Movement Is Essential to Learning

By Blakemore, Connie L. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, November-December 2003 | Go to article overview

Movement Is Essential to Learning


Blakemore, Connie L., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Hannaford (1995) reminds people that "the human qualities we associate with the mind can never exist separate from the body" (p. 11) because movement is an indispensable part of learning and thinking, as well as all integral part of mental processing. Furthermore, thinking and learning does not take place only in our head; people need to become more aware of the body's role in learning. Many educators and researchers agree that the brain is activated during physical activity and that movement is essential to learning (Hannaford, 1995; Howard, 2000; Jensen, 2000a; Summerford, 2000; Wolfe, 2001). Hannaford (1995) writes,

       To 'pin down' a thought, there must
    be movement.... Movement anchors
    thought.... Learning involves the
    building of skills, and skills of every
    manner are built through the movement
    of muscles.... Medicine, art,
    music, science: competence in these
    and other professions develop
    through an intricate internal net-working
    among thought, muscles,
    and emotions. (p. 98)

Writing or talking about an idea often provides enough muscle movement, but some people think best while they are swimming, running, or shaving, all of which involve movement. Jensen and Dabney (2000) state that such physical exercise invigorates existing brain cells and may even stimulate the growth of new ones.

Human understanding of the brain is in its infancy, and much research needs to be done (Wolfe, 2001). Knowledge is growing quickly, however, and often does not have the replicating research that it needs. Nevertheless, this new information opens many doors for physical educators so that they can use movement activities to enhance the capabilities of the brain. Educators and parents should look for different ways to help individual students and to incorporate the applicable information, because not all students will react the same way under the same circumstances. Each brain is unique.

Educators, physicians, parents, and political leaders are some of the peoplc who need to be educated about recent brain function discoveries that confirm that movement and physical education activities do enhance student learning. Conveying such information to school board members and legislators may persuade them to maintain or increase the time spent in physical education classes and related activities. In times of diminishing budgets, educators must make difficult choices. Do physical education, dance, and theater belong in the budget? Are they frills or fundamentals? Do elementary school classes take time for movement activity when reading, writing, and arithmetic are clamoring for more minutes in the school day? Jensen (2000a) believes that "classroom teachers should have kids move for the same reason that physical education teachers have kids count. Physical education, movement, drama, and the arts all add to, rather than detract from, the 'core curriculum'" (p. 165). All curriculum areas should be intertwined.

The California Department of Education (CDE, 2002) conducted a study that showed a distinct relationship between academic achievement and physical fitness among California's public school students. The study matched scores from the SAT9 with the results of the state-mandated physical fitness tests that were given in 2001 to students in grades five (N = 353,000), seven (N = 322,000), and nine (N = 279,000). Key findings of the study were (1) higher SAT scores were associated with higher levels of fitness at each of the three grade levels; (2) the relationship between academic achievement and fitness was greater in mathematics than in reading, particularly at higher fitness levels; (3) students who met minimum fitness levels in three or more physical fitness areas showed the greatest academic gains at all three grade levels; and (4) females showed higher academic achievement than males, particularly at higher fitness levels.

The state-mandated fitness test was the Fitnessgram, which uses criterion-referenced standards in order to evaluate six fitness tasks. …

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