In this 3-part series we will explore how more play, creative expression, and movement can lead to more cognitive development. The link from body to brain is powerful, so getting kids to move more and study a little less throughout the day may seem counterintuitive, but it may actually lead to better grades and even improve behavior!
In part 2 we will explore the mechanisms behind the power of movement to improve the brain. If you missed Part 1, click here.
So how is it possible that more time spent moving and less time spent "learning" results in better grades?
You see, movement is never just a physical act; it is a physical expression, or outcome, of cognitive strategies to solve problems. When learning fundamental or complex movements in the context of physical education, sports, recreation, or free play, it "...is an active learning process intricately interrelated with cognition. Movement skill learning cannot occur without the benefit of higher thought processes" (Gallahue, 2003, p. 104).
Learning is a process that involves the integration of both sensory and motor skills (Gallahue, 2003). Children, therefore, learn best when more of their senses are involved. When kids play, explore and solve problems, especially when outdoors in nature, they are forced to use all their senses to navigate this unpredictable and ever changing environment.
In a review of research on the acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills, Rosenbaum et al., (2001) concluded that all knowledge is "performatory" and that the 'skills of mind' and 'skills of eye, ear, and muscle' are fundamentally similar" (p. 454).
A finding Rosenbaum cites to support this fact is that coordination and timing seem to be required for intellectual as well as perceptual-motor skills (p. 464). Rosenbaum also points to the evidence that across animal species, more advanced intellect is associated with a greater facility of motor behaviors such as tool making. This fact has led to the hypothesis that, "...the evolution of brain areas credited with the development of language (e.g. Broca's area) may have paved the way for complex behavioral sequencing" (p. 465)
Current research points to the fact that exercise directly impacts the ability of the brain to process and retain new information (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008). A common concern in schools today, with the emphasis on learning the academic basics and passing standardized tests, is that physical education classes would take away valuable time from the teacher's already limited time to prep their students to pass the tests.
Classroom teachers are understandably concerned as they are also judged by how well their students do on these tests. Any time taken from an already tight schedule is therefore, seen as a threat. In a study reported by Graham et al., (2013) it was found that doubling the amount of physical education time allocated in the course of a school week did not interfere with standardized reading or math scores (p. 680).
Tony Schwartz discussed the basic human needs that must be satisfied in order to maximize performance in all realms of life in his book, The Way We're Working isn't Working (2010). He talks about the importance of renewal with the four key factors being, nutrition, fitness, sleep, and rest.
Schwartz asserts that, "Our physical capacity is foundational, because every other source of energy depends on it." (p. 11) He highlights exercise for its importance in increasing work capacity and as a means of calming emotions and quieting the mind, especially in the middle of a workday, and in our case, school day. Schwartz believes therefore, that exercise in the middle of a day, especially after a period of intense work, is a powerful form of rejuvenation.
In part 3 we will discuss how specific forms of exercise effect brain development.
For brekafast we had the same as last time (I hate to sound boring, but in case youm issed it). We have 2 eggs over medium with salt, pepper, and turmeric, sweet potato hash, 1 slice of bacon, sautéed baby kale, chard, and spinach, sautéed cherry tomatoes & fresh avocado – all drizzled with olive oil. Coffee is mandatory, though not for my son, and we all look forward to our spoon of cod liver oil to finish off our breakfast of champions.
Ericsson, I., & Karlsson, M. K. (2012). Motor skills and school performance in children with daily physical education in school - a 9-year intervention study. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 24(2), 273-278. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01458.x
Gallahue, D., & Cleland Donnelly, F. (2003). Developmental Physical education for all children (Fourth ed.). Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.
Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S. A., & Parker, M. (2013). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Musolf, D. (2014, February 19). Does outdoor play make kids smarter? - San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_25181071/does-outdoor-play-make-kids-smarter?source=infinite-up
Ratey, J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (First ed.). New York, New York: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group.
Rosenbaum, D. A., Carlson, R. A., & Gilmore, R. O. (2001). Acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 453-470. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.453
Schwartz, T., Gomes, J., & McCarthy, C. (2010). The way we're working isn't working: The four forgotten needs that energize great performance. New York, NY: Free Press.
Imagine if we, above all else, prioritized creating a more connected world. If we blend and integrate our passions, what innovations will we discover? What challenges would we overcome?
