The seventh inning stretch has been around since 1869, but in our classrooms and our homes, our kids have grown more and more sedentary. Not only are kids less active these days, but obesity has become a nationwide problem. It is no surprise, given how the hours of the school day stretch on and there is so much to occupy our kids in front of their computer screens. As a longtime teacher and mother of two, I have created ways for my kids to keep active and healthy even in the midst of long innings of study and learning in the classroom. In this article, I will share with you ways that I have found to motivate children to move while exerting little effort and little time.
It is important to note that the added benefit of incorporating movement throughout the day allows the brain to work more efficiently. When the body has had time to stretch, the brain continues to grow stronger connections. From the cerebellum to the cerebrum many connections move apart when kids are idle, watching television, playing video games, and simply sitting for long periods of time.
During the first weeks back to school, children tend to be restless and fidgety. Of course they’re restless; they are used to hours of active play time and lots of exercise for the last two months. When November rolls around; children tend to fall back into the “school” routine of sitting for longer periods of time, experiencing little active recess time, and aching for down time which means retreating to television shows or video games. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to my children, my class and my own, to provide an optimum learning environment, as well as, homework environment.
I pay particular attention to this area of exercise because I am a fidget. While listening to speeches or attending workshops, I twirl my ankles, move my legs from one position to another, and arch my back into nonchalant stretches. Now, I don’t consider myself hyperactive, nor do I struggle with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I do consider myself a good listener, because I have found ways to move about in order to maximize my patience for whatever the activity.
Classroom life can be monotonous and sedentary for children. For years I have found that instilling daily rituals of frequent and quick exercises to be a good thing. Before I sat down and learned about the right and left brain hemispheres from our school psychologist and a past parent who is an occupational therapist (OT), I would incorporate into the day simple stretches, muscle toning exercises, and deep breathing routines.
Now that I am more knowledgeable about the way the brain makes connections and functions at maximum capacity, I have revised a few of the exercises to incorporate cross-body stretches, moving from one side of the body to the other, deep breathing that requires focusing, and cardiovascular that strengthens the muscles. I do not pretend to know all about calming the senses and centering my core like a yogini; I do know how I function and perform after I have had time to move, reconnecting the brain patterns and simply letting the wiggles out.
The experts in the field of brain research have mapped brain waves by color. As I sat there watching the colors move across the screen, lots of red and orange for the child who fixates on playing video games, and lots of blue and green for the child who runs around outside, the brain waves enhance to blue and green with large motor activity and diminish to red and orange with monotonous, sedentary activity. This was a powerful moment for me as I have witnessed the aftereffects of children playing video games and sitting on a couch for hours watching television. A lack of ambition and motivation and the inability to focus lend themselves to the long list of homework complaints. Send the children outside to play, like you and I used to do after school, and then introduce homework. There is a noticeable difference in a child’s energy level.
Here are some simple large motor and breathing exercises that can help a child before settling into homework or an activity that requires sitting for a twenty-minute or longer period of time:
Cross Stretch- Stretch with arms out, one at a time, across the body. The action of moving the arms across the body helps rebuild the connections from the cerebellum to the cerebrum. Do this in intervals of ten. Ask the children to stretch to their toes or to the farthest point away from their bodies. Do tell them where they should be feeling the stretch and give praise or else they like to complain about what body parts ache.
Jump Up/ Go Low- Start math class or homework time by practicing math facts—jump up if the sum, difference, product, or quotient ends in an even number or go low if the sum, difference, product, or quotient ends in an odd number.
Poetry Out Loud- Get a poem that speaks to the reader, one that yells, shouts or whispers the message. Have the kids stand and practice reading the poem aloud. I incorporate singing into as much shared reading as possible, singing uses muscles. Reading aloud with expression does the same thing. Acting out a poem at the same time uses more muscles. We love, Eloise Greenfield’s, Jump Rope Rhyme. I am exhausted by those motions by the end of the book! How about Lillian Moore’s, Go, Wind, Blow? That is one snappy poem. Make-up moves to any poem, dancing and singing together. Let yourself breathe and feel the rhythm.
Rain shower- I learned this at a literacy conference in Lake Placid, NY. Our group stood in a large circle and played follow-the-leader. Our leader started with an action that could have been part of a rain shower, a light clap, moving to a slap on the thigh, onto a light snap and into a rough rubbing of the hands together, etc. We needed to listen, look, and perform the actions all at once. Now, that is exercising the brain. The actions moved around the circle from person to person—one could not do the new move until the person before them did it. The leader was the only one who could change the action.
