What are the benefits of an active classroom?

When we speak to primary school teachers around the country, I often get asked about the benefits of activity.  We get questions like, "Does it really improve behaviour?"; "How does activity affect the brain?"; 'Does it really improve academic performance as well as health?". 

So we wanted to put together a short video to look at the benefits for you and your children; what we really mean by activity; and how much activity are we really talking about on a daily basis to be able to see those benefits.

I hope once the benefits are clear, you'll see why I'm so passionate about getting kids active every day.  That it isn't an additional thing to do, but is a core activity which will support every other area of the school; whether that's improving behaviour, supporting wellbeing, or developing academic performance.       

Scroll down to find a short video and supporting text to help you begin to find out what the benefits of activity are for your primary school children. 

Watch the short video as we look at what the benefits are for you and your children; what we really mean by activity; and how much activity are we really talking about on a daily basis.

Scroll down to read the transcript of the video. 

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The benefits of active learning

Here at imoves, we are super passionate about supporting teachers who want to get their children active throughout the school day; whether that’s in their classrooms, or just want to feel a bit more confident teaching PE subjects like dance or gymnastics.

But today we're focusing on active schools; we’ll look at what the benefits are for you and your children, what we really mean by activity and how much activity are we really talking about on a daily basis. 

So, here's a question for you:  How does an active lifestyle positively affect a child's whole life?

Why not spend a few moments and quickly note down the benefits you think there are of being active and healthier?  Just do that for 30 seconds, and then we'll have a little chat about it.

Hopefully, these are some of the benefits you were thinking of, I've grouped them into five areas:

First one is memory and focus. Did you know that the children will actually get a bigger brain through more activity, they'll be able to concentrate for longer and be able to better manage their mood?  This means that their behaviour improves as they don’t ‘bored’ so quickly, and are able to concentrate on the task you’re asking them to do, even if that is a more traditional sedentary type of learning. 

Secondly, it'll help to reduce anxiety and depression as the endorphins released during activity help children develop a more positive mindset towards life in general, feeling happier and more motivated.  They will be able to cope better as activity actually helps children build resilience and confidence.

Thirdly, it promotes the development of better sleep patterns as active children will feel tired in the evening and will get a better night’s sleep than the same child with no activity. 

Fourthly, the physical benefits should not be forgotten as the children will just feel fitter, stronger, and healthier through being more active.

Finally, when you add all of this together, regular activity will also boost their academic development in a big way. This means they will be academically stimulated, motivated to learn, fitter and healthier, functionally strong, whilst being able to achieve their potential feeling socially and emotionally well.

This is what we call total wellness.

When we exercise, we release happy hormones into the brain such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine.  These improve attention and focus, perception and learning, and motivation and mood.

Blood flow also increases to the brain which mean that oxygen and nutrients flow in, whilst toxins are flushed out.  Practically, what you will see is a reduction in what you could describe as ‘brain fog’.  When we exercise, a protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) actually creates more structural branches within the brain, so the connections within the brain’s pathways actually improves.  This in turn impacts on mood and mental clarity, and the ability to remember, focus and retain information. 

In addition, the hippocampus, which is like the brain's hard drive, actually grows with regular exercise, so improves the capacity for memory and learning.

If you're interested in finding out more about exercise and the brain, there is a great book written by a Harvard professor, John J. Ratey, called ‘Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain’, and I’ve provided a link to it here if you want to read more about how exercise affects the brain, memory and cognitive function - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spark-Dr-John-J-Ratey/dp/1849161577

We’ve seen how exercise and activity helps us in far more ways than just making us feel fitter and healthier.  Now let's talk about what's actually been asked of you when we talk about getting kids active.

The first step is to understand what light, moderate and vigorous activity looks like.  I like to think of it as a scale from one to ten.  We find that one to four is light activity, this might include things like standing up, sitting down, walking around the room doing bit of data collection, maybe a bit of yoga behind their tables and chairs, or seated in their chair where they're doing arm or leg movements.

I describe moderate activity on my scale as being between 5 to 7 and here you’ll find your heart rate is getting up a little bit. You're still able to speak, but you're a little bit out of breath and your heart beat is going and you might feel a little bit sweatier.

And then you've got obviously your more vigorous activity which is from 8 to 10.  This may include running on the spot or it might be jumping jacks, but it’s activity which really gets the heart rate up.

I'd like you to think about this scale because a common misconception is that activity must always be vigorous.  However, even if it’s just light activity then you will see an impact where you will start to see an improvement in their focus really, really quickly.   It will also improve their attention and mood because blood flow is pushing through to the brain and it's flushing out all those horrible brain fog toxins that kind of sit in the brain when you sit for too long.

Light activity might be just getting them walking around, doing a bit of stretching, bending and stretching.  Using activity as part of a lesson is a really great way to do this.  Getting the children moving from desk to desk as they collect information in a maths lesson, or getting them to act out a scene from history as a dance makes it both interesting, energises the children and memorable for them.   

To take it to a more moderate level of activity, maybe something like a quick brain-break for a just a couple of minutes which raises the children’s heart rates, making them slightly out of breath but not sweaty. 

A more vigorous level of activity may be a longer brain break in the classroom, or maybe a ‘daily mile’ style run outside and of course, as you get further up the scale, you have more benefits.  However, something is always better than nothing. 

The more active the children are, the more benefits you will see. Not only will you see a more focused and attentive class, you will also see children who are behaved better and generally in a better mood, and it'll also stimulate the BDNF that we talked about earlier.

They'll burn more calories so that they’ll be feeling fitter, with better cardio-fitness, and you'll have stronger fitter kids, so they're able to sit up and stand up for longer.

So, every kind of activity within the scope of light, moderate, and vigorous activity has a purpose, a place, and a benefit.

At the light end of activity, we could just stand up and sit down for a few times now and again, and already you'll feel more alert because your blood is having to pump around your body. It's almost like pressing your refresh button on your laptop.

So just to recap, light movement is just slow moving around the room, maybe walking around using data collection, copying things down off the off the walls, collecting information, things like standing up and stretching. 

Moderate activities are simply more brisk movements, getting that heart rate up a little bit higher, repeated bending and stretching, using those large muscle groups to get the blood flowing around the body.  It could be even some classroom dance activities where the children are doing just a couple of minutes of a little bit more vigorous, sorry, moderate activity.

Moving on to vigorous activity, we're thinking about running and games, jumping, skipping circuits, things where they really are getting that heart rate up. They're getting hot, they're getting sweaty, they're getting out of breath.

So, we’ve seen the benefits that activity brings to the total wellbeing for a child, not just physically but also emotionally, socially and academically. 

We’ve explored different levels of activity and seen that all of these can bring about real benefits. 

Finally, we’ve explored that you don't have to be doing a lot of it.  It can be just little bursts of maybe 30 seconds of vigorous activity will give you so much benefit. You don't have to do a lot of it at all, even if you just managed ten or 15 minutes a day with the children in short blocks, it’s doing a little bit of something regularly that is so beneficial and powerful.

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