Active Classrooms: Physical Activity Can Improve Your Pupils Cognition and Memory

Active Classrooms: Physical Activity Can Improve Your Pupils Cognition and Memory

In August 2017,  The Guardian published an article stating, “Children who exercise become healthier adults.” While this to most of us seems common sense; if you develop a love of sport as a child you are more likely to still participate in it as an adult and we all know that exercise makes us healthier at any age. But what really struck me about this article was the statement that, “the more exercise they had done during adolescence, the more likely they were to be successful professionally.”

Those of us who work in schools or sport have been aware of the link between physical activity and mental health for many years. We have also been told that physical activity improves pupil’s concentration and therefore their ability to learn. This in turn should therefore improve their success in future life as they will get better results academically which will enable them to become more successful professionally. But the link between physical activity and cognition goes even further than that. Studies show that doing enough physical activity to improve cardio-respiratory fitness in childhood is directly related to the structure and function of the developing brain, especially in regions such as the hippocampus, which is involved in memory, and the prefrontal cortex, which does not complete its formation until your early 20s.

As teachers we constantly wish for our pupils to remember things as it would save us having to re-teach activities again and again each term. So why aren’t we using this link between exercise and memory? Even with the PE and sports premium the amount of children who are taking part in their 60 minutes of daily activity recommended by the NHS is still falling year on year. Children are now 20% more likely to be obese at age 10 than they were in 1976. We know as school staff that our pupils often go home and play on computer games, or eat convenience food and that unfortunately is a product of the society we live in. We cannot change what happens once they leave our school building, but we can during those 6 hours a day, 38 weeks of the year that they are in our care. So why aren’t we?

A primary school teacher told me last week, “there’s not enough time in the school day for anything further, something has to give”. As a classroom teacher myself I understand this statement more than most so let’s work around this, let’s work physical activity into our lessons. Gone are the days where we could get 30 children to sit down at a desk for 6 hours a day and rote learn. We often wish they would sit still for just 15minutes so we could deliver our input without disruption but this just isn’t the case. There are so many schemes out there which promote physical activity in lessons and so many things we can try which are going to be a fantastic use of our PE and sport premium, even some of which are free. So let’s jump on the band wagon and try some out. I’ve listed some I have used below.

Go Noodle: “100’s of videos that activate kids bodies and brains.”   This is a personal favourite of mine. There are so many videos catering for so many age groups. They have a Kids-Zumba section, a Moose Tube  section for the younger children, Mr Cat-Man who helps us with our motor skills, Flow for mindfulness videos (a great hit with SLT), Kids Bop who perform dances to pop songs and even videos from Blazer Fresh who talk our children through cross curricular activities such as the water cycle; amazing for our kinaesthetic learners. Bonus; it is completely free to register and watch the majority of videos, with a school email address.  The only downside; it’s all in an American accent.

Active Phonics: Active Phonics is a highly engaging multi-sensory fusion of phonics and Physical Education. Developed in an outstanding EBD special school as a means to address the needs of our most reluctant of readers. Active Phonics allows systematic synthetic phonics to be taught in a fun and engaging way – a simple concept that addresses many of the educational, social and emotional needs of our pupils. The programme has been highly successful in engaging the most reluctant of readers and improving the literacy grades of pupils taking part in the programme. All the resources, including flashcards with the sounds, can be downloaded for free.

Active Classrooms: developed by the Youth Sport Trust, this is a course which will set you back £225 but comes with many great ideas which can then be shared with all staff.

Schools that move: This is an interactive workshop ran by us at Edsential which will be a platform for sharing the successful practices and impact case studies from active learning projects that have been used to support wider achievement and wellbeing in primary schools. The impact of the work done in one particular school, who will be leading the discussions, was recognised as they won the regional sports premium award for whole school impact in July 2016.  £65 for a half day workshop.

Active playgrounds: Having playground leaders running simple games and activities during playtimes can really improve the amount and quality of the physical activity children are getting. If your schools doesn’t have Play Leaders, Lunch time Games-Makers or something equivalent, why not? Once set up this is something that can even be handed over to Lunchtime supervisors to just monitor. We offer courses to assist staff in training pupils up for this role from £175 for half a day training.

Please, as education professionals, I urge you to try out some of these or even create some active lessons of your own. Get outside your classroom, throw a quick go noodle activity into the middle of your afternoon and see the impact first hand that it has on your children’s concentration. Then go rave about it in your staff room and staff meetings!


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