April 8, 2009 -- In the classroom, bouncing, fidgeting and movement generally have been discouraged, but now some educators are encouraging the restlessness in hopes it will help students learn.
Action-based learning, which includes doing moderate exercises like running in place, helps students of all ages stay attentive and focused in class. It may even help improve learning.
New research from the University of Illinois showed even a single 20-minute bout of moderate exercise stimulates the brain and improves cognitive function in elementary school kids.
When Exercise Meets Education
Fourth graders in Fort Collins, Calif., sit or bounce on stability balls to keep their bodies active while they learn.
And sixth graders in Missouri no longer sit through a lesson plan; they stand. Their desks even come with swinging foot rests.
Other classrooms incorporate 10-minute energizers, where kids can dance, run in place, or do jumping jacks while reciting the multiplication table.
And it's all because a growing body of research suggests that wiggling around helps kids learn.
"Movement is really connected to our brain. It stimulates the brain, to wake up," said Dr. John Ratey, author of "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Education and the Brain."
"Exercise almost immediately helps to increase the attention," he said. "[It] improves the motivation."
It optimizes the learner to be a better learner, he added.
What You Need to Know
Schools who are incorporating exercise into classes said that test scores have improved and behavioral issues declined.
But if your school isn't participating in action-based learning, there is a way to give your kids' minds and bodies a jumpstart.
In a time when gym class is being cut in high school and middle schools, and recess is being scaled back in elementary schools, you can advocate to make sure your child gets some kind of exercise in school.
You can also organize some exercise with other parents for your kids before they head off to school. A short calisthenics class in the morning can help your child stay focused throughout the day.
Exercise Helps Brain Develop
And you can help kids at home too.
One of the simplest ways is to give your child a jump rope and keep it next to their desk, or you can invest in a mini-trampoline. The idea would be to actually tell your child you're going to help him with his homework by making it more fun.
Any child would love the idea of doing 20 minutes of math or English homework, and then getting five minutes to jump rope or jump on the trampoline.
Another great way to implement action-based learning is to get a bouncing ball and throw it back and forth with your child while quizzing him because it's inexpensive and helps them focus and learn better.
The program can help kids from kindergarten through high school.
In fact, it can really aid adolescents because that's when their brains are going through a huge growth spurt, and the part of the brain that develops last is the part that's helped by moderate exercise. It helps kids who are having trouble paying attention in class become focused and attentive. This is really about getting blood flow in the brain.
Because of that, exercise can have a real effect on how your child's brain develops in general, and the immediate effects can last for hours.
Even if your child exercises in the morning, he can still have some of the effects of that later in the day. He'll be sharpest in the hours following the exercise, but the effects will last much longer than that.