Blog Posts September 27, 2017

Back to School: Movement is Learning

After a summer filled with activity, children are now back in school and being asked to sit still for hours a day. In the era of being judged on standardized test scores, many schools see movement and free play as a waste of time that could be better spent learning. But, here’s the kicker. Movement and free play ARE learning. And the scientific evidence is overwhelming.

“A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that children who are more active “show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.” And a study released in January by Lund University in Sweden shows that students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school.” according to the recent NY Times article Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class

The article goes on to say “John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” said: “Movement activates all the brain cells kids are using to learn, it wakes up the brain.”

“Plus,” he added, “it makes kids want to come to school more — it’s fun to do these activities.”

So Why Aren’t Schools Embracing Active Classrooms?

With so much research showing that movement and free play in the classroom are beneficial to outcomes, why aren’t more schools embracing this trend? It seems that educators understand that movement is important but there are several challenges getting in the way.

  1. Focus on Academics
    The NY Times states “The bottom line is that with only six and a half hours during the day, our priority is academics,” said Tom Hernandez, the director of community relations for the Plainfield School District in Illinois, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. He said that under state law, the schools provide daily physical education classes and that teachers in the district find ways to give students time during the day to refresh and recharge.”
  2. Lack of Resources
    According to Education Week Teacher, “The problem is that there aren’t enough hands. Many educators know how important movement is, but don’t have the classroom support to safely handle active children throughout the day.”
  3. Risk vs. Reward cites “Department/institution culture is often not set up to encourage teaching innovation” meaning that teachers perceptions are that active classrooms require more prep time but will reap lower rewards (perceptions of their peers that that are going against the standards and potential negative implications towards advancement). When broken down in that way, it’s clear to see that there is a perception that in schools where active classrooms aren’t encouraged by the administration, teachers believe that active learning requires more work and can damage a teacher’s reputation and chances for success in their field.


Overcoming the Objections

Movement helps academics and the changes don’t have to be huge or expensive.

The studies are clear. Movement and free play will help schools with their test scores and there are many free resources to help schools get started in small ways that don’t require significant resources.


And, as to overcoming the risk vs. reward roadblock? has some potential solutions:

  • Find allies.
  • Don’t be naive about your departmental/institutional culture. Be politically savvy.
  • Have evidence about active learning at your fingertips.
  • Be careful about how you talk about active learning with your colleagues who aren’t into it.
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