Behaviour - When an energy crisis looms, try a ninja run

Students sit still for hours at a time – it's no wonder they want to climb the walls. Try these invigorating activities to perk them up
21st November 2014, 12:00am
Greg McGrath


Behaviour - When an energy crisis looms, try a ninja run

The only solution was a ninja run. My nine- and 10-year-old students had already sat through assembly and registration and were now expected to sit through the whole of the morning lesson. It wasn't going to happen. I was bottling a thunderstorm and sparks were going to fly. I needed to get them moving.

What is the ninja run, you ask? To explain, we need to discuss why it is necessary.

Every day we force our students to sit for the vast majority of the time they spend in class. At my elementary school in New Jersey, US, that can mean 300 minutes on the reading rug or at their desks, broken only by break time or a short gym period. For three days out of five, gym is not part of my pupils' academic instruction and it is often conducted within the classroom because of scheduling issues. Recess is 20 minutes a day, but once the winter sets in, rain, snow and wind often mean that it is not held outdoors.

For adults, whose energy levels are limited, this relentless inaction would be bad enough, causing irritability and grumpiness. For children, it is criminal. Why are we surprised that students play up when we put them through the torture of enforced stagnation?

Into action

This brings us to the ninja run. As an avid outdoor enthusiast, I regularly experience how surfing, snowboarding, hiking and road-biking can reduce my stress levels, refresh my energy and increase my ability to focus. For children, the impact is even greater. So I began to devise movement strategies for the classroom. These are bursts of exercise that my pupils and I do regularly. The ninja run is one of our favourites.

It is basically a two-minute exercise used before a transition, between academic subjects or whenever I feel it would be beneficial. We start simply with ninja feet (running on the spot) and eventually progress to ninja jacks (jumping jacks) and ninja grabs (toe-touches followed by jumping in the air with arms stretched to the ceiling).

I often make a story out of it: "OK class, ninja feet quickly and quietly past the office. Watch out, it's the principal! Everyone ninja squat. OK, the coast is clear. Now ninja run! Watch out, it's the kindergarteners, ninja jump over them."

Creating a game makes the movement more appealing for students who may initially be resistant to the idea. Taking part in the movements yourself also helps to persuade some of the more reluctant children to join in.

The ninja run is usually optional, but sometimes I make it compulsory if I feel that students need the release. All movements take place on the spot and the class works with me to create new ones.

Careful coordination

The movements are not random. I work closely with an occupational therapist to create exercises that are suitable or adaptable for any students who have motor challenges or hand-eye coordination issues. And you don't have to use ninja warriors as the theme: my colleague collaborated with her students and created the Mario run, in which students grab rings and squeeze into imaginary tunnels, just like in the Super Mario games. Be as creative as you want.

It is important to end each energiser with 30 seconds of calm breathing. I dim the lights and use this time to introduce meditation, which is just as important as the ninja run. Meditation can be as simple as counting breaths and being in physical and mental control.

The success of the initiative has been a pleasant surprise. Prior to incorporating movement into my classroom, transitions between subjects were chaotic, disruptive and took far more time than was necessary. Students talked more, requested additional trips to the bathroom and frequently stumbled or bumped into each other. Group activities were also louder and less focused.

Taking the time to incorporate movement strategies is well worth the effort. They reduce disruptive behaviour and increase pupils' academic stamina. In an age where there are so many concerns about childhood obesity, it is also a great way of getting active. And, of course, it is a lot of fun too.

Greg McGrath teaches 4th grade at Charles H Bullock Elementary School in New Jersey, US

What else?

Energise your class with this bumper collection of ideas for movement breaks.

Use these games to keep your pupils on their toes.

These lively warm-up activities can be used at the start of PE lessons or in everyday classes.

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