There is no denying that our bodies were made for movement. Think of all of the things we are capable of doing — walking, dancing, biking, swimming, and so much more.
One of the most difficult challenges for a person is to sit down and stay focused. Even as adults, this task can seem daunting. We need to make an effort to get up and move. Those of us who work primarily in sedentary roles behind a desk have to try even harder. Constant sitting can have detrimental side effects on our bodies.
Children and students are constant bundles of energy. They have a high metabolism and a short attention span, which makes sitting and focusing in class a real challenge. It’s even harder for students with ADHD and focusing issues. The idea of sitting still for a full school day, or even a 45 minute lesson, may be nearly impossible.
That is one of many reasons why physical education and recess are so necessary for a school day. It gives students an outlet to burn off energy which helps them stay focused. Sadly, there are still talks of cutting these important activities to allow more time for test prep.
It is important that teachers are able to read their students. If teachers notice that their classes are restless or unfocused, they should take it upon themselves to start a physical activity. There is no need to wait for gym class. Physical movement can give students energy, help them relax, and increase focusing. Even a short break can have dramatic results! Research recommends we need to get up and move for at least five minutes every hour of the day.
Carole Richards, the founder and executive director of North Coast Education Services, spent 10 years as a classroom teacher in the Cleveland schools. Here are a few of her suggestions for increasing physical activity:
1. Something as simple as jumping jacks or running in place not only adds movement, but helps increase focus.
2. Purchase a small set of stairs to keep in the back of your classroom. Students can walk up and down the stairs to burn energy.
3. Students with ADHD need additional support. Give them an excuse to get up and move by letting them pass out papers. Place an extra desk in the back of the classroom where ADHD students can sit when they get antsy.
The American Heart Association published an online list of 135 different physical activities than can be performed in the classroom. The compiled list includes exercises to increase energy as well as techniques to help students relax and focus. With so many options to choose from, no doubt you can find a few that will work in your own classroom. (Just be sure to proofread them in advance — some suggestions might be a little too rowdy for your students.)
Here are a few of my favorite picks from the list:
4. No Stress Test — take a calming walk before taking an exam
31. Breathe It Out — teach calming breathing strategies that can be used in stressful situations
50. Yoga Positions — AHA suggests three poses, but you can search for more online.
6. Play Cards — a different exercise is assigned to each suit in the deck (and cards can be used for other classroom activities)
43. Stomping Out the Myths — a simple seated activity that can easily be incorporated into any lesson
63. Higher/Lower — an educational guessing game turned into a physical activity that can be played several days in a row
16. Rainstorm — I’ve tried this technique with my drama classes and it’s amazing! Mimic the sounds of a rainstorm as a group.
39. Mama Knows Best — practice good posture techniques at a desk and while walking
106. Magic Words — When a preassigned word is said, the students perform a physical exercise. (I suggest doing this with material that has already been read; otherwise, the kids will focus too much on the word and not the content.)
There are numerous benefits to incorporating physical activity into your classroom. Take five minutes every hour and spend some time getting up and moving around. Not only will it help your students, it will also help you.