Your son has a big vocabulary test this morning. He’s really anxious and studied with you last night for over an hour. Now, at breakfast, he is talking about how nervous he feels and how he hopes he doesn’t fail. You are trying to think about what is best for him. He has ten minutes before he needs to leave for school. Should you go over the words with him one last time? Should you encourage him to take deep breaths and realize that he knows the material? Or, should you get him to take a run around the living room, ending with jumping jacks and push-ups in the kitchen?
The Benefits Of Movement
Actually, all three are viable options, even the last one. We all know that children need gym for their bodies; children with sedentary lifestyles are at risk for obesity and chronic diseases such as type II diabetes. But, research shows that physical activity is also linked to increased academic achievement. In fact, children who were more physically fit generally scored higher on math and reading tests than their less physically fit peers. This means that kids who move more on a regular basis will generally do better than their more sedentary peers.
Short bursts of exercise can also be beneficial; a study out of the University of Rome found that elementary school children who exercised for a few minutes right before taking a test improved their scores by an average of ten percent. According to Dr. John Ratey, the author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, exercise causes the brain to produce a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This protein helps to build and preserve connections between neurons and other cells. Basically what this means is that through exercise, children’s brains build more cells that improve their memory and the retention of material. Additionally, exercise produces neurotransmitters like serotonin that can improve mood, which in turn can enhance children’s motivation and focus.
Aside from bolstering grades and moods, physical movement in school can promote an active lifestyle later in life. Plus, through teamwork and rule following during gym, children can learn behavioral and social skills.
School And Sitting
Our children spend more than seven hours a day sitting in the classroom. In the classroom, they do very important things, such as learning ABCs and alef bais. They learn to multiply fractions and how to factor polynomials. And, all of this learning is done while they are seated at a desk. The irony is that learning is more productive when coupled with physical activity. So, am I advocating for walking classrooms and jumping math class? Of course not. Instead, I am pointing out the importance of physical activity and the subtle ways that we can incorporate more movement into our children’s days at school.
Guidelines For Gym
Recent health campaigns have suggested that children need sixty minutes of vigorous activity each day. Part of that vigorous activity could be gym in school. The National Association for Sports and Physical Education recommends that elementary school children get 150 minutes of gym per week. High school students should get 225 minutes. Most of our schools have gym once or twice a week because of a lack of time in the day or because of limited space and equipment. As a parent how can you get your children the physical exercise they need in order to excel in school?
Afterschool clubs. If you are thinking of signing your child up for an afterschool club, consider one that requires movement. While chess might be invigorating and stimulating, if your child is not getting enough physical education at school, maybe you should sign him up for karate or lalittle league instead. Anything you can do to add to his active time will help his brain grow. Plus, he will probably make new friends and learn new skills.
Walk or bike to school. This is a tough one, especially during really cold or really hot weather. But, kids who do moderate physical activity before school even starts are more likely to have their “listening ears” on when they sit down to learn. If this is not possible because you can’t take your child to school each morning, consider setting up a “walking bus” in which a different parent walks a bunch of children to school each morning. If you really live too far from school to walk, consider parking a few blocks and walking with your kids so that you can all get some added movement in your day.
Don’t rush to start homework. When kids get home, our first inclination is often to get the homework out of the way before dinner so that they can relax later. This is a great idea, but sometimes it is not always the most effective in terms of getting homework done. In fact, if they play in the backyard or stop in a park on their way home from school, even for ten minutes, they will be able to complete their homework more efficiently than if they sat right down to do it. Therefore, get their bodies moving a bit and then start homework. This way, their brains will be primed and ready to go.
Encourage brain breaks while studying. Schools have been increasingly incorporating “brain breaks” into the day in which the teacher will have the class stretch by their desks, do some jumping jacks, stroll around the room, and then sit back down to do more effective learning. This can also work at home when your child is studying for a big test. Encourage him to take a “brain break” and run around the block or ride his bike for five minutes. That will not only give him renewed energy but will also help the information he is studying stick in his brain.
Even if your child’s school does not have a comprehensive gym program, you can take steps to ensure that his brain gets the movement it needs!
About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills specialist, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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