Breaking down the science of how physical activity helps kids learn more effectively.
Problems with focusing
When you’re sitting in the car driving your child home from school and ask, “How was your day?" it’s likely that the stories they tell you revolve more around their best friend snorting milk out of their nose during lunch than about parts of speech or long division. Being silly is fun, schoolwork is not.
A big part of a teacher’s job is not only teaching lessons but getting students to sit still long enough to pay attention in the first place. But, sitting still can actually make it harder for students to learn when it builds up their stress level to the point where their brain can no longer process any information.
Our brains need breaks to learn effectively. An average attention span for a 5-6 year-old child is about 15 minutes and for a 6-7 year-old child it can range up to 30 minutes, if they are interested in what they're learning. These averages can be shorter for students affected by dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), making learning more challenging. Boredom and information overload distracts children and if they don't get a chance to decompress for a few minutes, they may try to find other outlets, such as acting out.
How learning works
Have you ever wondered about the science behind learning? In order for kids to learn new information, the information needs to travel through the somatosensory cortex, which processes what the body feels, to the limbic system, where learning and memory take place. Along the way, neurons in the brain are quickly firing to help these parts of the brain communicate.
How do kids learn more effectively? By increasing the number of neurons that get fired! Neurons = connections in the brain. More connections = more memories. The more kids are able to remember, the better they can understand and learn new information.
A lot of times, kids gain new information through reading - especially when they're in school. Reading involves decoding, comprehension, and retention. Students need to break down the sounds in words, understand what they mean, and remember what they read. Then, they can summarize the content, connect it to what they already know, and make predictions about what might happen next.
Learning takes a lot of brain power! It can be easy for students to get overwhelmed with new information. The harder something is, the less motivation we have to do it. Taking a break from learning can restore motivation and get students back on track.
Moving helps your brain
Both in the classroom and during one-on-one instructional time, taking short breaks in between tasks can help students refocus and re-energize to maximize their learning potential. Research conducted by the National Academy of Medicine in 2013 showed that since reading depends on attention and memory, it is one of the subjects most impacted by physical activity.
Even simple physical tasks, such as jumping jacks or toe touches, can improve cognitive performance because they help blood and oxygen flow in the brain. Studies also show that exercise breaks help reduce off-task behavior. Breaks give children a chance to relax their mind and release pent up energy.
Movement breaks, also called brain breaks, not only keep students from getting distracted, they allow the brain's neurons the time they need to form strong connections that create long-term memories. This applies to adults as well! Next time you've been sitting at work for too long and start daydreaming about your next vacation - start moving and take a break!