by Annamarie Dewhurst, Academic Coordinator
As we finish the second half of the school year, I would encourage you to consider the role of physical activity in your child’s education. Movement during your child’s lessons or more exercise as part of their days at home might improve their concentration and efficiency. We all know that children need exercise, but it is easy to forget how much lack of exercise can affect their academic performance. While some children do fine seated at a desk most of the day, many benefit from alternating periods of activity and sedentary work. We try to incorporate movement as much as possible into our campus days at TCS. Just recently, I was thrilled to observe our third grade class reciting their multiplication tables as they did lunges and jumping jacks. Many children’s brains work best when their bodies are moving.
Though your home days can feel full to the brim, make sure that your child’s physical needs are met in order to support his brain functioning at maximum capacity. Children do need to learn to sit still at times and to use self-control, but we as parents and teachers also need to be sure that we are being sensitive to our children’s God-given design. Exercise improves attention span, calms children down and helps them focus. Many common playground activities that stimulate inner-ear motion (vestibular input) such as swinging, spinning, crawling, rolling and rocking are actually extremely helpful in increasing children’s ability to learn.
A sustained period of vigorous exercise each day is also good for your child. I have known some families who arrive early to campus to let their children play on the playground and others who send their children outside for a while once they are fed and dressed and ready for school. I personally am not consistently able to manage either, but it is a good goal to strive for, as it helps our children get the wiggles out before their school day starts.
My children spend some time each home school day doing “seat work” at a table or desk. We also complete some of our lessons snuggled together on the couch. Our family’s home school room is equipped with a pull up bar and mat to cushion falls, a mini trampoline, a balance board and faux “river stones” used for obstacle courses and an espresso machine for me. Most of this exercise equipment can be purchased fairly inexpensively at Academy. It makes great birthday presents for active children too. You don’t have to have a separate “home school” room to use it either. Our doorway pull up bar rests on the wood trim between our school room and living room and is easily removed when we are entertaining guests.
Jumping once after saying the sounds of a phonogram or reading simple words helped some of my five-year-olds to focus and read more accurately and quickly than standing or sitting still. It also tended to increase their endurance for reading. I frequently drill math facts, skip counting, or the history timeline while a child jumps on the mini-trampoline. The oral parts of the math meeting can easily be conducted while a child moves rather than sits. Each week my older children often complete their Writing with Ease narration lesson while swinging on our pull up bar. I also sometimes discuss history lessons or take a reading narration while the child swings on the bar.
Remember, as a home school parent, you are not restricted only to the desk or table. Particularly if you have a child who struggles to complete his lessons, try incorporating more movement into the lessons themselves and into his day in general. Take your lessons outside when the weather is nice. Younger siblings are also often less distracting when they are able to play freely outside. If your child needs to hang upside down or rock back and forth like he’s riding a horse while you ask him his history review questions, there is really nothing wrong with that. It may annoy you, but the vestibular input is probably helping him focus. Reading aloud to your child while he swings is perfectly acceptable. Do train for sitting still and being quiet at appropriate times. Have high expectations for those times of training so that your child can learn to function at a desk on campus days and eventually for longer and longer periods of time as he matures and his age requires more lengthy academic study.
For more information on the connection between exercise and learning, see the following resources:
“Movement and Learning”
“The Fine Line Between ADHD and Kinesthetic Learners” http://www.latitudes.org/articles/learn01.html
“Expert On Link Between Exercise and Learning” http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/04/12/2216755/expert-on-link-between-exercise.html
“Studying the Link Between Exercise and Learning”