Incorporating physical activity into academic lessons can help children to learn more effectively, according to research published today.
The study, of children aged between 3 and 14, looked at whether pupils' performance was improved through activities such as: using movement to signify whether a fact was true or false; and jumping on the spot a certain number of times to answer a maths question.
Incorporating basic physical exercise into lessons had “a large, significant effect” on educational outcomes during the lesson, as well as a smaller effect on overall educational outcomes, according to the study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
This was assessed through tests or by observing pupils’ attention to a given task.
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Lead author Dr Emma Norris, of University College London, which led the research, said: “Our study shows that physically active lessons are a useful addition to the curriculum. They can create a memorable learning experience, helping children to learn more effectively.”
Researchers looked at data from 12,663 students in 42 different studies around the world. Half of the studies were in the US, seven were in Australia, five were in the UK and four were in the Netherlands. Other countries taking part included China, Croatia, Ireland, Israel, Portugal and Sweden.
In a study in the Netherlands, primary children who took part in physically active lessons three times a week over two years were estimated to have acquired four months of extra learning gains in spelling and maths.
Co-author Dr Tommy van Steen of Leiden University, in the Netherlands, said: “These improvements in physical activity levels and educational outcomes are the result of quite basic physical exercises. Teachers can easily incorporate these physically active lessons in the existing curriculum to improve the learning experience of students.”
In one study, eight- and nine-year-olds simulated travelling the world by running on the spot in between answering questions relating to different countries.
This approach has been adopted by schools seeking to increase activity levels among students without reducing academic teaching time, say researchers.
Academics at the National University of Singapore and the University of Sydney, Australia, also contributed to the research.