We all feel the pressure for our children to succeed academically, particularly in STEM fields given the technology oriented society in which we live. But how do we as parents assist our children meet their full potential? The answer might surprise you!
For quite some time, a growing body of research suggests that a child’s physical activity is just as important for a healthy mind as a healthy body (Hillman et al., 2008). Sports aren’t a substitute for studying, but in general, regardless of the type of activity, more physically active children achieve higher academic performance than less active children.
Several recent studies report that physical activity actually in the classroom can improve focus and academic performance, particularly in math. According to a 2016 study at the University of Copenhagen, Motor-Enriched Learning Activities Can Improve Mathematical Performance in Preadolescent Children, learning while being physically active results in higher math performance than just studying alone.
Of course, implementing a program that includes physical activity in classroom could be challenging for some schools. However, while vigorous cardiovascular exercise in the classroom resulted in the greatest improvement in math performance, particularly in individuals with the lowest baseline scores, even some limited physical activity before a lesson can help improve learning.
Giving students a chance to stretch and walk around the classroom before presenting the Pythagorean Theorem might help them understand how to calculate that longest side of a triangle. In the Copenhagen study, even children using fine motor activity, like sitting at their desks playing with LEGO® bricks, improved their understanding of math concepts more than students presented with those same concepts alone. The children’s classroom activities involved the LEGO MoreToMath® math sets. https://education.lego.com/en-us/elementary/explore .
Additionally, a University of California Davis study found that children with ADHD benefit from almost any type of physical activity in school and while studying at home. So, if you’ve been telling your active child to stop fidgeting while doing their homework, consider the following results from this UC Davis study.
They suggest that we should let them move while they are doing their homework or other challenging tasks; forcing a child with ADHD to sit still during mental activities might actually detract from their ability to focus. The researchers were able to correlate the ADHD children’s movement frequency with higher scores on various demanding tasks that required focused attention. The ADHD study participants had significantly higher results the more they moved their bodies. So, children with ADHD may actually be able to improve focus by fidgeting!
The best types of fidgeting that improves attention are those activities that don't distract your child from their primary task, such as studying or taking a test. Effective fidgeting activities could include tapping a pencil, chewing gum, and pacing. You might even consider getting your child “fidgeting chair foot bands” (http://bouncybands.com) for the chair that they use for studying, or a “Wobble Seat” (http://www.wobbleseat.com) to help them keep moving while doing their homework. Even standing at the kitchen counter while studying could prove beneficial for some children.
Allowing your active child to fidget in a controlled way that is not distracting may improve their results in school and be less frustrating for them at home.