Working together to help children learn and grow in a complex world
Mar. 12, 2020
How does PE benefit academics?
By Kelly Russell, Lower School PE Teacher
Research has grown over the past decade about the benefits of movement in helping students focus better in the classroom space.
The 2008 book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” by Dr. John J. Ratey, played an important role in popularizing this idea. Dr. Ratey’s premise that “aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance” included case studies such as schools in Naperville, Illinois, where students’ grades and test scores increased alongside an innovative physical fitness program.
As a physical education teacher for 13 years, I’ve seen the academic benefits of physical activity firsthand. In addition to the neurological benefits Dr. Ratey studied, I see that when students have a chance to move their bodies and get their blood pumping, they are more prepared to settle down and learn.
Classroom teachers know it too. It is a tradition to see Canterbury 1st grade teacher Elaine Hoover walk her students across campus to tap the cougar head at the gym before tests or when they need to work out some extra energy.
What’s more, exercise leads to emotional positivity. Simply put, it feels good to move our bodies. This takes away some of students’ stress about academics and leads to general positivity toward the task at hand.
Unfortunately, as a culture, kids don’t have the amount of movement they should. This is one of the reasons I love teaching at Canterbury: we value movement here, and not just in PE. Students travel across campus to different buildings throughout the day, and students from preschool to 8th grade enjoy two recesses per day.
Additionally, this is an extremely collaborative school where PE isn’t an extra, it’s part of students’ learning. I frequently work with lower school teachers to help extend what students are learning in the classrooms onto the gym floor. Within the gym, I aim to engage what they are learning in their classroom in a fun way and with a different approach.
For instance, when kindergarten students are working on their community helpers play each spring, we highlight some of the helpers in PE and try movements based on what those helpers do. The students are working hard preparing for their big public speaking moment, and we want them to know we’re all here to help them.
A few years later, as 3rd graders are learning multiplication, we practice dribbling to math facts and times tables. This is good reinforcement for all students, but for those who didn’t succeed sitting at their desks with pencil and paper, seeing and hearing it in a different way provides more opportunities for it to stick.
Recently, our librarian and I teamed up to offer the Dr. Seuss Olympics for all lower school classes. K-3rd grade students had different games and skills they practiced based on Dr. Seuss’ books, such as hopping (on Pop), playing “ring the gack,” and using Horton's trunk to protect the Whos (pictured). It was so much fun for both teachers and students to make the pages of these books come alive with physical activity and imagery! Who knows what interest in reading these fun activities might spark?
We all know there are different learning styles: some of us are auditory learners, some visual, and some kinesthetic. If we can reinforce concepts while students are moving their bodies, we’re setting them up for success.
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