Physical Education is coming into the classroom, creating a learning in motion time that students look forward to each afternoon.
After lunch, between social studies and math, Marilynn Szarka’s third-grade students start to get droopy. Szarka instructs everyone to stand up and spread out while she dims the lights, closes the door and flips on the interactive whiteboard that will take them on an aerobic adventure.
One day, students run in place, pretending to hold the Olympic torch while they see—and learn about— scenes from ancient Greece flashing on the whiteboard. Another day, they bend down to pretend to collect leaves, counting by twos as they go.
“Kids look forward to it,” says Szarka, from Loesche Elementary School in the School District of Philadelphia. “And they’re learning because each episode has a theme. They might climb a ladder into the space shuttle or run across the United States looking at landmarks.”
“Movement helps get the wiggles out, and they’re ready to go back to work,” adds Principal Victoria Velazquez, who sees better attention and focus among students who get regular physical activity.
School leaders seeking similar benefits have driven a surge in classroom exercise at the same time physical education budgets are decreasing and childhood obesity remains a top health concern. Szarka and her Loesche colleagues use Activity Works, a media-based, plug-and-play program that combines physical activity with state- and national-mandated curriculum for grades one through three.
For example, when Szarka’s students are using Activity Works to explore and learn about the space shuttle, they’re also developing an understanding of objects in the sky—a national science standard. The program includes CDs, DVDs, lesson plans and online access to interactive physical activities.
Also known as “brain breaks,” these kinetic intermissions typically last less than 10 minutes and allow students to perk up or calm down, depending on the situation.
The programs—ranging from free to thousands of dollars per school—may be a solution for administrators who are looking for innovative, cost-effective ways to get students the 60 minutes of daily physical activity that is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When her students get antsy or slouchy, southern California kindergarten teacher Wendy Gonzalez has an immediate response at her fingertips. She uses routines and exercises she learned from Instant Recess, a system of DVDs and YouTube videos that promote 10-minute bursts of moderate physical activity meant to improve health and productivity.
77% of teachers surveyed agree that most students are more focused and dedicated to learning after using Activity Works.
Gonzalez pops in a CD of kid-friendly music, such as Joanie Bartels’ “Gonna Have a Party,” and starts a routine that might involve neck rolls or marching in place, always ending with deep, relaxing breathing. “It gives students the break they need, and when they’re finished, they’re awake and ready to learn,” says Gonzalez, who teaches at Mark Twain Elementary School in the Lawndale Elementary School District. “I have less misbehavior than before.”
The Lawndale program was financed through a REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) grant administered by the CDC.
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Regina Whitmer is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. Regina Whitmer is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.