The many ways of sitting attentively for learning

Successful learning in school is often equated to sitting up straight in a desk.

However, that is simply not the case. Students are actually able to concentrate on their classwork in a variety of ways.

At New Morning School in Plymouth, MI, students are provided the opportunity to sit at tables, desks, even on the floor, to accomplish their tasks. Flexible seating and the freedom to move have definite benefits.

“Kids need to move and some students are able to focus better if their bodies are moving just a little,” said Elaine Kennedy, Head of School since the school’s inception since 1973. “At New Morning School, we use bouncy balls, fidget bands on the legs of chairs, standing work desks, and squishy seat cushions. This improves a child’s focus and improves learning.”

Research reveals movement is a must

Social and scientific research backs it up.

Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, has studied children and movement in a school setting. She has written several pieces for the Washington Post, explaining the issues with traditional ‘stationary learning.’

The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Let’s face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.

And there’s more. While New Morning students have movement and interaction incorporated into their daily routine, students in other environments are not placed in a position to succeed. The reason? A lack of movement.

Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”

Energy, attention comes with movement

An interesting discovery was outlined in report from Matthew Maher and researchers at East Carolina University. There, it showed how incorporating movement and discouraging traditional in-place seating helped in a study of North Carolina fourth-grade students.

In summary, students who participated in the Energizers (students whose movement and comfort was encouraged) activities were more active during the school day than those who did not receive the Energizers activities. In addition, this is the first study to demonstrate significant improvements in directly observed on-task behavior consequent to participation in a classroom-based physical activity program. This finding was especially strong among the least on-task students. Results from the present study suggest that incorporating Energizers activities into school curricula may be beneficial to students as well as teachers. Opportunities to be physically active at school are limited by pressure on scholastic performance, and classroom based physical activity programs are a promising way to increase children’s activity levels without sacrificing academic performance. Energizers activities are recommended for teachers who may want to increase physical activity and/or on-task behavior in their students.

Physically, straight-time sitting is not healthy for people of any age. A Mayo Clinic study notes extended sitting in one place – it could behind a desk, in front of a screen or behind the wheel of a vehicle – is linked to a variety of health conditions. These include high blood pressure, risk for diabetes and other issues associated with metabolism.