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Starting the Year with Movement

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My kids started school this week, and the first day of school report was filled with excitement.  Through the retelling of the day’s activities, two takeaways thrilled me the most.  My kindergartener was practicing moves and songs referencing brain breaks and GoNoodle (www.gonoodle.com) videos.  He talked about the importance of getting up to move and reducing the butterfly jitters some kids were feeling.  I felt so proud of how grown-up he seemed while also feeling sentimental of my youngest heading off to school!   

My fourth grader was also ecstatic after her first day.  She talked nonstop about the day’s adventures.  At one point she mentioned how her class went on a walk. We drilled her with questions:  Where did you go?  Did it occur just because it was the first day? Did you tour the school?  She mentioned that her teacher said it was important for them to get outside and walk every day.   

In these times  when schools are cutting recess time to fill the day with academics and other mandated activities, the direction these two teachers, at different schools, were taking was thrilling.  I’m excited for my kids to experience what these teachers have to offer.  Of course academics are important.  Of course, social and emotional learning is important.  However, all three are positively impacted through movement activities, large and small.   

Teachers at all levels have different comfort level with using movement.  Brain breaks can involve songs and silly movements, but also can be as simple as having students get up out of their seats and moving to a different location or stretching at their desks. Movement can be intense or it can be a stress-free experience of simply taking a short walk around campus. The comfort level teachers have changes as teachers continue to practice and incorporate movement weekly and daily.   

As teachers begin the school year, one component of using movement is to be sure routines are in place.  If teachers set routines, and practice routines, the use of movement (and the level of movement used) is more easily managed. Although it may feel forced at first, practicing what to do and what not to do during movement pays off.  Depending on the grade level and the students in a particular class, the amount of practice will vary. 

Reasons to Use Movement in the Classroom 

        Reduces Stress (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008)

May Reduce Anxiety (Parfitt, Pavey, & Rowlands, 2009)

Imprves On-Task Behavior (Maher et al., 2009; Grieco, Jowers, & Bartholomew, 2009)

Assists in Social Development (World Health Organization, 2015)

Increases Cognitive Function (Hill et. al., 2011) 


Simple Ways to ADD Movement to a Classroom 


Use the Walls:  Post directions to assignments, classroom notes, vocabulary words, facts and figures, and art to the walls. Figure out a way to get students out of their seats to observe, retain, record, and discuss through viewing and interacting with wall space. 

Stand and Discuss:  Instead of talking in groups while being seated, have students stand and talk.  Instead of sitting during a think-pair-share, invite students to stand and find new partners to share information with. 

Stand to Visualize: Use standing as a way to reveal answers to a quick poll or during a check for understanding moment. Make mind-body connections to help recall vocabulary, facts, notes, topics, etc. 

Set a Timer: Determine a set number of minutes (every 10 or 15) to have a timer ring.  Each time the timer goes off, have students stand to stretch, perform an action, answer a question through movement. 

Take a Walk:  For fun or connect activity to some type of content-related activity.  Look for evidence for math problems, inspiration for writing, social and school awareness, or gather data for science. 


There are several ways teachers can add movement to the classroom.  If anything, offering students the option to stand or walk or move during work time or group time will help with focus and improve class climate.  These are further strengthened when routines are practiced providing structure chaos.


20 Movement Activities and Games for Elementary Classrooms http://gazette.teachers.net/gazette/wordpress/leah-davies/movement-games/ 

4 Simple Ways to Add Movement in Daily Lessons http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/57154716/4-simple-ways-add-movement-daily-lessons 

Let’s Get Physical:  Reading and Movement http://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/WhatsNew/WNDet.aspx?ArtMID=888&ArticleID=402 

Fun Teaching Strategies that Integrate Movement http://www.teachhub.com/fun-teaching-strategies-integrate-movement

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John Helgeson is a Secondary ELA Curriculum Specialist in the Northshore School District in Bothell, Washington. John has been in education for 18 years teaching middle school and junior high students English, Social Studies, and Drama. He has experience teaching in low-income settings, co-teaching with special education colleagues, and teaching pre-AP/IB honors classes. He has enjoyed teaching in Minnesota, Washington, and Japan. 

John has presented at several local and national conferences including WERA/OSPI Annual Conference, AMLE Annual Conference for Middle Level Educators, ASCD Annual Conference, and the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education Biennial Convocation. Topics have included using physical movement in the classroom; effective reading, vocabulary, and writing instruction strategies; flipping the ELA classroom; and exploring literature circles in a mixed-grade/mixed-ability setting. In addition to presenting these topics, John has written several articles on literacy instruction and physical movement in the classroom. John currently sits on the Executive Council for Kappa Delta Pi. 

In his free time, John enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, reading a good book, running and participating in triathlons. 

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Guest Monday, 18 March 2019