LOUD but Quiet- I made this up when I knew we needed to move about but I also needed quiet. Have you ever tried to scream, yell, or shout without a voice? I had remembered this yoga pose from twenty years ago called the lion’s pose. It’s stretching every muscle in your face. I adapted this pose into yell as loud as you can without a peep. It works. The children are literally exhausted from stretching every muscle in their face and tightening every muscle at the same time. Try it—it works!
Ceiling-Floor-Walls- This is literally using all of your strength to hold up the ceiling, push down the floor, and push out the walls—it is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Use all of your might to hold up the ceiling when you pretend the ceiling is pressing down on you. Repeat this action for the walls that “close” in on you and the floor that “creeps” up on you.
The Crunch Thing- Yep, we do crunches to mathematical skip counts. Skip count to any number you like, count by twos, threes, fours, fives, tens, etc. We do as many crunches as there are children in the class as we go around the room to complete one round. Subtraction is great for all ages; it really makes one think when you have to go back by fours or nines. A conversation about patterns is a good follow up.
Football Morning- The following community-building activities are more fun to do with a soft Nerf football in hand. Toss the football; teach the word “toss” rather than “throw,” from one person to the next. There are so many impromptu games one can make up here are two favorites:
1. Toss the football to someone in the circle, say good morning and name a place that that person has traveled to or would like to travel to. An extension to this is to locate these places on the map the next day.
2. The focus is on strengthening the memory. Toss the football to one person; say good morning to that person using his/her name and then so on. When everyone has had a turn, reverse the actions, have each person toss the football back to the person who tossed it to them. It’s tricky and challenging.
Jumping Jacks- What an amazingly difficult move for anyone who really needs to do it correctly. Think about it, this action requires one to move the body parts at cross-levels and at the same time. Observe closely which children can do a correct jumping jack. The children who have the most difficulty are the children who need to engage in cross-body exercises that require strengthening brain connections. Cross body movements and multi-level, multi-action moves are most helpful.
Breathing- Always practice breathing from the stomach up and out—talk the children through the calming exercise of breathing just like a yoga teacher. This will help center and relax them.
Tapping- a bit of psychotherapy—I like this strategy when I need the children to be centered and thoughtful about the process they are about to engage in. Ask the children to close the eyes, take the hands, and slowly tap both hands in unison on the chest, while you softly speak the upcoming directions. For example, tell the children: I see you getting a pencil, now pick up your notebook, and walk quietly to the rug. Sit down, open your notebook, and start reading your latest entries in your notebook without talking to any friends. What a remarkable difference! The children follow the directions because they have already envisioned what to do. The physical education, art, music, language, and library teachers especially appreciate the time that I take before walking them through their doors because the children are much more focused and centralized.
There is a significant difference on the days that I take the time to tap and the days that I feel rushed. Boy, it always comes down to chasing time. I can also see doing this when my family gathers at holiday dinners. There are so many grandchildren and ten of them are within a four-year age difference, the hustle and bustle can get out of hand. A little tapping before coming to the dinner table may be just the remedy, at least, to wash their hands, plate their food, and get their own drink.
Imagine if your child has nightly difficulty getting everything into the backpack that needs to return to school…tap away and watch the items magically appear in a timely manner. I believe this tapping activity promotes INDEPENDENCE!
*give yourself tight body hugs,
*touch toes ten times at a time,
*roll shoulders front and back in intervals of five or ten, roll head to the front, side- to-side, and back, then one smooth roll all at once.
*Be a rag doll- stretch to the ceiling and let yourself fall like a rag doll, hang there, letting all of the tension flow out of your arms, and then pretend there is a crank in the middle of your back, crank yourself up with your shoulders coming up last. The children love to control the pace of the crank.
Have fun using your imagination to create daily rituals of activity. Provide time for the children in your life to move about because sitting still for too long makes one’s brain idle and certainly takes attention away from the growing waistlines. We all need to stand up and take that seventh inning stretch, rejuvenating the body and brain.
By Cathy Grimes, a longtime LitLife Team Leader. Cathy is well known for her empathic and humanistic teaching methods. She leads workshops on literacy education for LitLife, and teaches second grade at The Wooster School, an innovative K-12 school in Connecticut.
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