Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Movement! It’s incredibly vital to maximize our children’s learning. I’m sure you have heard about all of the research linking movement to brain development, but in case you haven’t, let me fill ya in.. We know that moving our heads sends information to the brain and helps us focus and pay attention. Additionally, movement helps us develop our sense of space (where we are in space, the space around us) and visual perceptual skills needed for higher learning. Physically, movement influences our posture and our muscle tone. And last but certainly not least, movement helps with self-regulation. All of these skills are needed for children to be able to learn in school. So, since movement is so important for learning, the question is how do we create opportunities for movement in the classroom to support and foster success in the academic world? I’m glad you asked! Here are 7 easy ways to incorporate movement into you classroom.
#1. Movement stations and movement circuits are two popular ways to incorporate movement into the classroom. I’ve seen some teachers set up a movement center which includes a bucket of cards/pictures with movement prompts such as jump ten times, crawl backwards, throw bean bags into a bucket, touch your toes ten times, jump over tape on carpet side to side five times, hold your arms out to your side and make five large circles, complete five/ten push ups, do ten wall push ups, ten jumping jacks etc. As far as movement circuits go, I have a few examples posted on my facebook page, but there is a ton of room for creativity here. You can move all throughout your classroom, starting with wall pushups at the door, then tight wire walking on a piece of tape to a jumping station...just a rough example.
#2. Movement Breaks You can either schedule them for the same time everyday, or you can strategically place a movement break into the day when you feel your students need one. For example, if you know that you are about to work on a challenging subject/project, or if your students are about to take a test, you can insert a movement break before hand to help them focus.
#3. Embed movement within the curriculum. Teachers have so much to accomplish in a day and adding just one more thing can be daunting. Using movement in a math lesson is one example of threading movement and academics together. Jumping on a large number line to add or subtract numbers or jumping to math facts are two good examples. Adding a dance rhythm or motor pattern when studying spelling words or memorizing facts can be very helpful. I find that teachers come up with the best ideas once I suggest the concept.
#4. Stretching can be as effect as large movement like running or jumping. Your students can stretch at their desk, reaching to the ceiling and holding it for the count of five and then reaching down to their toes for a count of five. Twisting left and right with hands on hips is another idea.
#5. Breathing is a great addition to movement activities to maintain control of the classroom. We could all use some practice breathing slowly and deeply. Add breathing exercises to the beginning or end of a lesson, after recess, before a hard lesson/subject or change in the routine. I like to tell my students to “smell the roses” and “blow out the candles” and usually add a count- smell the roses and two, three four, five… and blow out the candles two three four five. Maybe repeat two or three times- you will see their behavior change.
#6. The playground is a great place to get in some movement, however sometimes there is more standing around than movement. I believe it is important to allow for some unstructured playtime so your student’s can get a break from all the work their brains are doing, but five minutes of structured muscle and movement work goes a long way. You could set up a routine designating the first five minutes of recess for running, jumping, climbing, or sliding and then the students are free to choose what to do. At the end of recess save a minute or two to complete a breathing exercise to prepare them for more learning.
#7. Alternative Seating is a another way to incorporate movement in the classroom. I always provide some rules for my students and remind them of the reasons we use different chairs- to wake up the brain and to help them focus so their brain can do all of the hard work required for learning. Usually the rules I give my students include that their bottoms stay on the chair, feet flat on the floor and their body must be in control (aka no falling off). *read more about alternative seating here*
All of these ideas are great, and can really make a difference, but the trick is picking the right movement activity for the situation at hand. A legitimate concern I hear from my teachers is that they are worried they will lose control of their classroom if they incorporate movement breaks. Don’t worry- I hear ya. Movement can be alerting. That is why we need to pick our movement activities strategically. Certain types of movement can be used to either wake your class up or calm them down.
Alerting movement includes fast, loud and/or unpredictable patterns.
Calming movement includes slow, quiet, predictable and rhythmical patterns.
When you see a need for movement but don’t want to amp up your classroom, try calming movement that moves the body in predictable, rhythmical ways such as stretches or yoga poses and include a breathing exercise. Then when your students need a wake up, maybe after they have been working really hard or for an extended period of time, choose more alerting movement like running in place to a certain beat, number/pattern, jumping jacks, or even some line dancing.
If you are still weary that movement will wind up your students...
add a cognitive component to the
activity help them stay regulated.
This may mean you have your students jump up and down for a count of 20, or maybe they count fast and then count slowly. Have them recite math facts as they jump or spell words. Alternating the activity can also keep students in check when moving. One of the PE teachers I work with has their students run in place fast and then change to tip toe walking in place at their instruction. This keeps them engaged as they have to listen for the prompt..all while getting their movement in!
So hopefully I gave you plenty of ideas for you to start incorporating movement into your classrooms. Movement is SO POWERFUL! Just start with one small thing and see how it goes. Let me know how it goes for you too! If you are on social media, I’d love it if you tagged your journey with #movingforsuccess or if you sent me a message directly that would be great too! Now let’s get movin’ :)