10 easy things teachers can do to help kids move more at school

Contrary to popular belief, kids who sit still all day don’t do better in school. When kids don’t get enough physical activity, they have more difficulty paying attention and a harder time remembering new ideas.

In fact, more and more research is showing that movement is actually critical to improved learning. Neuroscientists have shown that aerobic exercise releases a protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotropic growth factor (BDNF). Many have taken to calling this protein Miracle-Gro for the brain because it promotes the growth of new neurons, helping to connect different regions of the brain and increase neuroplasticity. In other words, exercise releases the fertilizer that helps young brains grow.

Other researchers have shown that kids who get their hearts pumping 20 minutes before a test typically score better. Most recently, it’s been reported that getting active four hours after learning something new can help people retain more information.

All the research points in the same direction – if we really want to help kids learn faster, and succeed in life, we need to get them moving more each day.

10 ideas teachers can use during the school day to encourage kids to move more

1. Introduce fit breaks throughout the day – even 2-3 minutes can make a huge difference by breaking up sitting and allowing kids to move around. Depending on the age of the kids, they can even take turns leading the class in activities.

2. Give standing desks a try – allowing students to stand and do their work is a great option, and doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Here’s one example from an elementary school teacher who used bed risers to make standing desks in her class.

3. Take your lessons outside – depending on the day’s lesson plan and the weather, getting outside is a great place for kids to learn, while also having more opportunities to move.

4. Talk to your students about the importance of being physically active – it may sound obvious, but talking to kids about the benefits of physical activity and teaching them about the positive effects can go a long way.

5. Be a good role model – let your students see you enjoying physical activity. The more you move during the day, the more they will too.

6. Join in at recess – balance supervisory duties with throwing the odd ball here and there outside with your students. It reinforces the idea that activity is important no matter how old you are.

7. Set a physical activity goal for your class or make it a fun competition – like trying to complete all 150 activities on the 150 Play List! Or if you have step counters handy, try to get to a million steps by the end of the school year.

8. Be prepared for hot or cold days – have sunscreen and plenty of water, or extra mittens and boots on hand so that kids can play safely. 

9. Don’t let clouds rain on your physical activity parade – on rainy days use recess time to be active indoors. Walk the halls or up the stairs. Put on some music in class and dance around. Try yoga. There are plenty of indoor options.

10. Find a little extra time for movement – extend recess once in a while or let your kids go outside a few minutes early before the end of the day. Every little bit helps.