Friday, July 3, 2009

Brain Benefits of Exercise: Applying this Knowledge to the Classroom

I have long believed in the value and importance of aerobic exercise and strive to maintain a routine of at least 30-40 minutes at least 4 times per week. I have also experienced many of the benefits cited in Dr. John Medina's,Brain Rules as well as Dr. John Ratey's, Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain. When I exercise, I am calmer, think more clearly, feel more positive and generally experience a much higher level of well-being and peace. I am able to savor and stay in the moment, regulate my emotions, work efficiently and hopefully play better with others. I am now learning that exercise has a key impact on learning; yes, I knew this! Exercise increases attention and reduces impulsivity, both areas of growing concern among teachers. I am quite amazed at the research showing incredible academic gains by students involved in daily aerobic exercise at school. And I am equally dismayed that many teachers, including myself, are often at a loss on how to best accomplish this goal. For an inspiring look at excellent programs producing remarkable gains, click here. ( Don't worry, it's not an ad, just an uplifting video clip!)
Ok.. so what about it? What am I going to do in the upcoming school year to give my students the opportunity to get this essential exercise? I already incorporate "movement breaks" throughout my teaching day, but research seems to call for at least 20, uninterrupted physically challenging minutes of aerobic type exercise. Here are a few ideas I am pondering:

  • Name each day of the week with a theme for the exercise. Perhaps Monday is a "jump rope" day where we intersperse jumping rope segments of a couple minutes with walking in place to keep the heart rate going. Tuesday could be obstacle course day where I set up a small circuit/course in our kindergarten pod or outside. Wednesday could be "jump, hop, skip day" where our movements are all related to bouncing. We could use the relay lines on the kindergarten playground and incorporate teamwork and social skills with out activity. Thursday could be an indoor "kid aerobic" day where we use a fun kid exercise dvd or a yoga based dvd. Friday would be a perfect day for "free form" exercise where I put on music outside and we dance, bounce, jump rope or any other movement of choice, as long as the students keep moving for the entire 20 minutes! I will have to think more about these ideas and hope others will share as well!
  • In the past, I have written mini-grants and I have had great success in receiving supplies and materials to engage my students in learning. I plan to do some research in their catalogs to find some fitness equipment to plead for! Some ideas I have include: stability balls for interactive exercise work, jump ropes, exercise mats and activity mats by Lakeshore Learning suggested by a fellow teacher tweeter.
  • I plan to brainstorm with my Kindergarten team;perhaps each member of our team can develop a lesson idea for the day of the week. It would be awesome if we as a grade level could start each day with the exercise that would fuel our brains and prep them for learning. Perhaps we could start an "exercise revolution" at our school!
As my brain ponders the opportunities, I am hoping that folks chime in and tell me what's happening at schools across the globe. How does your school rate? Are your students getting the physically demanding aerobic exercise that John Ratey talks about in Spark? Traditional physical education programs are often not making the cut in terms of keeping the kids in ongoing aerobic movement necessary to obtain the "brain benefits". How can we, as educators, make the changes that will fuel learning? Please share your successes as well as challenges.