Move Your Body to Fuel Your Brain

For Educators

September 5, 2023

I used to play teacher as a kid. 

I had my cabbage patch dolls and stuffed animals all lined up, eager recipients of my brilliant eight-year-old instruction. It was always more difficult to play teacher with real humans. If I convinced my brother or a friend to join in, I didn’t like how it went. I wanted quiet, motionless learners. Wouldn’t that make your job so much easier?

Unfortunately, we are not trying to educate the next generation of cabbage patch dolls. Your job is not just about phonics, math facts, or history lessons. You also play a powerful role in equipping your students to be active players in the adult world, to be the movers and shakers of the next generation in ways that my stuffed animals could never be.

In short: we don’t want to raise adults who will just sit still and be quiet. 

In fact, you may have heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” While no amount of smoking is healthy and some sitting is a natural part of human life, the statement holds merit. The Centers for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic, and even Apple Watches know how dangerous excessive sitting can be.

This is especially important to understand in this modern age, as technology advances far more quickly than our understanding of technology’s impact on our brains and bodies can keep up. I was sitting in on a kindergarten class one morning when my Fitbit buzzed on my wrist. “Time to move,” it reminded me. If I as an adult needed to move, imagine how much more these little five-year-old bodies needed physical activity…not just for overall health, but specifically to light up the learning brain. 

Get students moving

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill compiled this brief collection of compelling reasons to get moving:

I would add, the brain needs movement to grow! I have lots more coming soon on how our brains are built and what that means for educators. In the meantime, there are countless ways to incorporate movement into the school day. Select from these options so your students can move their bodies to fuel their brains:

  • Offer Flexible Seating: I cannot overstate how helpful this can be. Sitting, standing, wobble cushions, laying down during reading time, resistance bands and seats built for a little rocking can all be tremendously helpful for students. Be sure to teach students what options are available and how to use them as tools instead of distractions.
  • Take a walk or move during transitions even if students are ending up back at their desks or tables.
  • Move during lessons: 
     Toss a soft ball to signal whose turn it is to answer. 
    – Create centers for learning or practicing different parts of the lesson (my neurodivergent kids LOVED centers).
    – Find more ideas for young students at https://www.theactiveeducator.com/blog/movement-and-learning-activities
  • Have students give feedback physically:
    – Raise your hand if…
    – Thumbs up or down
    – Everyone stand up. Stay standing if… Sit down if…
  • Move more during times of high energy or emotion, such as the beginning of the year or before/after a break.

Movement is not just for the littles! 

Middle and high school students often have some movement built in, such as going to their lockers between classes, but that is not enough! Many of the strategies above can be used with older students as well. Even in higher education, there is a growing push to get moving! Check out these tips from UNC:

  • Take 5, 10, or 15 minute breaks during your study sessions to walk around, change locations, or complete a series of exercises from your favorite routine. Don’t have a favorite routine? Mix and match 5 or more bodyweight exercises from this list.
  • Make your own standing desk using a counter in your apartment or at a coffee shop or use cardboard boxes, a plastic tote, or a dedicated adjustment for your current desk.
  • Find an empty classroom or reserve a library study room and make use of the whiteboard. Do you really love whiteboards? Buy a mini whiteboard for your room.
  • Choose a keyword to look for in your reading. When you see the word, do 10 jumping jacks or 5 push-ups.

Whatever the age of your students (or staff), if the group is a hot mess or losing steam, take a movement break – a clapping game, a quick walk, or any one of the proprioception activities I shared in my latest free resource. If you don’t have it already, enter your email address below to receive “A Teacher’s Guide to Proprioception” and learn how you can support students’ secret system for feeling safe and in control.

I’m glad we’re in this together!

P.S. If you are new to the wacky world of the EIGHT human senses, learn more here: 

Making Sense of Meltdowns Learn the basics of sensory processing and find out what may be behind kiddos’ meltdowns.

From Stuck and Suicidal to Feeling Safe and In Control Check out Joe’s story and how understanding his eight senses (and some quality occupational therapy!) changed everything!

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