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Body exercises that help to focus the mind

Today's exercise is about feeling sluggish. The children can begin to explore how they act when they don't feel like doing anything. "They make sticky movements," say the teacher's instructions. "They move as if their limbs were stuck together with chewing gum."

Tomorrow they will explore how they move when they are feeling "nice and fit". Then the class can learn the connection between feeling good and working well.

These are exercises from The Class Moves, an innovative Dutch programme created by physiotherapists and designed for primary classrooms. It takes only 10 minutes a day, everyone enjoys it and - if the instruction manual is correct - when the children sit down again, they are likely to concentrate better and work harder.

In the Netherlands, the programme is so successful that it now involves more than 5,000 teachers. The teachers believe that the relaxation exercises improve concentration, increase co-ordination and ultimately lead to greater self-awareness and independence.

To find out if it works as well in Scotland and Wales as it does in the Netherlands, the Scottish Council for Research in Education is carrying out a feasibility study commissioned by the Health Education Board for Scotland, Sportscotland and the Health Promotion Group of the National Assembly for Wales.

The programme is on trial in three schools in Scotland and 12 in Wales. Schools were invited to take part in January and since then teachers have been follwing the daily exercises, written on a large, brightly illustrated calendar with detailed instructions translated from the Dutch.

The researchers want to know what the effects of the exercises are, but at this stage their key concerns are practical. How transferable is The Class Moves? Does the programme suit the individual school culture? Is there enough space in the classroom? Will teachers benefit from special training? How do teachers fit the exercises into their timetable?

Evaluation is based on interviews, classroom observation, questionnaires and follow-up discussions with teachers, pupils and parents. Researchers are spending some time watching the programme in action and log books that were specially created for the project allow teachers to record their impressions of the exercises for one week each month.

The logs are brief and intended to be a tool not a burden. "We have to be realistic about what is expected of teachers," says Kevin Lowden, a researcher on the project. He has visited Rotterdam and Amsterdam and spent two months with schools in West Lothian.

So far so good. "Having a bit of noisy fun for a few minutes should not be a problem," notes one teacher in her log. "The dance moves went well," writes another.

A draft report will be circulated to the schools involved for discussion during June. The final report will be published in July.

For more details contact SCRE, tel 0131 557 2944, fax 0131 556 9454

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