The article I chose for this critique is “Active Bodies/ Active Brains: The Relationship Between Physical Engagement and Children’s Brain Development” by Deborah Stevens-Smith. This author advocates for how movement enhances learning and how physical engagement aids development of active bodies and active brains. Overall, this article explores how physical engagement and development of mind-body connections correlate with one another. Also, this article examines how physical engagement increases mind-body connection.
Engagement is defined in this article as “…to comprise active and collaborative learning, participation in challenging academic activities…involvement in enriching educational experiences…(Stevens-Smith, 2016, p. 720).” This article will primarily focus on physical engagement, such as recess, P.E., sport and play. Mind-body connections is exactly like it sounds, it is how the brain can positively or negatively affect how the body functions. Hannaford, a researcher, found that students learn best while they are active because their movements stimulate neurons that help children absorb information and learn (Stevens-Smith, 2016, p. 722). In chapter four of Understanding Child Development, I learned that neurons “are the building blocks of the brain (2011, p. 43).” Neurons are located in the cerebral cortex, where most of our mental activity takes place.
Researchers have concluded that the area of the brain that processes learning is also the area of the brain that processes movement. This leads researchers to believe that physical engagement enhances learning (Stevens-Smith, 2016).
Physical engagement has begun to decrease throughout the school day due to time constraints, and this can lead to many consequences. There are many simple activities that classroom teachers can incorporate into their lessons that allow students to move. “Brain breaks” are a great activity for movement among students. Brain breaks can include standing up and doing five jumping jacks or playing Simon Says. In my practicum classroom, my CT always uses interactive videos as brain breaks to allow the students to get up from their seats and move, from the beginning of the day, to packing up and heading home. The students have memorized the words in the video and follow along while they show off their dance moves.
This article has helped me reflect on my own experiences growing up in public schools. I was diagnosed in third grade with Attention Deficit Disorder and had a hard time focusing although I was medicated. According to Blaydes, a researcher mentioned in Steven-Smith’s article, found that “while a person sits, 80% of blood pools in the hips after just 20-30 min.” This leads to blood not enhancing in the brain and results in learning becoming far more difficult (2016, p. 725). I rarely felt like I had the opportunity to stand up and do jumping jacks, and if I did stand up without instruction I was nervous my clip on the behavior chart would be moved. The constant sitting down during the school day reflected on my academics. I never was given the opportunity to have transitions like interactive videos that my practicum students have. I looked forward to having recess and P.E., because I could give my brain a break from trying to focus on the curricula. I have noticed in the last few years that I am always fidgeting. I always have something in my hand or my lap. However, when I am given the opportunity to stand up and move around I do not carry it with me and I normally throw it away.
As someone who has been physically active for most of my life, I realized the more I attended tumbling classes, the more skill I gained. This article made me think about cheerleading practice, my coach would make us practice the same stunt over and over again, which lead us to become more confident in our skills. Through this physical engagement, like Stevens-Smith explained, my teammates and I began to string bits of information together to learn how to learn and to form solutions (2016). When the stunt would not hit, we would try again and try to fix what we thought was the error. When we knew what the error was, we would make sure to avoid it for our next go-around. Steven-Smith describes “When physical engagement and cognitive development are combined, the student increases the neurons that grow and connect to other neurons, so these neurons get more efficient at sending one another signals (2016, p. 724).”
As a future teacher, I want my students to have the opportunity to stand up for brain breaks, to get their body moving and their brains flowing. Physical engagement should be more emphasized than criticized. Physical engagement is much more than physical and cognitive development. Physical engagement such as recess, play and physical education give students the opportunity to socialize with their peers, be creative, and use imagination. Play is very important for early child development. My practicum student’s excitement for interactive videos as a way to step away from worksheets is uplifting and moving. I was also moved when we did the workshop with the children from YCP. As I have observed, the children at YCP are always using physical engagements in the classroom. During our workshop, they were constantly moving and imitating animals by how they walk and speak.
In my practicum class, the students have recess and then right after they have centers where they play inside. I think it is very rare for classes to do this because of the time constraint teachers have for fulfilling the state’s standards, especially in grades where standardized testing is required. I value how my CT incorporates physical engagements in her classroom, and as a future teacher, I hope to do the same. I think it is easy to recognize how vital physical engagement is in child development, but often times it is not implemented. I believe that most of our society is not educated enough on how much of an impact physical engagement has on cognitive learning.