Movement (or Lack Thereof) in Education

In our current model of education, incorporating movement may have strong positive effects on the improvement of our children’s overall health and their ability to succeed in their academic experience.  Like anything else, there is no one answer that works for every individual, but by utilizing multiple seating options for students and encouraging movement at key times throughout a student’s instruction, we can improve each child’s optimal level of success in the classroom.

Most global models of education are derived from 11th century methods.  And while teaching methods have gradually evolved through necessity, trial and error, and research, some aspects remain very similar.  The layout of the average classroom and the orientation of the students in relation to the teacher are two particular aspects that haven’t changed much.

Much of this has to do with convenience. For example, creating classrooms that are anything but rectangular calls for advanced methods of architecture, and most certainly costs more money. In many modern classrooms, teachers now use new, research-based, varied approaches to instruction.

However, you will still find that in most cases, children of all ages are expected to sit in a hard chair at a desk or table for long durations of time throughout a six-hour school day. Furthermore, most have an average commute to school of thirty minutes each way, which simply adds to the amount of time spent sitting.  

Sure, it is mandatory that kids are given breaks (i.e. snack, recess, lunch), and (on average, and depending on age and district funding) at least one forty-minute period of physical education per five-day school week. But is this enough?

It is also important to recognize that standing to learn the entire day or never being expected to sit still and be attentive are equally problematic models. The extreme of either end of the continuum of movement in the classroom is not a workable solution. 

That being said, new research has been done that shows the potentially harmful effects of sitting for prolonged periods of time. James A. Levine, M.D., PhD from the Mayo Clinic points to several health concerns that are related to prolonged sitting, including:

  • Obesity,
  • Metabolic syndrome,
  • Increased blood pressure,
  • High blood sugar,
  • Excess body fat around the waist and
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels.

His article also points to increased risks related to greater amounts of screen time.  The effects of screen time on child development have been, and are still being, heavily researched.  Heather Kirkorian, Ellen Wartella and Daniel Anderson delve deeper into the issue in their paper investigating the relationship between media and child learning. According to their research, one of the most substantial effects is a conditioning of the brain to seek increased levels of stimulation. In other words, typically, the more time children spend having their brain stimulated by a screen, whether it is a TV show, movie, video game or even an educational game, the more difficult it is for them to focus on one thing for an extended amount of time. The researchers conclude the following:

“Researchers are beginning to understand which aspects of media should be reduced and which enhanced, but further research is required. Ultimately, however, the question is whether society has the ability and will to enhance the positive aspects of media and reduce the negative.”

What then becomes problematic is that before we even have a clear picture of all the possible negative effects of increased screen time on child development, children are frequently exposed to media. A study done in 2011 found that the average preschool-aged child had 4.1 hours of screen time per day. So, whether a child is diagnosed with a form of attention deficit or not, they may all be having greater difficulty in remaining on-task for typically expected amounts of time in school settings. 

Many schools have begun equipping classes with foot fidgets for students who benefit from additional movement and optional standing desks for students who struggle with sitting for extended instructional time.  Like most new initiatives, there are obstacles.  In some cases, a lack of funding hinders progress, while in other situations the new equipment is expected to be a “quick fix.” 

I believe that if we take the time and continue to research, we can find creative ways to add multiple seating options for students and teachers that when properly utilized will improve student engagement, health, and the overall educational experience for our children.  At Fitneff Inc., one of our main goals is to provide multiple seating options and avenues of movement in the realm of education. 

March 01, 2018 — Matt Bolthouse

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