Monday, August 1, 2011

Get Moving: The Power of Meaningful Movement in the Classroom

This is a guest post by Barbara Gruener, who has been a teacher and counselor over the course of her 27 years in education.  Check out her blog: The Corner on Character.

I love Will Rogers’ adage, “Even when you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” It’s funny, but it’s also very true. His point? Get moving!

Infusing meaningful movement into your students’ day is a motivating way to engage brain-wave activity and increase productivity. Professor and author John Medina wrote all about it in his book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. “Physical activity,” he claims, “is cognitive candy.” Because exercise boosts brainpower, students simply have to move to maximize their cognition. Dr. Medina actually suggests moving every six minutes or so. How does that compare with the amount of movement your students are currently getting? After reading that exercise can actually trigger the tiny protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and act “like Miracle-Gro for the brain,” I started walking the track with the students who request counseling sessions. Because movement actually aids in executive functioning like concentration, impulse control, foresight, and problem solving, my students’ minds open up and possibilities become realities.

Dr. John Ratey, author of the Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain puts it this way, “To improve our brains, we have to move our bodies. . . . Exercise, involving a series of complex movements while coordinating one’s balance, has been proven to generate a greater number of connections between neurons. These connections make it easier for children of all ages to learn.” That’s why I make it a practice to seal the deal on my guidance lessons with a song and a dance. We end each session with some version of a dance like the hand jive, the chicken dance, and the bunny hop; on the rare occasion that I don’t have any movement planned, my students miss it and ask for it specifically. At my son’s junior high, they’ve actually got an exercise room with 60 stationary spin bikes and many more exercise balls to give students opportunities throughout the day to fire their dendrites.

Moving to upbeat music can also elevate and stabilize your students’ moods. I’ve seen it time and time again in my Sing, Dance, Laugh and Build Character workshops. Many-a-tired audience member has been brought back to life when I crank up a song like Rose Falcon’s Up, Up, Up or Captain Music’s Dalmatian Disco and we start dancing. Words can’t explain how energized participants are when we move to the German song So a schöner Tag (Fliegerlied). Look it up on YouTube and you’ll see why! Spirits are naturally lifted when we move to the beat of such happy music!

Yoga can also do the trick. This combination of a science and an art helps students coordinate the movement of their bodies with their breathing to improve blood oxygen levels and allow higher blood circulation to the brain. Its outcome? Clearer, more concise thoughts; who wouldn’t want that in a student? Use yoga as another avenue through which to engage learners that seem stuck in a rut. Pull out your favorite yoga stretches and be inspired. Let students pick their favorites and take turns leading. I picked up a copy of The ABCs of Yoga for Kids by Teresa Anne Power this past spring and am eager to try some of the 56 kid-friendly poses designed to promote flexibility, strength, and coordination for when my students need a movement break.

Finally, the folks at Special Olympics have designed a cool campaign to engage kids and get them moving with their Get Into It curriculum. The free resource, available at, offers activities, videos, athlete stories, and supplemental materials to help teachers educate, motivate, and activate their students. Their lesson plans connect to state standards to provide critical curricular connections with a service-learning emphasis.

How might more movement motivate your students and influence their engagement and productivity?

For more about engaging the brain with movement, check out my earlier posts Engage Students in a Minute with Brain Breaks and the follow up Teachers Share Their Best Brain Breaks.