Well, we’ve hit that long stretch that comes every school year, the one that lasts from Labor Day to the end of October with no holidays. The kids have memorized their schedules, and the glamour and gleam of school is gone. In other words, teachers are having to work a lot harder to keep their kids’ attention.
I know I’m losing my students when only five percent are listening, and the other ninety-five percent is either dozing off or bouncing off the ceiling. I can tell by the blank stares at the ceiling, the immense interest rubberband bracelets suddenly hold, and the incessant need to get up and sharpen pencils when we’re doing activities that don’t require any writing at all.
On one hand, I don’t blame the kids. I hate sitting still myself. My tics make that difficult enough, and I know a number of them are dealing with similar issues. On the other hand, I have lessons to teach, enormously intriguing lessons like sentence diagramming and rounding to the nearest thousand, and the kids aren’t going to learn them by tying their shoelaces together.
So what’s a teacher to do?
When I was in elementary school, we had two to three set times for physical activity each day, which meant we were up and moving often. When I compare that to the amount of sitting that our children to now, I can’t help but notice the huge difference. Our kids aren’t moving. Then, during student teaching, I learned something golden, something I’ll always be doing with the children until it’s physically impossible for me to do.
I take a break, and we all stretch.
According to Fitday.com, one of the benefits of stretching is increased blood circulation. Why is increased blood flow important to learning? The National Institutes of Health says in its article, “The Brain: Our Sense of Self,” that Hemoglobin, a blood protein that carries oxygen to tissues throughout the body. Obviously, bringing more oxygen to the brain will increase its performance. Brain performance is what we’re reaching for!
So in short, movement is good for learning!
So what are some productive ways to get your students moving? It might seem strange at first, but if you treat stretching positively, explaining to students why it’s important, you’ll not only help them with stretching while they’re with you; you’ll help them develope healthier lifestyles by teaching them what they can do to help themselves as they grow older.
I’m going to lay out 5 different ways to incorporate movement into your daily schedule. These work whether you’re teaching a classroom of students in a regular school setting, whether you’ve only got them for an hour for Sunday School, or even if you’re homeschooling, and you just need a way to break up the study time between activities and workbooks.
1.) Basic stretches – These are the stretches you’ll find in the cooldown section of workout videos like Jillian Michaels. You know, the kind where you take one arm and stretch it across your body and count to five? I’ve found that these are especially helpful for the older children who don’t like to do songs like the “Hokey Pokey” anymore.
I like this set of stretches from the Mayo Clinic. It’s a slideshow of 8 basic stretches that can be done to relieve muscle stress and get those stiff muscles moving. While it’s targeted to adults who sit at computers all day, I think it still applies to students who have to sit at textbooks all day.
This LIVESTRONG page also has a list of exercises that use different parts of the body, also meant for people who sit all day.
2.) Simon Says Game – This is a classic childhood favorite. It’s mostly for children in second grade and below, although your third graders might surprise you and enjoy it, too. If you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the gist of the game.
1. You’re Simon.
2. You give the students one command at a time, however, they’re only supposed to obey the ones that begin with, “Simon says.” When you give a command without this preface and a student does the command, he or she is out. So you might have said, “Simon says, ‘hop on your right foot.'” The students should all begin to hop on their right feet. If you say, “Stop,” the students should continue to hop, since you didn’t say, “Simon says, ‘Stop.'”
3. You continue until all you only have one student left.
Children love this game because it’s a competition. If you want, give the students a few practice rounds so everyone gets some time of movement. After that, you can decide if you have just one winner or if you have multiple winners. Whenever you declare a winner(s), that signals the end of the game.
This game is simple, but you can get creative with your commands, which the students will love. You can do basic stretches, or you can do silly movements, like having the kids try to lick their elbows. I’ll warn you in advance: Things can get really out of hand really fast if you don’t explain ahead of time that they can only play if they follow directions.
4.) Songs with Motions – Again, these are mostly for childrenin second grade and below. These would fall under the same category as the “Hokey Pokey,” “I’m a Little Teapot,” and “I’m Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee.” I love these because they serve multiple purposes. You’re not only getting the kids moving, but you’re also working on rhythm, rhyme, beat, and physical coordination. I can generally get even the most stubborn of kids to participate in these songs and dances with me (the exception being children who are sensitive to music because of hearing problems, like children with Down Syndrome.)
Some great resources for songs like this are:
- Songs for Teaching – This has songs for multiple purposes and categories of focus, such as aerobics, practice with directions, and march and dance.
- Watch Know Learn – This website even has Youtube videos to show you the motions. For example, they have one done by Poppycat for “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes.” This one is good for those days where you’ve pulled a muscle and can’t do the motions yourself. You can pull this one up on the SMARTBoard or overhead (if your school has connected your computer to your overhead) and play the songs for your kids. As with everything, just make sure you’ve seen all the videos before you show them to the kiddos.
- The Ultimate Camp Resource – This site only gives lyrics, not the motions. Most of these songs are really easy to make up motions for. In fact, you can even involve your students in making up motions to match the words in the songs. My brothers and I did quite a few of these when my mom homeschooled us as young children.
5.) Dancing – This is by far my favorite. I danced for twelve years on a dance team, and anything that gets me moving to music makes me a happy teacher. Plus, my kids love nothing more than to see their mature adult lost the inhibitions and bust a move. The songs I’m going to recommend here are easier for kids in second grade an above. (Although some kids can do them when they’re younger.) Here are a few of my favorites that are both clean and fun:
The Cupid Shuffle:
These songs are easy to learn, and you can buy them on iTunes for about a buck a piece. And chances are, at least half of your kiddos will know them already and be able to help you through them if you get stuck. If you’re not comfortable leading the dance, have one of your move-loving students lead the group instead of you. And you can keep adding to your repertoire! Just make sure each song and dance is clean before you introduce it to your kiddos.
At first, it might seem silly to use valuable class time for games and dances like these. But believe me, five minutes of movement is worth the hour of concentration it will help buy you. Your kids might get in an five to fifteen minutes a day if you don’t stretch, but that extra time won’t benefit either you or them if they’re not paying attention. Instead, it’s easier to spend a bit of time and energy getting extra oxygen to the brain and other muscles. Not only will the kids reap the reward physically and academically, but you’ll be more credible in their eyes because you cared enough to reach out and work on their needs instead focusing only on your personal agenda. Happy moving!
What stretches or breaks help you think? Please share in the Comment Box below. And don’t forget you can receive extra resources that I don’t include in my posts, and information on neurological disorders, education, and inspiration (as well as a thank you gift for subscribing!) if you sign up for my weekly newsletter