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Keep things simple! Movement is Key

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With physical teaching slowly being introduced in other parts of the world, here in South Africa we are still coping with the impacts of LockDown Level 4. Some of you will be teaching virtually, others will be eagerly awaiting and prepping for the return of your learners in the classroom. Wherever you are, and whatever you do, keep things simple

Research has shown that regular movement breaks throughout the day help to increase focus and decrease stress in ANY environment – be it at school or home. Both an increased level of focus and decreased levels of stress are imperative to learning. Outcomes are improved by shortening lesson time and including movement breaks so that children are calm, alert and ready to learn. 

Introducing regular movement breaks can help children regulate their levels of arousal during active learning time so that they are best able to engage. Whether it is the sensory seeking learner who is always craving movement, or your learner with low registration who seems to slump down further in his chair every time you glance in his direction, movement breaks, when used properly, can be a very effective tool for engagement. 

So as you try to navigate 'the new normal', think about how you can introduce movement to your learners. Whether this is virtually while conducting your online classes (be it through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom) or via WhatsApp or SMS, ask yourself the following 3 questions to get the most out of your movement breaks and to ensure that they are achieving the outcomes you want:

  1. What is the nature of the movement in the activity I have included? We tend to recommend heavy work or proprioceptive activities - think pushing, pulling and carrying. These provide the brain with information related to the positioning of our limbs and our bodies in space, the contraction and the stretch of our muscles, and the force and effort required in an activity. This type of sensory feedback is both calming and alerting for the brain and so is beneficial to learners who are struggling to regulate either heightened or lowered levels of arousal. Heavy work activity is also a good pre-cursor to any fine motor task being done.
  2. When am I doing the movement break? In order to get the most out of your movement break it is important to think about when you have it. Do you want to use it at the beginning of a lesson to help as a preparatory exercise to focus your learners? Or, do you want to use it in the middle of the lesson when you notice that learners’ levels of arousal are beginning to fall after sitting and listening for a period of time? When you do a movement break will change what activity you choose to use. At the beginning of the lesson you may choose an activity that involves more movement, is slightly longer, and incorporates the whole body. Maybe this will be too distracting in the middle of a lesson and so using something quick and easy that the learners are able to do in their seats may be a better option here. 
  3. Is this a movement break for the whole class, a select group of learners, or an individual? Movement breaks can (and should) be used as a whole class activity as well as for managing the sensory needs of individual learners. Depending on if it is a group or individual activity will change what it is you decide to do. You may be able to plan and structure class and group movement breaks beforehand but will need to be more responsive to individual learner’s needs when deciding when to give an individual learner a movement break. Being aware of the sensory needs of your learners is important so that you can pre-empt disruptive behavior or a child “zoning out” of the lesson, with an effective movement break. 

Once you have answered these three questions you can start planning and selecting your movement breaks. Keep an eye out for part 2 for some of my favourite tried and tested activities for movement breaks!

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