The research on the benefits of exercise for young and old, like self-regulation and mindfulness, is definitive. I think we can all agree how important movement is to well-being, development, learning, and behavior. We certainly don’t need more information to be convinced. What we need is a way to fit it all into the day!
Before we get into ways to integrate more active play and slow, intentional throughout the day, I want to summarize per Kids Health. Young children, preschoolers to second grade, should engage daily in 60 minutes of planned physical activity(supervised/instructional) AND 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play). I know you know why but I’m including a list of highlights here anyway – as a reminder.
- builds brain density as well as strong muscles and bones
- helps control body fat and maintain a healthy weight
- decreases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- lowers blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels
- helps kids improve attention and enjoy a positive attitude
- helps kids get better sleep
- helps kids better manage physical, intellectual, and emotional challenges
So how do you build in a minimum 2 hours of instructional and supported physical activity, with all the other requirements to be met?
- First, decide.
- Second, establish a regular schedule.
- Third, explore new resources, learn new games, and plan the activities you will use.
My hypothesis is that once you commit to daily classroom movement 10-20 minutes, 4 -6 times a day for a month, there will be no turning back. You and your students will not only feel better but also behave and learn better. All the reasons why you didn’t do it before will be history. More movement will be your secret solution to a happier, more productive classroom.
In addition to our Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum and Scooter & Me Yoga Adventures video class series, there are many great resources from which to choose. Whatever you choose, remember to follow active, aerobic play with 30 seconds – 1 minute worth of slow, intentional movement before transitioning to another activity, especially an academic one. Cardio exercise increases dopamine and neurotropic factor, BDNF, in the bloodstream. Slow, focused movement such as yoga, then concentrates that BDNF in the hippocampus to support memory and executive functions, while also grounding the body and integrating the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Let each child choose a colorful sheet of felt and use it to mark their place in space. You can buy them in a myriad of colors at any Michael’s or other crafts store. Use them as is (8.5” x 11”) or cut into squares and then spread out to enjoy a range of physical activities that are safe, fun, creative, as well as both fast and slow to develop all three elements of fitness: endurance, strength, & flexibility.
Put on any, and over time, all kinds of music and lead choreography that uses the felt as the focal point for the body – kind of like that Dance Revolution video game. Choreography can be standing or sitting and ideally moves through both and leaves room for kids to try some choreography of their own. This activity also develops focus, concentration, spatial awareness & kinesthetic coordination. Examples:
Stand on felt – Jump feet to either side – Jump back – Jump front & back – switch legs. Repeat… now in slow motion, tap with right toe 3 x – tap with left toe 3 times – fast now touch right heel, left heel, right heel. Repeat 3 x and then squat like a frog on a lily pad. Take some deep breaths, maybe snag a fly, hop froggies hop – look how high! No show me your own choreography. You can be a froggy, a dolphin, a ballerina, a bird… or yourself! (Then coach from sidelines!)
Throw and catch felt open handed, trying not to let it touch the floor AND not to grab or scrunch it. Imagine each felt square as a butterfly! You can toss to each child, they can pair up and toss to each other, or children can toss and catch individually. I recommend using classical, flowing, or circus music depending upon the mood you want to inspire.
This activity requires focus, speed, and finesse. It cultivates observational skills, carefulness, and fluidity while moving quickly, which is a challenge for anyone!
Pass the felt using different body parts.
Example: Designate 2 parallel lines on opposite sides of the space with tape. Children stand on lines facing each other, paired with person across from them. One person from each pair is given a piece of felt to be balanced on a body part, such as an elbow. That player must get to his/her partner balancing and keeping the felt on his/her elbow; then pass it with only using elbows. That player must then move back to the other line without losing the felt from his/her elbow. If felt does fall to ground, both plyers can help, only using elbows to get it back on and continue.
Use felt to get safely across the hot lava, or shark filled ocean, or whatever imagery serves!
Divide children into groups of 3 or 5. However many in a group, give them 1 less pieces of felt. Ex: Groups of 4 get 3 pieces. Start groups at one end of the space. Their challenge, should they accept it, is to get to the other side touching only the felt and never the floor or ground!
Both activities inspire lots of laughter, silliness, and crowded cooperation that is fun, physical, educational and community building.