In my last blog, I focused on some recent findings that show how much girls can benefit from school-based team sports, not only while in school but much beyond. New research confirms this, but goes even further. It inquires into whether physical exercise in general boosts academics or if there is an extra “academic premium” on any given type of activity.
Building from the all-too-obvious fact that, for many kids, attention dwindles over the course of the school day, researchers at the University of Rome studied some healthy, normal 8 to 11 year-olds to determine whether or not some time out from the acedemics would boost their attention span and sharpen their concentration in the classroom. The researchers applied a basic letter recognition to these kids and then had them participate in several different types of activities for a 50 minute period. Some of these activities involved the traditional chalk and talk lecture-style of class. Other involved learning new drills through a combination of movement and listening. While still others invovled constant movement throughout the 50 minute session. At the end of each, the same recognition test was applied. The researchers found that each of these activities increased test results.
But, by a far margin, results increased the most after 50 minutes of constant movement. That is, from endurance exercises – e.g., running, skipping, jumping. Rather than leaving kids exhausted, as one may think may happen after an endurance event, these activities left the kids more focused and attentive in class. Results were less spectacular for those activities that required kids learn and master new drills, leading research to speculate that asking kids to both think and move at the same time can induce an excess of stress on the brain.
Several interesting implications arise from this research. Adding sports to the school day is not a luxury for priviledged schools or students. There is an extra “academic premium” on some types of sports- precisely those that are among the cheapest to provide. No equipment or special infrastructure needed. Let kids run, jump, play soccer, etc. with little interruption for detailed instruction or insistence on complicated sequences. As schools in the region move towards a more formal incorporation of physical education in their school day, there seems to be little need to get hung up on the details of the curriculum or the physical infrastructure. Simply program time away from task, and make do with resources are at the disposal of the school. This time away from task will likely generate positive rewards when kids are on task.
Reynolds, Gretchen. “For Better Grades, Try Gym Class,” New York Times August 10, 2011.
Gallotta MC, Guidetti L, Franciosi E, Emerenziani GP, Bonavolonta V, and Baldari C. (2011). “Effects of Varying Type of Exertion on Children’s Attention Capacity.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. On the web at: