Move To Learn: boosting focus in the classroom through movement

Every weekday morning at 9:00 am, Coach Larry Calhoun logs onto Facebook Live for a Brain Break. He begins with an educational hook, oftentimes using a fun prop, to get the children’s attention. After thanking parents, teachers, and students for joining, he’ll walk the audience through multiple “I am” affirmations: “I am strong. I am smart. I am loved. I am one of a kind.”

Next, he’ll launch into a brain break, coaching students through a five-minute dance to boost energy. At the end of the video, Coach Calhoun brings the students back down, so when they go back to their activity or work, they are calmer and ready to focus. 

Coach Calhoun is the face of Move To Learn, a project of The Bower Foundation, a private nonprofit working to improve Mississippi’s health, and the Mississippi Department of Education

“The health of Mississippi’s children is critically important. A great way to reach children is in the classroom, because pre-COVID, about half a million children were in a classroom setting per day. When we look at Mississippi’s trends for children who are overweight, it’s alarming. It inspired us to think about how to partner with the Mississippi Department of Education to align with the notion that if our bodies are healthier our brains function better,” said Anne Travis, CEO of The Bower Foundation.

The Bower Foundation’s work with the Mississippi Department of Education focuses on the alignment between health and the ability to engage in educational activities, and a lot of their work centered on children’s nutrition. They replaced deep fat fryers in school cafeterias with combination oven steamers and improved the farm to school initiative in the state, getting more fruits and vegetables in schools. In 2012, the Bower Foundation started Move To Learn.  

Move To Learn offers fun and easy ways to get students back on task. Before COVID-19, Coach Calhoun and Move To Learn visited 527 schools and reached 234,761 children across the state, presenting in front of audiences of up to 800 students. 

The science behind movement

When kids get to move at school, schools get better. Not only does student health improve, but academic performance improves, too. In several studies of Mississippi students done by the University of Southern Mississippi, more fitness was associated with better behavior and less absenteeism.

“Move To Learn helps boys and girls dissipate some of that energy they have just from being children. When I was a little boy, I had issues with sitting in a seat. I was fortunate as a kid because I had a couple of teachers who had movement throughout the day. Those teachers that allowed movement, I don’t remember having any behavioral challenges in their class. I do remember having challenges in the classes where I had to sit still for 5-6 hours a day,” said Coach Calhoun.

The study completed by the University of Southern Mississippi and The Bower Foundation showed the correlation between Move To Learn and students’ Time-On-Task. They found that children who got to Move To Learn ended up with more Time-On-Task, meaning the children were calmer or settled, more attentive, and more alert in the classroom. 

“We want to create simple ways to help make teacher’s jobs easier, whether that’s meeting state standards or making their children be inspired and feel better,” said Travis. 

Making Move To Learn accessible during COVID-19

When schools switched to virtual learning at the start of COVID-19 last March, Move To Learn began doing Facebook live videos every weekday at 9:00 am. They also offer a wide array of videos on their YouTube channel for grades K-12, all lasting five minutes. 

Move To Learn also began hosting Virtual Brain Break Lives, where teachers would book an appointment to have Coach Calhoun visit their classrooms for 15 minutes through Zoom. During the Virtual Brain Break Lives, Coach Calhoun interacts with the class, leading the students through a short presentation and getting them moving. 

The videos are also available on MPB Classroom TV, making Move To Learn more accessible from home. MPB Classroom TV also puts Move To Learn videos between instruction time, similar to how the videos are utilized in a classroom setting to increase focus on learning. 

Move To learn plans on bringing back in-person visits to schools once it can be done in a safe and healthy environment. 

“There’s nothing like Coach in-person with a big group of kids,” said Scott Clements, State Director of the Office of Child Nutrition and Healthy Schools. “Larry pumps the kids up for 40 minutes and then at the end guides them through focus time. He brings them down, and when they leave, it is quiet and orderly. I can not tell you the number of times teachers have said how surprised they were that students can go from that high to that calm, and they can bring kids back to class and those kids are not bouncing off the walls anymore. We love the live shows, and that’s a goal of ours to get back to that when it’s safe and healthy.”

Making it easy for teachers to get 150 minutes of movement for their students

“We don’t want kids to only be in the classroom, only in the chair. We want kids to be healthy bodies and have healthy minds. Not only does Move To Learn help reach that goal of 150 minutes, but these videos are also in short enough periods where teachers can work them in over the course of a day. They get their activity, and they focus better too,” said Clements.

The Mississippi State Board and the legislator realized that kids need to have physical activity, resulting in the Mississippi Health Students Act, a recommendation that students must get 150 minutes of movement per week. Move To Learn is a tool that teachers can use at their discretion; it’s quick and easy, only 5 minutes of time. 

“When you extrapolate hundreds of thousands of video views to classrooms of 20 children to 5 minutes, you’re talking about billions of minutes for physical activity that presumably didn’t exist before Move To Learn. Larry will also stress the importance of nutrition and things to go along with a more holistic view of health and not just physical activity. This can be an easy component to creating a better environment in the classroom,” said Clements. 

Creating a culture of health for Mississippi’s children

Move To Learn is a resource that inspires children to be fit, healthy, and active. What are some of the takeaways of Move To Learn?

  • Even just five minutes of movement can help students learn better and focus
  • “I am” affirmations are extremely powerful and easy additions to start the day out on a positive note
  • Teaching kids about health and nutrition can go a long way! For example: teaching about the benefits of drinking water, eating vegetables, and getting enough sleep

“What we’ve done pre- and during COVID is try to create a moment of fun and happiness and joy, and a little tiny bit of predictability, that might make a child or teacher feel better. What’s the ripple effect of that? If children feel cared for and loved, they’re going to be excited and engaged learners,” said Travis. 

Move To Learn videos are available for free for educators and students. Visit their website or subscribe to their YouTube for more information and videos. 

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