3 Ways to Encourage Brain-Based Learning in Schools

Imagine taking a daylong CEU course but the seat doesn’t quite fit and your knees are jammed towards your torso. The instructor proceeds to have you sit for 8 hours, allowing only 20-minute breaks for lunch and to walk around. There are also rules: you can’t sit where you want, talk with who you like, or move the way you feel like your body needs to. During the lecture, you cannot chew gum, get a drink, or slip out for restroom/stretch breaks as you wish.

How well would you learn during this CEU course? How enthusiastic would you be about your education?

Body & Brain Learning

Despite what we know about the body and it’s connection to the brain for efficient learning, American curriculum tends to disregard this idea.1-5 Instead, students and teachers encounter rigid learning environments that frustrate everyone involved. Moreover, America’s educators are often trained on teaching techniques, classroom management, and lesson planning, but not on how the brain effectively learns.

As therapists, we can serve as a wellness connection, illustrating the mind-body link that is integral for success in many areas of one’s life. We read the media reports about failing test scores, struggling schools, depressed and anxious students, and frustrated parents – but, how do we make a change?

We should do more than just like and share social media posts or research articles about how students need to move and have sensory rich experiences to learn. We should push to integrate these components into classrooms. Our background and experiences put us in a unique and critical position to support our students and communities in becoming healthier and more successful in their learning environments.

Classroom Integration

Here are some practical ways we can support these educators and students in our communities:

1. Educate your community about brain-based principles

Over 33,000 scientific articles confirm the benefits of frequent movement and sensory experiences intertwined with learning.1 By sharing examples of what this research looks like in practice we can provide educators the “why” they are often looking for when considering changing their teaching methods. Here are a few brain-based activities to get started:

  • Frequent bursts of movement in routine schedules
  • Hands-on activities to support multiple senses
  • Emotionally enticing stories
  • Interest-driven collaborative projects

By sharing these examples, we can give educators a good reason to implement these changes.

2. Suggest sensory rich and movement based experiences within the school day

A few popular, simple, and inexpensive solutions include:

  • Replacing chairs at desks with therapy balls
  • Providing under desk bike options
  • Encouraging brain breaks (short bursts of movement performed desk side throughout the day)4
  • Dancing and singing learning concepts
  • Offering walking lectures6
  • Focusing on much-needed core strengthening (allows children to sustain upright posture for extended periods of time, increasing attention and learning)7,8

Concerned about resistance to these changes? Offer to pilot a study that tracks scores or discipline referral rates to illustrate the potential impact of these changes.

3. Advocate for playgrounds and increased recess time

With increased test pressure, time for recess has decreased dramatically over the past few decades.9 The average recess period in the US is 23 minutes and less in urban areas with higher poverty rates where unstructured outdoor play time is less likely.9 The quality of recess experiences, including equipment and access to sensory rich movement activities (e.g. merry-go-round or teeter-totter), has also declined over legal concerns. Students need quality recess to regulate their sensory systems, attend to classroom instruction, and retain information more efficiently.10

Optimal learning can be achieved when we apply these concepts to today’s classroom. It’s time to jump in and support educators and students in your schools and community.

  1. Jensen, Eric. "Chapter 4. Movement and Learning." Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2nd Edition. 2nd ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. page. Print.
  2. Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear, 2008. Print.
  3. "Movement and Learning." Movement and Learning. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016
  4. Brain Breaks: Physical Activity and Brain Power Intersect (n.d.): n. pag. Go Noodle. Web. 24 Feb. 2016
  5. "Movement and Learning." Movement and Learning. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016
  6. Why It Works - The Walking Classroom." The Walking Classroom. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016
  7. Primitive Reflexes & Developmental Delay." Brain Balance Achievement Centers. Brain Balance Center, 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2016)
  8. "Skills for Action." Weak Core Muscles and Poor Core Stability in Children | Skills for Action. Skills For Action, n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2016
  9. Recess - It's Indispensable." (2009): n. pag. Recess - It's Indispensable. NAEYC, Sept. 2009. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
  10. Murray, Robert, MD, and Catherine Ramstetter, PhDD. "The Crucial Role of Recess in School." Pediatrics 131.1 (2012): 183-88. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.