To celebrate National Nutrition Month, this article explores how local agriculture can help foster social connectedness.
To do this, I spoke with youth and adults representing urban and rural communities, non-profits, business and government and education agencies. Each brings a perspective that explores linkages to the built environment, education, youth engagement, workforce and inclusion.
I hope you find this exploration inspiring and enlightening. Perhaps you will identify a new partner or a new connection for your work.
My first two questions were for Lindsey Piant-Perez, Senior Architect and Southeast Sustainability Leader at DLR Group. Lindsey has been with DLR Group for 12 years and recently received a DLR Group Professional Development Grant to implement a garden-to-table project at Trinity Lutheran School in Orlando.
As both a parent of a young child and an accomplished architect, why do you think designing experiences that bring people together in nature is essential?
Lindsey: It always amazes me how much children naturally want to explore their environment. They like touching dirt, bugs, they look up to the sky often and truly notice the world around them. Architects focus on "what can be" about the built environment and how spaces can foster personalized learning. When we integrate indoor and outdoor environments and allow educators to bring learning concepts to life, there is a profound impact on performance.
How can the built environment create stronger families and communities?
Lindsey: A personal goal I have for my garden-to-table project is to explore how the school garden finds its way home. Will the garden influence kids in their eating habits? Will kids ask their parents to start a windowsill or backyard garden? I would love to see parents get involved with our garden; imagine if parents tended the garden with their child prior to heading home. Would that that experience reduce stress for the caregiver? Would it bring the parent and child closer?
My next two questions were for Erica Walther, Farm to School Specialist with the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
Tell me more about Farm to School efforts in DC and what excites you about your work.
Erica: Farm field trips are a big push for us right now and we provide grant funding to schools and community organizations to take students on trips to farms in DC, Maryland and Virginia. The DC Farm to School Network is working to create opportunities to convene champions and promote dialogue. We also actively celebrate our achievements in getting local food into school meals. We are in our fourth year of collecting data from schools on the local foods they are purchasing and serving. This allows us to track trends in local food procurement and expands our network of farmers and distributors that grow and sell locally sourced items to schools.
What role do you think connecting children with local agriculture plays in educating them about global issues like health, safety and food insecurity?
A huge one and it's one of the reasons I love coming to work every day! Children are the future of our country; we cannot wait to help them build healthy habits and play a role in our community. I see local agriculture as a way to get children excited about eating healthy because they can connect directly with where their food comes from. They can pull a carrot from their school garden, harvest kale at a DC-based farm and meet a herd of cattle in Maryland. We see students react positively when they taste those items on-site, get to ask questions and learn about different agriculture practices.
To learn more about both farm to school as well as farm to afterschool, I turned to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). According to Clarissa Hayes, Child Nutrition Policy Analyst at FRAC, using local foods in summer and afterschool programming not only improves the quality of meals served but also strengthens connections to the farming community.
FRAC's Fresh from the Farm Guide explains that locally based agriculture marketing not only helps local economies by providing jobs and keeping farm sales within communities, but keeps working agricultural land open and gives local farmers an opportunity to play a role in nutrition enrichment.
To explore the linkage to youth leadership and service-learning, I had the opportunity to speak with two student officers for Minnesota Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and their advisor.
FCCLA Advisor Tammy Borman has been involved with FCCLA for 15 years. Tammy states she "highly encourages teachers to look for opportunities to engage students in service-learning based on community needs children themselves have identified."
Mya Christensen, State President Elect has been involved for six years. She shared how being part of FCCLA has given her an opportunity to learn advocacy skills, make new friends and get out of her comfort zone by speaking in public.
When I asked Mya why she and other students should be involved in service-learning, she shared, "I think that it is important for students to be actively involved in service-learning projects because it helps them learn skills that are important to not only provide a positive impact on themselves, but also provide a positive impact on their communities."
Mya also shared two programs of FCCLA focused on health, wellness and food insecurity. Student Body, a program that helps members develop healthy living skills and Lead2Feed, FCCLA's national outreach program that teaches students how to help with hunger locally and globally.
