One of the best ways to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle and to keep students focused is to integrate movement into the classroom. While time for physical education and recess has been steadily dwindling over the past few decades, and many students have few opportunities to be physically active because of safety concerns, inadequate facilities, and other factors, studies continue to show that children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity throughout the day. So more and more, teachers are incorporating physical activity into their lesson plans.
HSC’s Fit to Learn professional development program gives teachers the tools and tips they need to successfully and effectively integrate physical activity into their classrooms every day. Graduates of the program, like teacher Kerry Martin, who teaches at Courtenay Elementary , have used their newly gained knowledge to get their kids up and moving during the school day.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers are encouraged by the district to include increments of 10 minutes of activity into core subjects to maximize student attention and focus. “Each day begins with 10 minutes of exercise and then we have brain/movement breaks throughout the day,” says one CPS teacher. Kerry had the goal of incorporating 10 minutes of physical activity, besides recess and PE, into the school day. In her classroom, she has pictures of different exercises—yoga, toe touches, jumping jacks and more—and one student gets to pick which activities the class will do that day. Kerry is also a strong believer in activity before and during a more challenging lesson. Her students participate in a math challenge where they pick a number and do that many jumping jacks.
Sometimes it can be difficult to get students to stay focused, especially younger children. But teachers are coming up with fun, creative ways to integrate movement. “When we count by ones, fives and tens, we jog/clap/run in place or do jumping jacks,” says a CPS teacher. “For a break energizer, we watch a video and stretch together as a class.”
Tools and resources, like our Fit to Learn Tip Sheet: Physical Activity resource, make it easier for teachers to include exercise in their lesson plans. Many teachers use websites with interactive games and videos that get kids moving—dancing, stretching, running, deep breathing, wiggling—throughout the day, which can be especially useful on bad weather days and can be paired nicely with teaching phonics, sight words and daily math counting routines. Another useful resource is videos from Chicago Run, an organization which promotes the health and wellness of Chicago children through innovative running programs. “Chicago Run is offered at our school and every three days our students participate in running during recess. We log our progress on a chart outside of our classroom door,” says one CPS teacher.
When Kerry Martin’s students have indoor recess, they use GoNoodle to dance to popular songs. One student gets to lead the others in his or her chosen dance. “The kids love it,” says Kerry. “They love being able to pick the dance and lead the class. Not only are they getting exercise, but it boosts their self-esteem and they feel a sense of pride.”
Activities during the day allow students to unwind after long periods of intense work and focus. “I’ve noticed they are more focused after physical activity breaks,” said one teacher. Some teachers also find that deep breathing techniques after bouts of physical activity help to calm and refocus students.
Integrating physical activity into the classroom has made an impact on teachers, too; many have become more conscientious about their own health and wellness, often coming together for Zumba or boot camp classes. Kerry makes it a point to have the students do their 10 minutes out in the hallway. “I do that because it models to my peers that integrating physical activity into the classroom can be simple,” she says. “Numerous teachers and administrators have stopped and joined us!”
Are you interested in making some of these changes in your classroom? Our Fit to Learn program is currently recruiting for the Summer Session. Eighty-seven percent of teachers who have participated said that their students’ knowledge about nutrition and physical activity has increased as a result of Fit to Learn. Sign up today!