How Movement Activates Learning

How Movement Activates Learning

December 23, 2021 0 Comments

How Movement Activates Learning

Technology has taken over children’s entertainment and now is moving into the classroom. Children already spend hours a week quietly seated, rapt in the images they see on whatever screen they are viewing.

Just this morning I received an email from a company who prepares educational content for technology.

“The iPad is entering the classroom. [XCV] is pleased to be a creative partner in the Virginia Department of Education's Beyond Textbooks initiative. The purpose of this study is to compare books and iPads to determine which is the more effective teaching tool.”

I suspect that the reasoning behind using technology to teach children is that because children are already mesmerized by technology, why not use it as a tool for teaching them? No matter what we know about how children develop, no matter what we think about technology for our children, technology is not going to go away; it is here to stay and what remains is for us to be aware, informed, and prepared to make the best choices for our children as they grow and develop.

Why Children Need to Move

One of my favorite experts on learning and the child is Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., a neurophysiologist and educator, who wrote the book Smart Moves. In her book, she tells us why children need to move and how they should move in order to fully activate their learning potential. She also writes passionately about the impact of technologies such as TV and video on the development of the child’s brain. Following are some quotes from her book Smart Moves:

“Muscular activities, particularly coordinated movements, appear to stimulate the production of neurotrophins, natural substances that stimulate the growth of nerve cells and increase the number of neural connections in the brain” (p. 102).

“It is the full activation and balance of all parts of our mind/body system that allow us to become effective, productive thinkers” (p. 95).

“TV bombards viewers with a constantly changing stream of pictures, words, and movement that are too fast for the young brain to assimilate. The child may be able to repeat what she has heard, but without any depth of understanding. It’s that depth of understanding – which comes from the integration of new experience with the child’s developing mind/body patterning – that leads to imagination and creative reasoning. The child is left passive without the internal mental, emotional, and physical involvement necessary for cognitive [thinking, reasoning] development.” (p 67)

Informal research with children who struggled to learn taught me that many need to move their bodies in imitation of what they are learning. If we take a kinesthetic or tactile learner and set him or her in front of a piece of technology that requires no active engagement, we are hindering the natural need to move in concert with learning.

Movement That Enhances Learning

Very young children learning the alphabet absorb and recall with ease when their bodies mimic the shape of each letter as they speak its sounds aloud. Body movements can be as simple as hand motions. For example, for letter A, hold up both hands with fingers touching at the top to make the point of the A and thumbs touching below to make the horizontal line of the A. Body movements can be as involved as whole-body letters made with two or more children! For the letter A, have two children lie on the floor, with heads touching, and one arm each extended to the center, the other held by their side on the outside of the A. Or you could have two children make the outside of the letter and another child make the horizontal bridge.

When learning to count by two’s, march in time to oral counting

1. “one” and take a step with your right foot

2. “two” and take a step with your left foot, but lean your body dramatically to the left as you do

3. “three” and take a normal, upright step with your right foot, etc.

The pattern absorbed by the body is that the odd numbers are right-foot, straight up, while the even numbers are associated with a leaning to the left. This pattern of movement will subtly reinforce to the mind/body of the child those even numbers.

If counting by fives, try whispering and stamping

1. Whisper, “one, two, three, four”

2. As you stamp your foot say, “five!”

3. Whisper, “six, seven, eight, nine”

4. Stamp and say, “ten!” etc.

If a child has trouble remembering how many pennies in a nickel, try this: “I’m going to give you a nickel sandwich” while pretending to punch with FIVE fingers of one hand loosely fisted. Relate the number of pennies in a nickel to the number of fingers on your hand.

When talking about dimes, chant, “It’s FINE to have a DIME,” clap clap. Look at your two hands and relate the number of fingers on both hands to pennies in a dime.

For a quarter, remind the child that a “punch” is a nickel and a clap is a dime, so when talking about a quarter, you will clap twice (ten, twenty) and then punch once (twenty-five). Say, “I have” clap, clap “a quarter!” punch.

When learning about items in a series

Read together from a whiteboard a sentence such as this one: “I will use red, green, and blue.” Each time you come to a comma, have the child make a swoosh with their arms in the air in the shape of a large comma. If the child is confused about when to use a comma, first have them identify the items in the series. Another sentence could be, “I am going to the park with John, Lucy, and Sam.” When they come to the period, have them punch the air with their fist.

Involve the Children

Children are so great at coming up with creative movements that enhance learning; just recruit them. Explain that you need to use body motion to help them learn and remember, give them some examples such as the ones in this post, then encourage them to attach motion to any concept they are learning. It's great to see what they come up with, and engaging them in helping themselves works wonders and helps them love learning!

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These active children are often labeled with ADHD, but the reality is that they learn through movement, and activity helps them think and process. When their attention begins to wander, rather than trying to force them to sit quietly, let them get some exercise and then they can come back and refocus on their task.

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What I would like to explore is whether or not our students would gain far more if they were encouraged to mimic their learning with body movement. When learning the word JUMP, for instance, if the child sees the word and jumps as she reads it, she is reinforcing the meaning of the word with her whole body.

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It’s true that some children don’t seem to rely much on movement that mimics the concept that is being taught; other kids, however, seem to be unable to learn without mirroring their learning with their bodies. For these children, any time we spend thinking up accompanying movements to learning is so worth the time investment!

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