I also spoke with the Minnesota FCCLA State Secretary, Johannah Nielsen for advice on involving students. Johannah shared, "Be persistent and patient because it can sometimes be a challenge to get students involved, but it all pays off greatly in the end... Every student has different interests, so planning diverse service projects that are fun and engaging is always a good idea."
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
Creating opportunities to link children to local agriculture takes political champions, including local government. My next two questions went to Nancy Thellman, who works for Douglas County, Kansas as a County Commissioner.
Workforce development is a critical issue in our country. In your experience, how can connecting children with nature and local agriculture encourage them to pursue careers in farming and food production?
Nancy: Meeting farmers, especially young farmers, opens kids' eyes to a variety of careers that most have never thought of. There is a whole world of food-related work that doesn't necessarily require owning land or planting a single seed, including marketing, processing and distributing, culinary arts, food system planning and policy work. Food and agriculture offer a remarkable job sector that can be low-tech or high-tech, rural or urban, part-time or full-time, first career or second, third or fourth!
Do you think this linkage helps foster greater understanding of global issues like food insecurity, safety and health?
Nancy: Kids have a natural sense of what's fair and what's not fair. They know people shouldn't go hungry. Kids know people would rather be well than sick. Helping them understand how access to healthy food is part of the equation for solving hunger and improving health. Wouldn't it be great if our local farmers could be heroes in kids' eyes?
Providing a more urban perspective, I asked Sean Madden, Transition Coordinator for St. Louis YouthBuild: Workforce development is a critical issue in our country. In your experience, how can connecting children with nature and local agriculture encourage them to pursue trade school or higher education?
Sean: Connecting children with nature and local agriculture goes a long way towards reinforcing energy conservation, a need for a greener economy and nurturing a greater understanding of global issues. Teaching young people how to be urban farmers has been one of the many focuses of two local St. Louis organizations called Gateway Greening and Earth Dance Farms in Ferguson, Missouri. Introducing more students to aspects of a green economy allows them to see a different career pipeline after high school.
INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY
Ultimately, outdoor experiences and linkages to nature are only as impactful as they are inclusive. To round out the conversation with tips on inclusion, I spoke with Lori Watkins, Coordinator of Recreation for the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama who regularly coordinates hunting camps for individuals with disabilities.
Acknowledging that making outdoor activities inclusive can be intimidating, Lori offered the following recommendations:
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this discussion. It is my hope that these diverse perspectives help you identify additional partnerships and resources through which you can leverage local agriculture to create a more connected world.
To read extended interviews and join the conversation, visit the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy Out-of-School Time blog.
For breakfast I had coffee, yogurt, berries and granola.
Designing welcoming environments for children and families has never been more important.
Let's look at some statistics and then talk action!
When reading these statistics, it's easy to feel discouraged. But – AFTERSCHOOL IS POWERFUL.
Imagine if we energize the 10.2 million children attending afterschool programs to feel a greater sense of connectedness and responsibility for each other and their communities.
Inspired by a recent visit I made to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), below are four activities to try this month to foster inclusive and welcoming environments. I've also intentionally blended these activities with the National AfterSchool Association (NAA) Standards for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity because a healthy afterschool site should always be an inclusive site.
1. Lead a Site Walk-through
Gather staff and students to lead an inclusion-focused walk-through of your afterschool site. If you operate on school grounds, invite school administration to join you. If you're a recreation agency, invite someone from your city council to join you. Before a child or family member even walks through your front door, what small changes can you make to ensure they feel welcome?
What opportunities will you uncover on your walk? Here are some ideas:
One new solution might be to create a fun and active trail made with Alliance for a Healthier Generation task cards leading up to your front door. Print, laminate and post activities using paint sticks. It'll add color and movement to your site while making a statement that something fresh and engaging happens inside!
Why not ask teens to design an "all about me" welcome bulletin board that features site staff and their favorite physical activities or hobbies. Integrate this activity into new volunteer or staff on-boarding to reinforce that your program prioritizes healthy role-modeling.
Keep the creativity flowing and help new students feel included by providing clear and vibrant signage. Decorate water fountains, hang encouraging stairwell signs and make it the norm to dance from point A to point B. In a challenging world, filling our afterschool programs with art, music and movement can provide a much needed oasis for children who may not otherwise have it.
