By: BJ Williston, SPARK Trainer and Curriculum Development Consultant
Most classroom teachers understand the importance of physical activity for their students. Not just for their physical health, but for many other reasons. Active, fit children do better in school. They have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized tests. Many teachers notice that students are better able to focus on learning after they have been active. This activity may come in many forms including recess, running/walking clubs, physical education class, and/or activity breaks. So, instead of keeping students at their desks for hours at a time, there is much evidence to show that breaking up all that sitting with some physical activity is a win/win. Not only does the activity benefit them physically and help reduce obesity, but it can also help them academically.
Here are 3 steps to make your classroom more active:
Make an Activity-Friendly Environment
Look around your classroom. Is the space inviting for activity? If not, there are many ways you can help to make it more conducive for movement and active learning.
- Keep out the clutter. Clean areas between desks so it is easy to move.
- Ditch the sofa. If you have a couch in your room, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to it. Kids are sitting way too much already; the couch tends to promote even more sedentary activity.
- Arrange desks in a large U to keep the center open for activity.
- If you like grouping desks into small groups, put cut tennis balls on the bottoms of the legs to make them easier to move around
- Try using any of numerous types of active seating. With these kinds of seats, students move their legs and/or arms, and engage their core while participating in class. Some examples are the Standing Desk, Therapy Balls, Ball Chairs, and Pedal Desks.
- Display photos of folks being active all around your room.
- Have a space for students to bring photos of themselves being active.
- Use music to motivate your movers. A small, Bluetooth speaker doesn’t take up much room, can be recharged, won’t blast music too loud for neighboring classes, and can play appropriate and current music you put on your phone/tablet.
- Have equipment ready for activity. Things like juggling scarves, cones for stations, yarn/fluff balls, etc. on hand make it easier for you to get them active quickly.
Make Time for and Schedule Activity
It is recommended that children get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. If your school has daily PE and recess twice a day, they may be getting close to that goal. However, chances are you don’t have daily PE and even if there are 2 recesses, you can’t guarantee all kids are active during that time. So, having activity breaks scheduled throughout the day will certainly add up those minutes to help reach their goal. Aside from simply adding activity minutes to their day, activity breaks are great for learning. It is recommended that students get a kinesthetic brain break every 30 minutes or so throughout the day. That may seem like a lot, but research shows that students need to change things up that often to help them focus and re-energize for more efficient learning. So, how can you make this happen? Here are a few suggestions:
- Use a timer or timer app that will make a quiet alarm every 30 minutes. Designate one student each day to be in charge of setting it and choosing some of the activities your class will do.
- Write a list of activities (1-5 minutes) and post on a wall/board. At the top and bottom of each hour you are in class, do the next activity on the list. Check them off as you go.
- Use a calendar app to remind you every 30 minutes throughout the day to get your students active.
Whatever you do, set aside and schedule time for your activity breaks. Each will last between one and five minutes and will help, not hinder, the learning in your class. Be consistent with this every day throughout the year. You are going to wish you’d started this years ago!
Choose and Lead Fun, Active Breaks
There are all sorts of activities you can do to get your students up and moving. They fall under 2 main categories: Brain Boosters™ and Anchors.
- Brain Boosters™: These are a great way to get your kids up and will change the focus from what they were learning to something totally different. These help to activate and energize students’ brains. Samples of brain boosters™ might include juggling, doing a short dance, playing rock, paper, scissors, playing non-elimination Simon Says, doing a quick fitness activity, or following a short activity video.
- Anchors: These are an active way to learn academic material. Studies show many students learn better when they get to use their whole bodies. Kinesthetic learning helps to anchor the knowledge they learn. Examples include:
- Standing and counting, but hopping on one foot when you say an odd number, and jumping on 2 feet when you say an even number.
- Having students move in and out of a circle to show fractions, decimals, and percentages.
- Students spell using their bodies for letters.
- Students act out cell division with motions for each phase.
You can find samples of both types in SPARK PE programs under the Limited Space Activities section, as well as in the SPARK ABCs Program. There you will find many Brain Boosters™ (also known as ASAPs, or Activity Soon as Possible) as well as dozens of activities to help teach language arts/literacy, nutrition education, social studies, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in an active way.
If you are tight for time and have access to a method for showing videos there are many types of activity videos out there. SPARK has some great ones in a DVD that include 30 videos you can have your students follow along with and another 20+ more that show you ideas to do for Brain Boosters™.
Recap: Your 3 steps for a more active classroom are:
- Check out your classroom and make it more activity-friendly.
- Make time and schedule activity throughout the day every 30 minutes or so.
- Lead fun and active breaks to add activity to their day and to help break up the sitting and re-energize their brains for better learning!