Naperville, IL became famous for a fitness program implemented by the school district physical education teacher starting in 1990 that improved students’ academic performance and learning, not just their health. This famous case study found in the book SPARK, helped the idea that kids need to move to learn grab hold. The book, written by John J. Ratey, MD outlines the connection between exercise and the brain. Simultaneously, SmartBoards started entering classrooms in 1991 to integrate technology into the everyday curriculum. That was over 30 years ago.
Since then, the concept of brain breaks has also been widely accepted as a way for children to shift away from taxing academic demands that cause stress. An article in AddyPresLifestyle, Resetting the Mind to Focus: The Science of a Brain Break describes the effect like this: “Brain breaks, by switching the type of mental activity, shift brain communication to networks with fresh supplies of neurotransmitters. This intermission allows the brain’s chemicals to replenish within the resting network.”
In 2010, former first lady Michelle Obama, announced her Let’s Move: Partnership for a Healthier America initiative to fight childhood obesity, getting states around the country to implement minimum movement requirements during the school day for children. In August 2013, GoNoodle launched its platform, bringing video-based movement activities into the classroom in an accessible way, making it easier for teachers to meet minimum movement requirements throughout the school day without having to plan a movement curriculum.
The idea that aerobic exercise supports brain development is not new. But as technology has become an increasingly integral part of the learning process, especially since the COVID Pandemic, we have not stopped to recalibrate the balance between the integration of technology and the value of everyday movement into the classroom. Or to ask ourselves: what is the best kind of break? Meanwhile our children are becoming increasingly emotional, being diagnosed with ADHD at higher rates year over year, and struggling to participate in traditional classroom learning.
Research shows that different kinds of movement activities have different effects. For example, raising your heart rate facilitates the production of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) to enhance the growth and connections of neurons in the brain. Deep breathing and pressure to the body both reduce cortisol levels that trigger stress and cell death in the body. Stretching reduces muscle tension from stress and fixing postures (like what happens when you sit in front of the computer too long).
For this generation of learners though, it’s not just about implementing movement more mindfully to get better results, it’s also about taking vision breaks from screens to reduce information overload and visual fatigue.
I was consulting on a case for a child who had a sensory diet as well as frequent video-based movement activities built into his school day. But he was still struggling with self- regulation and participation. I made one change to the program – give him the option of using eye cupping to give his eyes a rest after the video-based movement.
He started choosing the vision break from his sensory diet list even more than the other exercises because it helped him feel better. Similarly, research conducted with 4th graders who used my Body Activated LearningTM approach had such positive results with the addition of vision breaks to their movement sequences that the teachers used them spontaneously outside of the research protocol even without including other exercises.
The movement initiatives started in 1990 never accounted for a world where kids would be spending 10+ hours in front of screens between home and school. We have lost the balance. 2-3 minute brain breaks and movement breaks are much less effective if we don’t reimagine the key elements needed in everyday activities to help this digital generation of learners destress, connect to their bodies, focus, and engage with the world around them.
That is why I created the Body Activated LearningTM framework. It is an easy-to implement sequence containing all the key elements needed to begin the process of giving children’s bodies what they need to succeed.
Check out the Body Activated Learning playlist on the Sensational Achievements YouTube Channel and grab access to the ebook, complete with the training video library to learn how to combine exercises into short sequences that can have a big impact without relying on a screen once kids understand how to do them. Hardcopies of the book with supplemental activities for parents and professionals are available in our shop.
If you are a physical or occupational therapist interested in learning more about Body Activated LearningTM and rethinking treatment planning in a screen-based world, sign up for the live webinar on November 10th, hosted by Theramoves, LLC.
It’s time to help our children get the tools they need to succeed in a digital world and become the leaders of tomorrow.