This School Year Let’s Move to Learn!

Author: Dr Christine M. Casey, Ed.D., Educational Consultant

Some school districts have already begun the 2023/24 school year and some will begin right after Labor Day. This year I hope that administrators and educators embrace the importance of movement for brain development. One of the newest applications of the mind/body connection understands and respects the connection between the brain and the physicality of young children eager to experience the world through their senses and their whole body.

Although for any elementary or preschool teacher, knowing that active movement is important for learning readiness is part of their “tool box”. However, now several researchers have provided strong evidence for this connection. A recent meta-analysis of 54 studies including 29,460 schoolchildren between the ages of 3 and 11 years, provided data on physical fitness and educational outcomes and determined that children benefit from being active. “The results of this review suggest that learning through movement is an effective, low-cost, and enjoyable strategy for elementary schoolchildren.” [1] This meta-analysis concluded that that physical activity during childhood may also promote cognitive development and therefore improve academic performance.” [1]

According to research, exercise provides increases in oxygen to the brain which improves learning. There are changes in the central nervous system causing new neurotransmitter pathways to be created. John Joseph Ratey, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and co-author Edward Hallowell have published more than 20 books on Brain functions including the f "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain". They present strong evidence for the mind-body connection, citing research that proves exercise will even prevent most common ailments such as ADD.

In case studies following implementation of a rigorous fitness program in Naperville, Illinois, the 19,000 students in this district scored first in the world on science test scores. Their research results caused these researcher/authors to coin a phrase to describe movement’s impact on cognition. Thy coined the term Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) - colloquially known as Miracle Grow for the Brain..[2]

Authors Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers believe that eliminating or cutting back on physical education and recess in order to provide more academic course work may actually be counterproductive.[3] They point to research that demonstrated that providing an opportunity to run for 15 to 45 minutes before class allowed school children to be less distracted and more attentive to their schoolwork. Further these effects were seen lasting as much as two to four hours after their physical exercise.[3]

Stephen Merrill and Sarah Gonser penned an article to offer More Than a Dozen Ways to Build Movement Into Learning, Move Your Body, Grow Your Brain. They offer some practical advice to increase physical movement during the school day in order to improve retention and engagement while diminishing fidgeting and off task behavior. [4] They provide examples such as having young students simply get up and “wiggle” for a change in pace. Several specific examples of integrating movement into daily classroom routines can help create more on task and productive activities as a result of incorporating movement. They recommend a “brain break” during the school day when students just get physical! [4]

As an educator with 46 years of experience, my observations concur with these research findings. My last full-time assignment as an administrator in a school serving classified students with IEPs and emotional/behavioral issues allowed me to see dramatic increases in behavior and attention to academics when we implemented Kinems, a movement based educational gaming platform. Employing a camera connected to specially designed software, students interacted with academic content using their whole body. This immersive environment exercised their body through jumping, reaching, grabbing, crossing the midline; thus, actively interacting with academic content while remaining engaged in cognitive functioning. Their improvement in executive functions and problem solving was noticeable.

Although I did not have the opportunity to formally research and publish their gains in a study, my informal observations over five years of implementation led me to consult with Kinems when I retired. I believe in the mind/body connection. Implementing Kinems solves the issue of incorporating movement into instruction.

However, even if you don’t choose a specific program such as Kinems, the research cited should convince educators and administrators to respect the needs of elementary and young children to exercise their bodies to enhance their cognition. I hope this article encourages you to spread some “Miracle Grow for the Brain” in the 2023/24 school year! Let’s move to learn!


[1]. Petrigna L, Thomas E, Brusa J, Rizzo F, Scardina A, Galassi C, Lo Verde D, Caramazza G and Bellafiore M (2022) Does Learning Through Movement Improve Academic Performance in Primary Schoolchildren? A Systematic Review. Front. Pediatr. 10, doi: 10.3389/fped.2022.841582

[2] Ratey, J. J., & Hagerman, E. (Collaborator). (2008). Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Little, Brown and Co.

[3] Conyers, M. & Wilson, D. (2015). Smart moves: Powering up the brain with physical activity. Phi Delta Kappan, 96 (8), 38-42

[4] Merrill, S. & Gonser, S. (2021). More Than a Dozen Ways to Build Movement Into Learning: Move Your Body, Grow Your Brain, October 8, 2021, Edutopia

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