Dr. John Ratey, a psychiatrist and Harvard professor, uses the term "tragedy" to describe the decision by some schools to cut back on physical education in favor of additional academic time, explaining that exercise can actually stimulate the development of brain cells. Furthermore, Dr. Antronette Yancey, the Director of the Center to Eliminate Health Disparities at UCLA, cites research suggesting that integrating exercise into the school day may actually help improve academic achievement. In light of this possibility, consider having your students perform a series of fun, simple exercises in the classroom every day.
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Kimberly Nelson, a kindergarten teacher from Sarasota County, Florida, understands the importance of exercise in the classroom. She uses a "Take Five" space as part of her classroom management plan, which is a designated area where a disruptive or fidgety student goes to perform a series of yoga poses to calm down and expend some energy. The airplane pose is an example of an exercise that you might include in such an area. The student should extend her arms away from her shoulders like the wings of an airplane, bend forward at the waist and extend one leg at a time backward, balancing on the opposite leg for 5 to 10 seconds.
The arm circles exercise stretches a variety of muscles in the arms, back and shoulders. Use the exercise at the beginning of the school day and anytime your students need a break from their work. The students stand beside their desks with their feet about shoulder-width distance apart. Next, they press their palms together in front of their chests with their elbows pointed outward. Then, they extend their hands upward, in front of their face, turn their palms away from each other, arc their hands to their hips while bending their knees slightly, and return to the starting position. They continue this process repeatedly for 30 seconds.
The sunrise/sunset exercise is another yoga pose that you can include in your students' daily movement routine. The exercise elongates the spine and stretches the gluteal muscles and hamstrings. The students stand upright with their arms at their sides and breathe deeply several times. Next, on an inhalation, they reach both arms above their heads as high as possible. Then, on the ensuing exhalation, they bend forward at the waist and reach for their toes. They continue alternating between the two movements for five to 10 breath cycles. The students should flex their knees slightly during the downward-movement phase of the exercise to reduce the stress on the lower back.
John Kirsch, the President of the American Sports Institute, recommends that students perform trunk twists for two to three minutes each day to energize and relax their bodies. The exercise targets a variety of muscles throughout the body. The students stand with their feet slightly wider than their shoulders and begin twisting their hips, torso and head back and forth, allowing their arms to swing naturally. They should initiate the movement with their hips rather than their shoulders and keep their knees flexed slightly. They should also keep their feet planted firmly on the floor throughout the exercise.