The year 1 class burst into the school hall which had been turned into a Gymnastrix Gym. They sure were ready for their mathematics hit on the go! It was only the fact that this class had been introduced to Active Academics, a gymnastics based, cognition enhancing, neuroscientifically underpinned program in their Kindergarten year that they were not bouncing off the walls with uncontrollable excitement. Every eager eye followed the coaches voice as the activities were demonstrated. Whoever thought this was the bridge to many of the children ‘speed learning’ their times tables?
Lead by Harvard’s John Ratey and US PE teacher of the year 2011, Jean Blaydes; early research findings were so favourable that it was thought there were statistical or procedural errors in the studies. Repeat studies produced similar results, regardless of the students’ previous academic performance. Forty US studies suggested exercise and movement programs improved academic performance by a stunning 30% (+/- 3%).
Research conducted in Sydney schools, using a program which combines maths and physical activity such as learning multiplication through shuttle runs and star jumps. Results showed that not only was the physical activity physically beneficial, it improved the students’ brain power as well.
Although further research is needed to determine if literacy can be enhanced in a similar manner, says study author, Melanie Vetter, Gymnastrix coaches have observed an accelerated ‘catch up’ in children who are behind in their reading ability. “The reason for this is now understood to be linked to a child’s balancing ability,” says Ryan Williamson Director of Gymnastrix. “When the connection between the left and right brain are weak, their focal centre underdeveloped and the optical muscles are not trained to focus, reading is almost impossible. Training a child to focus their attention, which is the foundation of all balance, is a vital building block to ‘hold’ letters in their place within words and word positions within sentences. We firmly believe that a child who can balance has a brain which is ready to read,” he concluded.
The Sydney University study results built on existing evidence that physical activity was important for enhanced brain function, and that fitter children performed better academically through superior attention spans, improved decision-making ability and faster cognitive processing.
“Interestingly, kids also performed slightly better on a general mathematics test, similar to a NAPLAN test, while in the playground ‘classroom’ compared with the traditional classroom.
Active Academics has been developed by Gymnastrix to link to a wide range of other subject matter within the Australian Curriculum. It provides higher levels of engagement by students in the content they are learning, teaches them to deploy creative solutions, builds trust in each other and improves all-round fitness. “In a crowded curriculum, with high content volume and time limitations in which to achieve high scores, the pressure and stress may actually be detrimental to academic scores. Using a greater number of available sensory channels and the positive impact on mood and behaviour is, for some children, a lifeline to scholarly achievement,” said Mr. Williamson.
Ryan Williamson is a gymnastics and movement expert.