This school year will definitely look different whether your children are staying home to be homeschooled, participating in online learning through their current school or attending school in person on a hybrid schedule, with many COVID-19 safety protocols that may keep them tied to their desks more than they are accustomed. No matter what, kids will be more stagnant unless we make sure they get the physical breaks they need to stay balanced and healthy throughout the school day.
The average American student used to sit at school for about four and a half hours a day, but if your child is doing virtual school then that could be seven or eight hours of sitting. Then add the time they sit staring at screens for homework and fun, and we find that our kids are sitting 85 percent of the time they are awake. That sure is a lot of sitting!
Up until recently, it was believed that children needed to sit still in order to concentrate and succeed in school. Yet experts today find that kids are not wired to sit all day long. Instead, they benefit from breaks in which they are physically moving to help energize their brain and be more productive in the classroom.
Why Movement is Better
Many studies in recent years helped educators realize that forcing children to sit still is not the best approach; instead, moving around enhances their educational experience. A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine found that children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized tests than children who are less active. According to John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” movement activates the brain cells that children need to learn. Moving around stimulates more blood vessels in the brain to support the creation of new brain cells. Finally, low-level movement like standing improves students’ attention and alertness because their blood circulation and oxygenation levels increase.
Movement breaks also help address childhood obesity and the many other health concerns about children not getting enough physical activity, since active play has been dramatically reduced for reasons like increased technology use. Extensive medical evidence shows that regular physical activity is related to lower body fat, greater muscular strength, stronger bones and improvements in cardiovascular and metabolic health. It also helps reduce anxiety and depression.
How to Encourage More Movement
We can help our children break up all that time sitting by providing fun movement breaks, standing desks, yoga ball seats and plenty of outdoor time.
I don’t know about you, but my kids won’t stop talking about GoNoodle. Now appearing in more than 60,000 elementary schools in the United States, it is one of several creative online programs that teachers are using to give their students active breaks throughout the school day. You can also encourage your kids to use it at home. The idea is that kids need time between lessons to move around and give their mind a rest. Plus, if these breaks are done a few times a day, that can add up to an extra hour of movement per week.
The unique aspect about these types of programs is that they are not intended to be focused solely on exercise. They are aimed at entertaining the students, while at the same time getting them up and moving. For example, GoNoodle videos have kids running alongside their desks through a virtual obstacle course or following along with dance moves. The kids are laughing and having a blast without even realizing they are getting exercise. According to GoNoodle co-founder and former CEO Scott McQuigg, by investing three to five minutes for our kids to move in the classroom, students can learn more effectively for the next 45 minutes. Other movement break programs include Just Dance Kids and BrainErgizers from the National Association of Physical Literacy.
Another way to encourage movement is to use a standing desk. These are raised desks that can be adjusted to each child’s height and comfort needs. They have been proven to be beneficial to children from both health and learning perspectives. A report in Pediatrics reviewed eight studies showing how standing desks in classrooms decreased sitting time by about an hour each day. Some of the studies also found that this increased physical activity improved the students’ behavior. A study in the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education found that students who used standing desks were more engaged in the classroom than those who sat during class. In fact, there was a 12 percent rise in engagement by students using standing desks, adding up to an extra seven minutes per hour of effective instruction time. Finally, a study by Loughborough University in Great Britain found that overall classroom sitting time dropped by about 52 minutes per day from using standing desks, and teachers noticed how their students’ concentration, attention to task and general behavior significantly improved. Standing desks are becoming so popular now that organizations focusing on their benefits and use are sprouting up. Standup Kids and JustStand.org are both great resources to learn more about this effective option.
Yoga balls have also become popular. They stabilize the core, promote better posture and allow students to move and bounce around a bit at their workstations when they feel antsy. Kids can essentially get a mini workout just by sitting on the yoga ball while they do their work. According to an article in California Educator, teachers have noticed that the yoga balls decrease unwanted movement, while students’ attention spans have risen. The children are thrilled with their yoga chairs because they have more freedom to move around.
Other ways that you can introduce important movement breaks into your child’s day include:
- Balance online time with outdoor activities like bike rides, swimming, running, obstacle courses, jump rope and visits to local playgrounds and parks.
- Participate in sports lessons or team sports.
- For bad weather days, have movement options available like using exercise equipment, running up and down the stairs, online fitness videos and calisthenics like jumping jacks and push-ups.
- Give them pedometers and challenge them to walk a certain number of steps each day.
- Register for online fitness classes