When kids move to learn, they do better in school

October 3, 2018
When kids move to learn, they do better in school | Texas Children's Hospital
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I’m a pediatrician, so I definitely understand how a child’s natural inclination to move around and fidget during the day doesn’t exactly fit well with traditional learning methods in most schools. However, several studies actually prove that when kids move to learn, they do better in school.

I once had a middle school-aged patient, a boy whose parents were complaining of his constant fidgeting during homework time. They were always nagging at him to sit still and get his work done. It eventually got to a point where the boy was doing his homework late at night because everyone was asleep and, therefore, couldn’t get onto him for moving around.

The boy’s mother later found him one day bouncing on an exercise ball, typing away at an assignment. He had set aside his traditional desk chair. The boy was also taking breaks to play with LEGO sets or work on his drawings.

To his parents’ surprise, the boy was earning high marks on these assignments. Turns out, the combination of free body movement and mental pause was enabling him to do his best work.

I’m accustomed to these stories, especially coming from the parents of children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder, ADHD. I encourage these families to embrace their kids’ energy and help channel it into learning through movement. I also suggest mental breaks, alongside lessening overall parental pressure. As a result, I consistently find out all parties are less stressed and the child’s academic performance improves.

I often hear from parents, “How can I help?” I recommend infusing movement into your child’s study and homework time. Even a little more movement in your family’s day can lead to healthier, happier and more confident children. Follow their tendency to wiggle, tap, bounce and hop – you’ll likely find the whole family feels better and learns better because of it. 

Suggest exercise breaks during homework and studying

I suggest taking a break every 30-40 minutes for children, or every 60-90 minutes for adolescents. These breaks can last about 10 minutes, and should include both muscle strengthening (i.e. gymnastics, push-ups) and bone strengthening (i.e. running, jump rope) activities.

Vary the movement to keep it fun, and add music wherever you can. The more you can engage their senses, the more energy kids might gain. You’ll probably notice their mood improve, too.

Be sure movement activities are age-appropriate

Yes, all movement is good. But it’s also important to engage children in activities they can both participate in and understand based on their age and development level. Here are some age group-specific ideas to consider:

Toddlers and preschoolers:

  • Play ball
  • Play hide and seek
  • Move and sound like different animals
  • Dance to your favorite music
  • Play follow the leader

Grade school (5-12 year olds):

  • Gymnastics activities
  • Climb a tree or play on a jungle gym
  • Jump rope
  • Play tag with family or friends

Adolescents:

  • Bounce on an exercise ball
  • Yoga stretches (Yoga with Adriene has some great exercises, try starting with Yoga For Flexibility and Yoga For The Classroom)
  • A circuit of burpees, push-ups and lunges
  • Tidy up a study space
  • Take a quick shower
  • Regular structured sports (especially those integrating weight training, like basketball or football)
  • Martial arts and swimming are also great ways to encourage self-discipline and include body conditioning

Set a good example – move with your kids

Parents have the ability to shape their kids’ attitudes around exercise and movement. In fact, active parents tend to raise active kids. Find ways to participate in their study breaks, and get active as a family.

Set weekday and weekend family routines. For example, a good time to be active is after dinner. Instead of watching TV, encourage your child to do something with you. Try family walks, games or bike rides. If possible and safe, suggest walking or biking to and from school. Mowing the lawn counts, too!

You can also encourage formal and spontaneous activities for your children, including team sports, individual sports or recreational activities they’ll enjoy. Even weekends at the swimming pool or playground can make up for organized sports.

Opt for play over screen time

Today, children are growing up immersed in digital media. Nearly 75 percent of teenagers own a smartphone, which they can use to access the internet, listen to music and do pretty much anything else there’s an app for. Instead of turning on the TV after dinner or homework, opt for a family walk or game, inside or outside, to help them move. Walk the dog! This physical activity can also be a great transition from dinner to homework, giving kids a physical outlet before they need to sit down for a while.

Dr. Nguyen’s comments originally appeared in a blog for Fully.com. If you’re interested in finding your nearest Texas Children’s Pediatrics location, click here.

Post by:

Tiffany X. Nguyen, DO, FAAP