Let us imagine for a moment the most incredibly perfect classroom. It has an impeccable layout, space galore, neverending supplies (that you don’t have to pay for), and students who manage stress like meditation gurus. Classroom support runs aplenty and transitions occur without a hitch. This is a classroom that provides students with substantial time for movement and physical activity every day–they play outside, have movement centered classes scheduled within the school day, and have enough space in the classroom to take moments of exercise when necessary. The perfect classroom.
HA! I couldn’t even begin to imagine it! Could you?
Let’s be honest for a moment. The perfect classroom, or at least one that fits the description above, could never exist. Every classroom is gifted with mountains to move and obstacles to orientate. Space is limited. Time is limited. Supplies are limited. Emotional regulation within the students is limited. Patience within some teachers could be limited. Even in a school that provides space for children to physically explore or time in the day to get into a movement room or outdoor space, the inevitable season comes about where students and teachers begin to go stir crazy. This usually happens in the colder months or rainy seasons when getting outside is impossible. Similarly, spring often brings about huge physical needs for children who are finally getting outside. All their stored up energy is now ready to explode! This can create some intense energy in the classroom (and home) that easily becomes unmanageable.
As educators, we understand that children need to move. From preschoolers to high schoolers, the need for movement is persistent and needs to be accomodated. Yet in the confines of a packed classroom, this can feel overwhelming or impossible. So how do we create a functional environment that encourages body awareness while equipping students with educational tools that prepare them for success when everything teachers encounter is leaving them at a disadvantage?
Are we turning our classroom into a gymnasium?
Of course not! You don’t even have to shove the desks over. The amount of space needed for a child to benefit from physical activity is barely a 2ft x 2ft square. There are a multitude of activities designed to get young students out of their desks and moving that only require the space beside their seat. Students can benefit from physical activity that is more constructive than just “running around”. Push walls, dance minutes, isolated muscle tensing and so much more can all occur in a small space while having a huge impact. According to the Institute of Medicine, physical activity is crucial to the social-emotional and mental health of children and adolescents. Opportunities for physical activity can occur in 1-10 minute time frames and can be instrumental in the emotional stability and academic growth of students.
And now for the third edition of the Groove Break series! I encourage you to explore these movement strategies in your classroom. Preschool and elementary students will especially benefit from these movement breaks. However, if you are a middle or high school teacher, do not be afraid to try similar tactics to wake up and revitalize sleepy students, quell anxiety or get some post/pre break energy out of the classroom.
Below are some ideas to get your students moving, grooving and expelling built up energy that may be causing a lack of focus or frazzled atmosphere in the classroom.
- 1 Minute Dance Session – Who doesn’t love to boogie?! Get your students, and your own, bottom out of those chairs and wigglin’ on down to some groovy tunes. Even students who are reserved and decline to dance can benefit from the energy of the other dancers in the room. In most cases, your own modeling of ridiculous disco moves will likely pull them from their shells. Students now have the opportunity for 60 seconds of pure expressive movement. This can break up the monotony of the day, provide a fresh mindset during a difficult unit and release tension after a tough test. Try changing up the musical genres to keep your students guessing or surprising them with their favorite song.
- Wall Push – This strategy is a great tool for students who may deal with sensory disruption or those with aggressive tendencies. It is also extremely accessible and beneficial for students who feel tense or overloaded with energy. Provide a taped off area next to a wall of about 1 foot wide and 2 feet long. On the wall within the range of the rectangle, tape two handprints, child height and size, to the wall. This station will need a group presentation as well as individual reminders for the occupants until the students become comfortable with its’ purpose and use. Try this language for the instructions on how to use this space.
- Students, this is the push wall. You can use this space one at a time whenever you are feeling tense, antsy, anxious, upset, wanting to touch someone else or when you have a whole lot of energy. Here’s how the push wall works.
- Step 1 – come into to rectangle.
- Step 2 – place your hands on top of these hands (modeling the behavior).
- Step 3 – step one foot up to the wall so your toes touch, and other other foot to the back of the rectangle.
- Step 4 – push with your hands as hard as you can. Be sure to keep pushing as you slowly count to five.
- You can vary this experience by placing several differently spaced hand positions on the wall. You can also instruct the students to breathe in first, then push for as long as it takes for their breath to slowly come out.
