I am excited to welcome Sarah Selznick, MS OTR/L from Sarah The O.T. to the blog today. She is an occupational therapist with a background working with children and in the schools. She is sharing with us five tips for incorporating movement into busy school and home routines.
Physical movement is an important part of child development. Children who are proficient with movement have higher cognition and academic achievement (Donnelly & Lambourne, 2011). Children with higher levels of aerobic fitness have higher performance on mathematics and reading scores (Castilli et. al. 2007). Furthermore, more recess activity time is associated with improvements in attention, concentration, and on-task classroom behavior (CDC, 2010). However, fitting movement essential activity into your child’s day can be difficult. For teachers with high academic demands and little flex time in their schedules, incorporating movement into a routine can be especially difficult. Even taking a short “movement breaks” throughout the day can feel like an intrusion to the ever expanding to-do list of an elementary school teacher or parent who is trying to keep up with demands from curriculum and school boards.
As an occupational therapist, I’ve spent over six years helping teachers and parents bring more movement into their child’s day. Here are some tips and tricks to help you seamlessly incorporate physical activity into your day and to help change your perspective on the role of movement in your classroom, daycare, or home setting.
Movement is the activity – not a break from the activity!
One of the biggest paradigm shifts you can make is to stop thinking of movement as a “break” from your routine, and instead to make it part of your pre-established routine. This can be done by “sliding in” or infusing your routine with movement. For example, if you are teaching your child to count by twos (or ones, or fives, or tens!) why not jump it out? For each number you count, have your child jump in place as they say the number. You can easily slide in 5-10 minutes of high energy movement this way. Transition times are another natural place to slide in movement – perhaps children have to jump, skip or hop back to their seats instead of quietly walking. Moving from desks to floor time? Pick an animal and move to circle time by walking like that animal. Once your start thinking about infusing your routines with movements, you’ll see there are many natural times in your day where you can continue with your planned activity while incorporating movement.
Monitor energy levels throughout your day
Sometimes a break is JUST what you need! With time restraints you want to make sure you’re a planning a break in your routine efficiently. A great way to assess your schedule is to keep track of your class energy level for a few days. Mark times of your day where your students or children are “high energy” “low energy” or “ready to learn”. After a few days of tracking you may notice some patterns such as children being “high energy” after lunch, or “low energy” at the start of math. You can tailor your breaks to target these times by incorporating an energizing or relaxing activity break before your child’s energy levels get “too low” or “too high”. It might take some careful observation, charting, and trial-and error, but you can find efficient and meaningful times to take movement breaks so you’re students or children maintain a “ready to learn” energy level.
Don’t just stand there! YOU are the best model!
The CDC reports that teachers who demonstrate activities are more likely to engage students, and engaged students are more likely to participate in movement! Be sure to talk about your own energy level throughout the day and tell the children you work with when YOU need a to physical activity to adjust your energy level. Once your decide on how you will deliver a movement task, make sure you try out the activities and participate with your child or class. Go slowly so the children can observe your modeling, but most of all – have fun! Children who see you having fun with movement are more likely to have fun themselves. This will help them get the most out of their movement breaks.
Keep it simple – no need to over complicate the movement.
Sometimes children who have difficulty coordinating their movements will decline an activity, or participate in an unsafe way (moving too fast, not staying in their spot). You can address this by keeping your movements simple. If you’re working in a classroom with diverse movement learners, you want to make sure the activities you pick are things all of your students are able to do. You can seek the guidance from an OT/PT to help you pick an activity, or choose developmental movements that are slightly below your child’s age group. Once all of your students have mastered the movements you can work to achieve more complicated tasks. You can also help students by visually designating the area they are expected to move in by using poly spot markers or tape on the floor. Another great way to ensure a successful and simple movement break, or movement infusion, is to slowly model the exercise yourself first so children understand the expectations.
Clarify when movement time is over
Nothing puts a damper on a classroom movement break then having to take 20 minutes to transition out of the activity back to the academic task. To make the most of your time, make sure your have a way to transition from the activity back to the task. Or, if you have incorporated movement into an academic lesson make it clear when the movement part is over. This can be done by having a secret signal with your class to sit down (three claps? A whistle?), simply stating “movement time is over, have a seat”, or redirecting to the next task “Math is over, when you’re seated you can choose your area for center time”. It’s always good to take a moment to refocus with some deep breathing or a song after a fun movement game, especially if the next expectation is to sit and attend.
Whatever the method, incorporating movement into your day is essential to child development. Trial and error is usually the best way to find out what works for you and the children you work with. Be flexible and understanding of yourself and your students as you try to incorporate new habits into your routine – and before you know it you’ll be moving the day away!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010. The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance.
Castelli, D.M., Hillman, C.H., Buck, S.M., Erwin, H.E., 2007. Physical fitness and academic achievement in third- and fifth-grade students. J. Sport Exerc. Psychol. 29, 239–252.
Donnelly, J., & Lambourne, K. (2011). Classroom-based physical activity, cognition, and academic achievement. Preventive Medicine, 52, S36–S42.
Sarah W. Selznick, MS OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in helping children succeed with activities such as handwriting, play, self-care, academics, and social skills. Sarah’s practice has focused on school-based therapy and promoting functional movement, active play, and sensory exploration to children who have developmental and learning disabilities. Sarah is the former head of the OT/PT department at LearningSpring School – a school for children on the Autism Spectrum in New York City — and currently works as an OT in the Shenandoah Valley, VA. Sarah is the creator of the web series “The Sensory Explorer Show” which available to view on YouTube. Sarah also writes about pediatric occupational therapy on her blog Sarah The OT and Instagram @sensoryexplorers