Towards the end of the school year teachers will frequently find distracted and restless students who make no effort to conceal how eagerly they’re awaiting their summer vacation. Needless to say, that can present a challenge to teachers, especially ones who still have a substantial number of lessons to teach in those final few weeks of school. Luckily, in the face of fatigue, you have physical activity and fitness on your side.
The benefits of physical activity on classroom concentration are well-documented. They lead to greater cognitive skills and behavior, both of which have a direct impact on academic performance. With increased concentration and attention, physical activity may be the only tool you need to get your students through these last few weeks of class.
Here are six physical activity tricks to keep up your sleeve:
1. Brain Boosters
Brain boosters are reserved for the time between recess and physical education class. Boosters are short bursts of activity that elementary school teachers can use to refocus an unsettled class. Children are not meant to sit, and the aerobic movement of these boosters will re-energize brains and bodies.
While teachers can start a brain booster whenever they see their class getting fidgety, the best time to use these activities is usually between lessons. Changing the subject of study or having students move back to their seat following a lesson are both ideal times to fit in a brain booster. When you restart your lesson, you will be pleasantly surprised to discover how much more focused and engaged your students have become.
2. Learning Walks
As spring turns to summer, children love to be outside. Why not tap into that excitement by going on a learning walk? A learning walk is an academic lesson in an out-of-classroom setting. Don’t underestimate the power of nature to provide an unforgettable lesson you won’t find in any textbook.
For example, if you’re talking about weather patterns in class, have children spend part of the lesson outside identifying the types of clouds in the sky. A related activity could be to have students create a week-long weather journal to record their observations from their time spent outdoors. If you’re teaching younger students observation and color skills, you can have them play I Spy while strolling around the school playground. Learning walks will provide brand new fodder for your lessons and help provide physically activity at the same time.
3. Self-Tossing Fluffball Fun
Physical activity and learning are not two separate entities. This self-tossing game of fluffball fun combines the two in such a way that children won’t even realize they’re learning. As well as getting students moving around a set activity area, this self-tossing game also has a counting and alphabet component, as children toss their fluffball in sync with the teacher’s proclamation of numbers and letters. Perfect to incorporate into classroom lessons for younger students, this self-tossing game can be adapted for older elementary school children by having them count higher or name a fruit or vegetable for each letter of the alphabet.
4. Scavenger Hunts
Another outdoor physical activity filled with educational prospect is a scavenger hunt. This is an excellent way to build a child’s observation skills and have them pay more attention to their surroundings. Dividing students into groups can also build cooperation and teamwork skills. A scavenger hunt activity is a good way to break up the day, and is best done after lunch or recess, when children are still dressed for the outdoors.
Before starting your scavenger hunt, determine where students will be allowed to walk. Make a list of items you want the children to find. These can be simple items, such as an American flag, a leaf or a bicycle. They can also be more specific searchables that students may have to draw on their classroom lessons to find. For example, if they’re searching for a pinecone, they may recall from science class that the cones come only from coniferous trees. Or, perhaps students have to identify a certain type of bird that is common in the area.
By spreading out the items in the hunt around the schoolyard, you’re able to refocus your students’ minds as well as help them achieve their recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
5. In-Class Yoga
Any teacher will have experienced post-lunchtime chaos — kids tearing into the classroom after lunchtime recess eager, it would seem, to continue their revelry indoors. Calming them down isn’t always easy, which is why we suggest a relaxing activity such as yoga. Bringing yoga into your classroom after lunch will mean children still get to move around, but in a way that will gradually calm them and refocus their minds for study.
Alternate stretches with your students, and have them focus on breathing in and out at a consistent pace. Children may not get the same bliss out of sitting in certain postures, so try focusing their minds by having them think about their favorite day or some other happy moment. Your class will soon be much more peaceful and attentive, and stretching has been found to especially benefit children with attention deficit issues.
6. Early Morning Aerobics
Children need to switch back into learning mode when they enter the classroom each day, and aerobics have proven to be a great way to get their brains in gear. That aerobic fitness will serve to help your students focus better in the short term, and in the long term it has shown to increase brain connectivity. Not only that, but a study from Michigan State University and the University of Vermont found that daily before-school aerobic exercise could reduce the risk of ADHD in at-risk children. A number of schools have already started to incorporate morning exercise into their days, including Bryant School in Helena, MT, where students jumpstart their day by running, stretching and playing games, as part of the school’s Fun to Run program.