The growing field of educational neuroscience supports a critical connection between movement and learning. But this area of study is nothing new. Maria Montessori highlighted the importance of the mind/body connection and movement during learning in her book, The Secret of Childhood, written in 1936. Early childhood studies have also linked early sitting and walking to later academic success, even when researchers controlled for socioeconomics and family education. (Kontra, Goldin-Meadow, Beilock 2011) It makes sense. Early movers gain time to interact with their environment through the sense of touch. If the brain is stimulated during touch, important neural connections are built and reinforced during the critical early years. Children’s brains are literally being built for future success.
David Sousa, international consultant in educational neuroscience, argues that that movement in the classroom continues to have strong implications for successful learning. He claims that physical activity increases the amount of oxygen in our blood and the increased oxygen is related to enhanced learning and memory. Therefore, we should be encouraging physical activity both inside and outside the classroom. Students should have regular opportunities to move around the room and use their bodies during learning opportunities. Unfortunately, students are often required to stay seated for much of the day and recess has been curtailed to increase study time for high-stakes testing.
So how can we encourage movement for learning? Encourage students to move using these strategies:
- Gallery Walk- Students walk around the room in teams and respond to wall postings. Postings can include: a.) A series of higher order thinking questions b.) Digital images supporting the unit c.) Student project work or d.) Related texts that support different perspectives on the same topic
- Write the room/Work the room/Compute the room- Individuals are given clipboards and asked to complete a series of learning tasks around the room. They can be writing words, answering questions, or solving math problems. Instead of working at their desks, student are moving through their work (literally) and you can easily visualize who is on task.
- Embodied Learning- During whole-group instruction, have students “act it out.” For example, throw pretend snowballs when counting. The key is finding ways to involve the body in the “learning story”.
- Brain Building Breaks- Between centers or learning activities, move your bodies with a Brain Building Break. Run in place, do 15 jumping jacks, or use music for a dance break. Not only do they help students to “get the wiggles out”, these activities enhance the brains ability to learn.
- Musical Mingle- Ask students to stand. Turn on music and have students wander around the room. Stop the music and pose a question. Students must work on an answer by talking to the person nearest to them. Repeat. This strategy requires all people to participate and grow.
- Role Play- Students learn all about writing structures, history stories, and science processes. Instead of asking them to write or speak their explanations, ask them to act out their understanding. In groups or solo, give students time to create a short performance that demonstrates their understanding.
Of course, Mind Missions lessons encourage students to move as they interact with the challenges from history and geography. Students work actively and collaboratively to build solutions and develop 21stcentury skills.
I hope that some of these strategies work for your classroom. An active classroom is a learning classroom and educational neuroscience agrees!