A site walk-through gives children the opportunity to express their creativity and take ownership of the physical space of their afterschool site where they can find places to "absorb, act and show". Invite in-school staff to collaborate with afterschool staff and work together, especially if you share space. Consider putting a shared use agreement in place to make your efforts more sustainable.
Invite maintenance staff to participate so they understand your program goals. Something as simple as requesting light bulbs to be replaced can make it easier for children with disabilities, brighten up dark corners and encourage stairwell usage. Why not partner with your local creative community to paint a mural with positive and healthy messages? Not sure how to get plugged in? Check out a Creative Mornings event. A service-learning grant could help make it happen and a local art store might donate supplies and talent.
Combine intentionality and spring-cleaning and who knows what inspired materials you'll find in your supply closet!
2. Make Daily Cooperative Physical Activity the Norm
It doesn't matter if your program is focused on STEM or homework help, starting your program day with an inclusive brain booster can help children get active, clear their mind and foster connectedness. Make rainy days cooperative days even if they catch you by surprise. Create your own collection of favorite energizers so it's easier for children to help staff select activities that meet best practices.
Make this practice sustainable by adopting a wellness policy that ensures all program time begins with physical activity. Add cooperative physical activities to staff meetings and family events too for consistent messaging and role-modeling.
Avoid games with elimination elements that might target children who are new or different. Never run out of ideas by hosting your own do-it-yourself brain booster activity. Commit to never playing games like dodgeball – ever.
Daily cooperative activities give children an opportunity to learn, practice and develop a life-long love of movement. Cooperative games also make it easier for children to share in leadership.
3. Build Community through Healthy Snacks and Meals
If you serve afterschool snacks, meals or summer meals, promote dialogue and discussion through intentional conversations and activities. Structured mealtimes prevent small cliques from forming. Pay attention to needs of children with physical disabilities who many need accommodations. As you plan for summer meals, consider how new partners can spread the word, such as healthcare providers, the faith community and social service agencies who can help you reach a broader audience.
Let shared food experiences show youth how to identify commonalities with their peers and community members. Taste tests and potlucks at family events create space for families to get to know each other, share culture and traditions of cooking, meal times or even food preservation.
4. Build a Movement through Partnerships with Purpose
From maintenance staff willing to replace your light bulb to a police officer who likes to Zumba, creating healthy inclusive communities requires all of us. Learning how to work together can be the most challenging part. Begin staff meetings with intentional icebreakers to help staff connect on a personal and professional level.
Ensure your social media reflects families that you want to recruit into your program and depicts an inclusive environment.
Imagine the world we could create if we harnessed the power of the 10.2 million children who attend afterschool programs. That potential grows if we involve passionate staff, unconventional partners and extended families. We can accomplish a lot in afterschool, from health and wellness to STEM, but our impact will only be as strong as our ability to be inclusive and welcoming.
For breakfast I had a coffee and two clementines.
Having made it through the hectic beginning of the new school year, now is a great time to take a fresh look at the food served in your afterschool program. Food is an important part of any afterschool program, helping to draw in children and to ensure that they are not hungry and can fully benefit from the activities being offered. Is your program providing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low fat milk?
For the millions of children who live in homes struggling to put food on the table and/or are overweight or obese, the adequacy and nutrition quality of the food provided at their afterschool programs is particularly crucial. The federal Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs through the Child and Adult Care Food Program reimburse schools, local government agencies, and private nonprofits for serving meals and snacks at programs.
This funding can support programs in serving higher quality meals and snacks. A simple meal could be turkey on whole wheat bread, carrot sticks, apple slices, and milk. And programs that operate long enough can provide both a meal and a snack.
To qualify, sites must be located in low-income areas and offer educational and enrichment activities. Meals and snacks can snacks can be served at programs operating after school, on weekends, and during school vacations and holidays.
Afterschool programs also can improve the quality and appeal of the food served by incorporating local foods into the menu. FRAC recently updated Fresh from the Farm: Using Local Foods in the Afterschool and Summer Nutrition Programs, which provides step by step guidance and best practices.
Grants are available to schools to support Farm to School initiatives. Programs that work with schools can encourage their school nutrition department to apply for these grants, which can be used to incorporate local foods into meals provided through the school, afterschool, and summer nutrition programs.
For breakfast, I had corn flakes with blueberries, a glass of milk, and coffee.