Monday, July 14, 2014

How Much Activity Do Our Students Need?

Yesterday I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across this article in the Washington Post – “Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today.” (You can read it HERE.) Reading through it I found myself nodding my head. Flipping over to Twitter I saw this image that a friend had shared:

And I couldn’t help but wonder – are we having this discussion in our schools? I started teaching in 1998 and moved to my current district in 2000. In 2000 my fourth grade students had recess before school if they got there before the bell rang, recess each morning for 15 minutes, and at least twenty-five minutes of recess each lunch hour. On occasion, we also had a recess in the afternoon. My district I was in from 1998-2000 had the same schedule and also PE every day.

Flash forward to today. Kids are still offered recess if they arrive before the bell in the morning. No morning recess, lunch recess is a bit shorter, and no afternoon recess. On some Fridays we might do an afternoon recess. Kids absolutely move less.

I think we do need to consider the ramifications of this. All kids need to move. Heck, I need to move. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately – some on education in countries like Finland which build in breaks consistently all day long – and some reading on the impact of taking away recess as a punishment. While there is often good reason for doing this, the result might be less than desirable.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my more active kids in the classroom – how can I best help them? Most of what I do, I have learned through them. They can pace if needed. If they prefer to stand to work, or lean against their table and kneel on their chair – why not? I have exercise balls and Hokki stools specifically to help them out. I ensure my mini-lessons/ whole class instruction is short (15 minutes maximum) so they can move. I have created a classroom for them, not me. There is no teacher desk. There is our space, not mine. They can lie down to read, sit, find a quiet corner, and more. Due to no longer begin self-contained, I cannot just schedule a recess at whim, but I’m trying to ensure our classroom and our schedule are set up for all students – including my friends who need to move. I hope it is enough.

Sometimes I think we forget that we are dealing with children. I have bad days, just as I know my eleven-year-old kids do. I’m old enough that I don’t take it out on everyone around me and I’ve learned what works for me. For example, today I can tell I’m a bit grouchy. My old friend, anxiety, has come to visit. So, I can dwell on it, or I can move. Exercise is the only thing that helps me now and I have the liberty to go do just that. What about “Sam” who is in my class? What if he feels jittery and like his brain is jumping around? If exercise is best for him, are we allowing Sam to fill that need? How do you help your students who can’t sit still? I’d love to learn from you all as I continue to think this one through.