On Monday we found something new on the playground.
For anyone that hasn’t seen one of these yet, it’s called a Gaga Ball Pit. Think less traumatic dodge-ball. While the older children are working with Mr. Cooper to create a set of school-wide rules, Miss Davis taught our class a simplified version. All players start on the edges of the court while one person tosses the ball into the middle. At that point, all of the players begin running around either avoiding the ball or trying to push it with their hands. If the ball hits you between your knees and feet, you are out and climb out to cheer on the other players. What makes this much more relaxed than traditional dodgeball is that the children are not allowed to throw the ball. They have to swat it toward other players. If the ball flies out of the court, the last person to have touched it is out. Although the big kids may eventually design more rules and procedures, this version is just fine for our five-year-olds. The playing field is more level for beginners than any of the ball grass games we’ve played and game time is fast. It’s also a great way to encourage the children to pump up those heart rates and get a little cardio in.
When the winter months start to roll around, there are often days at a time when the students are stuck inside due to the extremely cold temperatures. Wiggly bodies and pent up energy can be difficult to manage in our small classroom, but luckily we have a trick up our sleeves and it goes by the name of GoNoodle.com. Go Noodle is a website that provides hundreds of videos that gets kids exercising, practicing brain building activities, and even has a mindfulness section that helps bring students back to a calm, controlled state of being.
When signing up for our account, the class was assigned a little creature (named McPufferson) who grows and get stronger the more we complete the videos. The students relish in seeing “our guy” gain points and level up to become bigger and stronger with each video. In just a few weeks, our students have already memorized several of the silly songs, motions, and breathing exercises and often talk about them throughout the day.
The website has been a great resource for us to help fight off cabin fever and get our bodies moving. Anecdotally, I also have to admit that it has been a great way to get my heart pumping on those drab, wintery days. If you are interested in signing up at home, the sight is completely free and there is an option to sign up as a parent rather than a whole class. We highly recommend it!
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Learning and the Brain: Executive Functions in Education in Washington, D.C. I’ve returned energized and excited to share all of the new connections I’ve made to our grey matter and learning. One of the most unexpected ah-ha moments came when Dr. John Ratey began speaking about the research behind his newest book, Spark.
Not being a rather athletic person (ok, I’m a couch potato) I wasn’t especially excited about the premise. I settled in to listen to a speaker that I thought I wouldn’t have any connections with. Oh, how wrong I was. Dr. Ratey explained with panache and humor how our brains are physically effected by exercise. He showed us results from numerous studies pointing to lower behavioral difficulties and raised academic scores for children when frequent, heart-rate rising exercise was part of the day.
For those of you who are already in love with a heart-pumping past-time, this may not necessarily be news. Yet, in the education community, this is monumental. Imagine being able to help children with mild attention troubles or anxiety simply by setting a routine that adds more activity to their day. Think about the revolution this could cause in states that have disbanded PE in favor of more prep time for high stakes testing.
Luckily, we already move a lot during the day in Pre-K, but I bet we could do more. The best part about this research is that it simply gives us a very concrete reason to do something we’ve already decided was important. Many people exercise for their health, for the summer swimsuit they want to fit into, for the joy of it. Now, they can sweat with gusto knowing that they are improving their brain function as well.
These ideas inspired even this couch potato to get up and get movin’.