SAS students exercise their minds and bodies at Kinesthetic Lab

Sitting still at a desk for too long makes six-year-old Thomas’s leg sleepy, he said.

Sitting for long periods at a time can make your brain, sleepy, too – especially as an elementary school student.

When a case of the wiggles hits students at Scotchtown Avenue School (SAS), they can shake them out at the school’s new kinesthetic lab.

Teacher and student lay side by side on a mat

Take a look into the kinesthetic learning lab at SAS and for a moment it may look more like a jungle gym than a classroom. Students walk over hurdles, toss balls at word targets and walk forward and backward on a balance beam.

As these students are jumping, throwing, rolling and stretching, they’re also practicing their vocabulary words, math and memory retention.

Over the summer, a Kinesthetic – or “Action Based” – Learning Lab was installed at SAS. Activity mats, over/under bars, turtle shells and wiggle boards now fill a large, bright room in the school.

And while there’s no denying that the kinesthetic lab is fun, the desire to create one at SAS came from a place of data and research.

Research says that eight out of ten children are kinesthetic learners and learn best through movement. Action based – or kinesthetic – learning shows that moving while learning facilitates muscle memory, an important factor with younger children whose abstract thinking skills are not fully developed. Studies also show that this type of activity allows teachers and students to feel more energized, focused, and prepared to learn.

Hands on, minds on

Kinesthetic Learning Labs are based on research that finds a strong link between physical activity and academic performance. Kinesthetic milestones (skipping, for example) are strongly linked to academic growth. And, motion helps students concentrate, learn, and retain information in ways that sitting still at a traditional desk doesn’t, studies have found.

Over the summer, four teachers from SAS (Christina Jordan, Danielle Scarcella and Melissa McDermott) attended an extensive Action Based Learning training workshop in Long Island and returned with pages upon pages of ideas for SAS to incorporate.

Together with Mr. Rob Corter, the lab’s facilitator, they will create a “kinesthetic curriculum” for each grade level to progress through.

According to the group, it’s no secret that kids like to touch things; that’s because they’re learning through all their senses. As students put projects together, create crafts, or use familiar materials in new ways, they’re constructing meaning.

Learning in action

According to Dr. Voloshin, the lab at SAS is designed to prepare the brain for learning. Each active learning station in the lab, applies what is known about the brain-body connection by focusing on a set for twelve foundations for learning readiness.

For example, strengthening a child’s balance and spatial awareness can helps improve a students’ ability to place letters and words on a page. When a student progresses to walking or crawling in a patter, the brain’s capacity grows and more learning occurs.

On a recent morning, students in Mrs. Eber’s first-grade class participated in a circuit activity in the kinesthetic lab.  Each station in the lab focused on balance, cross lateral exercises and spatial awareness movements.

Grade levels rotate days to use the learning labs, but teachers at SAS are big fans of incorporating short exercise and dance videos and “brain breaks” into regular classroom activities. That means even when student can’t go to the labs, they can still use physical activity to reset and re-energize their minds.