Move to stay focused and alert

Movement is a necessary skill throughout all ages of development, but essential in our younger years. Our children are more sedentary due to an increase in passive lifestyles and the advances in technology.  As a result, we are seeing increased numbers of learning difficulties and decreased motor abilities in our children. Every movement action that one makes is a sensory-motor event and therefore has an impact on how the brain understands and reacts to the environment we are in.

Movement is processed in the vestibular system and is situated in the inner ear. We call it the GPS (global positioning system) of the brain. It tells us in which direction we are moving, it tells us if we are lying down or standing, and it helps us with balance and posture. It is also essential for our ability to maintain alert and focused on learning and doing work. Just like adults, children also start “falling asleep” at their desks if they have to remain still and quiet for long periods of time.

How do we as adults stay alert in meetings or listen to courses for long periods of time? When we start in the morning, we are awake, focused and engaged, but this does not last into a long day if we remain still and seated for longer periods. In order to maintain our concentration, we will start shifting in our chairs, stretching our backs or necks, start doodling or even start fidgeting with a pen or our hair or whatever we may have on hand. The simple, yet small movement will alert us to our postures and wake the vestibular system in order to help us remain focused on what we are doing.

Just imagine how more productive our children will be if they are given more movement breaks during the day. Regular movement breaks will help them to stay focused for longer periods of time. They will be calmer and behave more appropriately in the classroom, and they will be more engaging in their learning process.

Here are some simple, yet effective movement breaks for the classrooms:

  • Stand and stretch
  • Hand out books
  • Clean the board
  • Allow them to work standing up for a few minutes
  • Allow the children to change positions to work – lying on the floor, leaning up against the wall, sitting on a therapy ball
  • Allow for fidget tools to be used during quiet time (See our blog on Fidgets)
  • Allow them to run errands
  • Have more than one break in the school day
  • Allow children to push with their feet against a bungee cord or theraband tied to the legs of the chair
  • Move to music – there are so many action songs that one can use to do this.

Dr. John J. Ratey, in a TED Talk said that “physical exercise turns our brain on. It optimizes the brain’s ability to learn and it regulates our emotions. Exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin”

Movement is the language of the brain and it is time that we get our children out of their seats and moving. 

Annabella Sequeira holds a BSc (Occupational Therapy) degree from the University of Cape Town, backed by 22 years of experience in both the public and private sectors.  She has extensive practical experience in the area of Sensory Integrative Dysfunction in children and is passionate about empowering others to improve functionality and quality of life.