Why Sitting Still Is Terrible For Kids

Learning and movement are deeply connected.

Schools are adopting a new method to help kids pay attention and learn: encouraging them to get up and move during class, according to this piece in the New York Times.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Breaking free from the age-old advice of “sit still,” many teachers, in the U.S. and around the world, are getting behind the idea — and science — that allowing kids to move around for a few minutes can actually help them stay focused.

One method schools are using is playing interactive 3–5 minute videos that lead students through a warm-up, mini workout (incorporating movements from a few sports, including baseball and basketball) and a cool-down. The perks, as Steve Boyle from the National Association of Physical Literacy (which offers these videos to schools in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Ireland and Australia) explained to NYT, is that the videos are “done in the classroom with no special equipment.” Getting just a few minutes of movement adds up — “at the end of the week, kids have gotten an hour or more worth of movement.”

Science suggests that allowing kids to get up and move, rather than demanding they stay still (and appear productive) has both brain and body benefits. NYT references a 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine showing how active children are more focused, demonstrate faster cognitive processing and do better on standardized tests than less active children. A more recent study from Lund University found that students (especially boys) who squeezed in some daily movement did better in school. “Movement activates all the brain cells kids are using to learn, it wakes up the brain,” John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told NYT, noting that exercise “makes kids want to come to school more — it’s fun to do these activities.”

“We need to recognize that children are movement-based,” Brian Gatens, the superintendent of schools in Emerson, N.J., told NYT, adding “in schools, we sometimes are pushing against human nature asking them to sit down and be quiet all the time.” Gatens also explains that “we fall into this trap that if kids are at their desks with their heads down and are silent and writing, we think they are learning” he said.

Not all schools are on board with this trend, as NYT reports, noting that some think the already limited hours in a school day should be focused exclusively on academics. However, as Scott McQuigg, chief executive and co-founder of GoNoodle (a exercise program used in more than 60,000 schools in the U.S.) explained to NYT, brief movement breaks pay off: “If we invest three to five minutes for our kids to move in the classroom, we are actually going to optimize the next 45 minutes for learning.”

Read the full story on NYT.