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Bodies in Motion are Better Suited to Learning

Jul 24, 2015 12:53PM ● By Andie Pearson

Many classrooms and educational environments in the U.S. are in a rut—children are expected to sit completely still in a rigid chair in an assigned spot at a stationary desk. A child that fidgets, squiggles around, tips their chair back or rocks from side-to-side is considered to be exhibiting inappropriate learning behavior. However, research shows that such a child is actually showing a healthy and necessary learning pattern. Inactive, sedentary learning actually has a disconnecting effect on the mind. The lack of motion creates discomfort, which leads to fatigue and less productive learning.

On average, children 6 to 10 years old are able to sit still for five minutes; ages 11 to 15 up to 15 minutes; and 15 to 20 up to 25 minutes. A time-lapse video would show that no one is ever completely still. We all are in constant motion, shifting, turning, moving forward and backward and generally fidgeting. The movement creates better circulation, comfort and function. There is also a release of specific hormones that influence brain activity to allow better focus, concentration and attention span, as reflected in test scores increased by up to 40 percent as observed under controlled conditions.

Other benefits of motion include spinal positions being regularly shifted; intervertebral disks continuously flooded with nutrients; complex back muscles stimulated; more than 100 joints in the spine in constant movement; internal organs operating more effectively; blood circulation and oxygen absorption optimized; and neurochemical processes, including those that promote concentration and attention, enhanced. There is also a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

On the cellular level, inactivity decreases nerve cell growth and neuronal connections in the areas of the brain responsible for memory, motor learning and problem solving. The Journal of Pediatrics has published research that shows an increase in cognitive and brain function in ADHD kids engaged in a physical activity program. According to University of Illinois researcher Charles Hillman, “The findings demonstrate a causal effect of a physical program on executive control and provide support for physical activity for improving childhood cognitive and brain health.” In other words, children (and adults) that maintain some degree of motion while studying retain more of what they learn.

Active classroomA first step toward improvement is to make sure children in schools are getting regular physical activity during the day. Another is to change the dynamic of the classrooms. Having a flexible environment allows chairs and tables to move and be rearranged, depending on the subject of study. There are companies such as V/S ( making active chairs that swivel, rock, lean back and move from side-to-side, allowing a child to tilt forward without hunching over in class. Parents can work with individual schools on their integration into daily use.

At home, parents can easily adapt and redesign the child’s homework and study environment to incorporate more motion-friendly furniture. In addition to the specialized chairs available, swivel and tilt office chairs, rocking chairs or other furniture can replace stiff-backed chairs. Tables with tiltable surfaces, such as drafting boards, can replace fixed tables and desks. To encourage learning retention, perhaps the best thing a parent can do at home is to relax and let go of the urge to stop their fidgeting. Allow the child to move, sit on the floor, twiddle a pen, swing their feet or otherwise maintain motion while studying. In the end, studies show the child will retain more of what they learn.

Dr. Andie Pearson, DMD, CSST, is the owner of Gaiamed Dental, in Wilmette, a full-service holistic dental practice using the most biocompatible dental options. For more information, call 847-977-1655 or visit