“He has a hard time sitting still,” the teacher said, with a tone that I’ll never forget. It was a mix of disapproving, judgmental, and pity.

She was unforgiving, despite the fact that she was referring to my busy-bodied six-year-old. SIX.

“He’s an active little boy,” I replied, defensively. “I think it’s tough for any child that young to be expected to sit for long periods of time.”

She looked at me like I was medicated. Really? Some kids are super active and can’t sit still for more than 20 minutes at a time. No, they don’t have attention problems – they need to move around.

It seemed like common sense to me, but apparently the idea that kids needed time to run around and be physical wasn’t widely accepted – until now. Evidence is finally showing that brief activity breaks during the day helps children learn and be more attentive in class.

A growing number of programs designed to promote movement are being adopted in schools.

A study released in January by Lund University in Sweden shows that students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school.

“We need to recognize that children are movement-based,” said Brian Gatens, the superintendent of schools in Emerson, N.J. “In schools, we sometimes are pushing against human nature in asking them to sit still and be quiet all the time.”

“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,” Mr. Gatens added. “But what we have found is that the active time used to energize your brain makes all those still moments better,” or more productive.

2013 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that children who are more active “show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.”

Exercise helps kids achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, helps build and maintain strong, healthy muscles, bones and joints. But daily physical activity also helps the by stimulating more blood vessels in the brain to support more brain cells. Active kids also do pay more attention in class.

Children and adolescents age 6 and older need at least an hour a day of physical activity.

“Kids aren’t meant to sit still all day and take in information,” said Steve Boyle, one of the co-founders of the National Association of Physical Literacy, which aims to bring movement into schools. “Adults aren’t wired that way either.”

Across Massachusetts, teachers are adding different types of seating in classrooms, replacing many classroom chairs with exercise balls, standing desks, yoga mats, and plastic stools that wobble in all directions. Students seem more attentive, boosting productivity and creative thinking.

My fourth-grader’s teacher recommended my son purchase a “fidget toy”, to help keep his little fingers occupied and moving while completed in-class work. Rather than distracting his classmates, his fingers can manoeuver the small cube’s various mechanisms, helping him self-regulate. Fidget toys help with focus, attention, calming, and active listening.

Do you think classrooms are outdated? Should there be an increase in daily physical activity, and options for various seating in classrooms?


Maria Lianos-Carbone is the author of “Oh Baby! A Mom’s Self-Care Survival Guide for the First Year”, and publisher of amotherworld.com, a leading lifestyle blog for women.

1 Comment

  1. Yes kids need to move! In my daughter’s grade 5 English class (FI so half day French/half English) they sit on exercise balls to actively engage their bodies while seated.

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