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New Minds in the Making

by Helle Burlingame, Cand Psych, Psychologist, Director KOMPAN Institute, NA




Teachers at Adams Elementary often use the "brain dance" and other types of movement activities to stimulate students.
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Schools are changing these days, trying new approaches to motivate more kids to learn and to play a key role in creating healthier students. On a deeper level, you could say, it is about motivating kids to care about school, to feel connected, and to be willing to commit with personal responsibility in the academic learning, as well as their personal health.

 




The federal No Child Left Behind law focused most schools to increase time spent on reading and math, but 44 percent of school districts have achieved this by cutting time spent on "noncore" subjects, such as the arts, PE, and recess.1 Free play on the playground is exhilarating for kids. If you don't believe that, just walk by an elementary school during recess and listen to the shrieks of joy and the unbridled energy of the kids. If we could just bottle that joy, zest and energy!

 

Often it involves letting go of old ways of teaching and trying new things to capture the attention and interest of the digital generation. In this environment of engaging kids with schools, the outdoor environment, can serve as a great place for students to reframe learning and be physically active in play, and as an opportunity to develop more in-depth social relationships with peers. However, the indoor learning scenario can also pick up some clues from the playground, when delving into more pedagogically engaging approaches to teaching. Observing kids playing on the playground is the best learning lab for understanding kids’ motivation to learn new skills.

 




The major criterion for selecting the play equipment at the Adams Elementary School in Ballard (Seattle, Wash. school district) was to get students to use a variety of muscle groups in climbing, jumping, sliding, using strength, hanging by the arms or knees, jumping, landing, turning and stretching.

 

Health and Education

Until now, the federal No Child Left Behind law has stimulated most schools to increase time spent on reading and math, and 44 percent of school districts have achieved this by cutting time spent on “noncore” subjects, such as the arts, PE, and recess.1 However this approach does not seem to hold the solution for engaging kids with school and is likely a contributing factor to health problems, such as childhood obesity.2 The Let’s Move Campaign, as well as the recent White House Task Force report, “Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation,” point to the vital role of schools as settings to influence healthy behavior.3,4 More and more evidence is accumulating that demonstrates the link between student physical activity breaks and academic performance. Increasing the number of safe, quality playgrounds in schools is an engaging way of increasing children’s physical activity.5 Youngsters from all species including humans have a biological drive to be active. After some time in class kids get restless, they cannot sit still and start to squirm, tilt their chairs and their attention wanders. They use their imagination to figure out ways to get out of the chair or talk to their friends, all activities resulting in not paying attention to the topic being addressed in class.

 




The "Let's Move Campaign," as well as the recent White House Task Force report, "Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation," point to the important role of schools in engaging children in physical activities and influencing other healthy behavior.

 

Making It Cool To Move

Environments shape behaviors. Free play on the playground is tremendously exhilarating for kids, releasing pent up energy and getting them recharged for more learning. A varied play environment offers stimulating imaginative and self-determined forms of movement: climbing, jumping, sliding, using strength, climbing up or down or sideways, hanging by arms or knees, jumping, landing, turning, stretching, and the list continues depending on the mood of the child. The key factor is to create a wealth of opportunities for self-directed play in the company of peers. Expressing yourself in challenging movements involves feelings of confidence and persistence and builds self esteem. This connection to emotional well-being makes the learning of both physical and social skills stick. These types of experiences prepare the brain and children’s mindset for learning and the ability to concentrate in the classroom. Playgrounds can change kids’ behavior. They can make kids choose to be active and involved with their bodies, minds and emotions!

 




More and more evidence is accumulating that demonstrates the link between student physical activity breaks and academic performance. Quality playgrounds in schools are an engaging way of increasing children's physical activity.

 

References

  1. Center for Education Policy. Choices, changes, and challenges: curriculum and instruction in the NCLB era. Washington, DC: Center for Education Policy; 2007.
  2. “We Do Not Have to Sacrifice Children’s Health to Achieve Academic Goals”. James Sallis, PhD, Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, California and Active Living Research. The Journal of Pediatrics Vol. 156, No.5. May, 2010.
  3. Let’s Move Campaign, let’smove@hhs.gov
  4. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President. “Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation”, May 2010.
  5. Burlingame, Helle: “Exercising their Right to Play” in Park and Recreation magazine, December, 2007.



"When we were choosing play equipment, we wanted something that would enable students to use a variety of muscle groups in creative ways. We also wanted something visually appealing to tie in with our school's artistic identity and to complement several playground murals that we commissioned an artist to paint as part of our playground renovation. The KOMPAN equipment fulfilled all of these requirements."--Alison, Krupnick, Playground Committee chair, Adams Elementary, Ballard, Seattle Washington School District.

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October 17, 2019, 6:54 am PDT

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