- You can repeat this push, making sure to switch feet, 4 times. Remember, this space is for one person at a time.
- Jumping Up and Wiggling Down – This whole class activity can accompany the 1 minute dance session, or stand alone as a silly movement break during the day. Younger students will enjoy this activity immensely. Have students come to standing next to their desk. If they are at tables, have them stand behind their pushed in chair. The goal of this movement is to increase blood flow (especially in the legs) and release both excess energy and lots of giggles. Begin by bending the knees. Some students will want to squat to the floor. As long as there is no risk of accidental injury, this is perfectly fine. On the count of 3, everyone jumps as high as they can into the air. As you all land, let your body wiggle and wobble down to a bended position again. Try including some sound effects here. Loose lipped raspberries are wonderful! The activity stays contained by having the teacher instruct that everyone must freeze at the bottom of their wiggle. By holding this until the next count of 3, each round remains managed. Just as with the other activities, provide clear expectations for your movement time.
- Isolated Muscle Tensing – This movement activity can be done individually with a student who is melting down or experiencing sensory processing difficulties, or it can be done as a whole class to release tension and built up energy. This focuses on isolating, or singling out, specific parts of the body. When working with preschool students, it is good to use general body types such as arms, legs, belly etc. When working with elementary students, try to become more specific with your naming. Ie: forearms, shoulders, toes, gluteus (buttocks), calves etc. Beginning at the top of the body, have students tense the isolated muscle region for a count of 3-5 seconds. After the release, continue down towards the next muscle group. Tense (tighten) each muscle for a count of 3-5 seconds until you reach the toes as the final body part. After each muscle has been tightened in isolation, have students squeeze themselves as hard as they can. They might wrap their arms around themselves, pull their legs up towards their body or straighten themselves out as much as they can. Hold this muscle tension for 3-5 seconds and release with a whooshing exhale. Afterwards, be sure to let students wiggle out the feelings in their body for a few seconds. End with at least 3 slow breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.
A Circus Act
Most often, a teacher will not implement movement in their classroom for fear of the activity getting out of hand. We’ve all been there. A fun game of musical chairs, dance session or charades quickly escalates to running, screaming and general chaos. A good key to remember is that preschool, primary and elementary students need guidelines and boundaries. Letting your students know what the activity entails seems pretty straight forward. However, let’s not forget the steps that come before and after the activity. How do we prepare? How do we finish? Let’s take our 1 minute dance session as an example. Here is some language to use so your students have clear expectations about the activity.
- Before – Ok class, it’s time for our 1 minute dance session. Let’s shake loose and boogie down. I will count down from 5. When I reach 0 I will turn on our music. After we have our dance session I will count down from 5 again. When I reach 0 you will all be in your seats. We have 1 minute to boogie. Ready? 5 4 3 2 1 0.
- During – *Music is playing for one minute. Try playing a song you know they love, or switch up the genre of music each time to keep them guessing.*
- After – *Music switches off* 5 4 3 2 1 0. Let’s all take 3 breaths together. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. In through your nose. Out through your mouth.
Setting clear expectations and a routine for activities will lessen the likelihood of chaos ensuing after a movement session.
Action in Action!
One classroom in Massachusetts has taken physical activity in the classroom to a whole new level! Co Teachers, Jake Dore and Clara Van Allen, have devised a plan to get their 4th grade students moving multiple times in the day without leaving the classroom or needing an exorbitant amount of space. These lucky students get out of their desk for some much needed physical activity every 60-90 minutes. Take a moment to check out what these awesome, insightful teachers are doing in Massachusetts to incorporate movement and physical activity into their day in order to better serve their students.
Preschool and elementary children are much more than young minds. They are young bodies as well; bodies that need to move. There is overwhelming evidence of the mind-body connection and the academic benefit of physical activity throughout the day. The more that I educate myself on this subject, the happier I am to see how many other teachers are taking advantage of the strategies and techniques that provide functional physical activity within the classroom. I encourage you to try these Groove Breaks in your classroom. And as always, remember that these strategies are for you as well. Movement, breath work and joy are beneficial to all of us.
Leave Happiness in Education a comment and let us know your thoughts. Or, if you’ve implemented these breaks into your classroom, let us know how it went!