates how "exercise improves cognition" and "stress changes the way we learn." Son of a fourth grade teacher, he also claims that, "If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom."