What is "Healthy" Movement?
Humans are programmed to move. A young developing brain requires various types of motion to develop important foundational skills for learning. The sensory systems that respond to movement help to coordinate the eyes, hands and body for everyday fine motor and gross motor activities. "Healthy" movement refers to safe and accessible opportunities for motion that help everyone feel organized, alert, fit and ready to learn.
What is the role of "Healthy" Movement in the classroom?
Parents and adults tend to want children to "sit still." The reality is no one sits without moving for very long, because if we keep our bodies completely inactive, we tend to fall asleep or zone out. Dynamic sitting involves making adjustments to our position for comfort and moving our arms, legs and body while we are sitting, in order to keep ourselves alert and engaged. Children who have access to healthy movement in the classroom are more likely to stay engaged and to have better attention and behavior.
If children have chairs that move at school, won't they be disruptive?
Children are already moving in their chairs because they need movement to stay alert. In stable or static chairs many children will tend to tilt backwards, lean forward, swing their legs and sit on the edge of their chairs or on their knees. Studies have shown that after about a 2 week "settling in" period, children with access to chairs that provide healthy movement only move as needed to stay comfortable and to attend to the lessons throughout the day. In fact, several studies suggest that children show better ability to stay seated, with less disruptive movements, when they have access to chairs that offer healthy movement.
Is healthy movement the same as ergonomics?
The term "ergonomics" usually is used in reference to the proper fit of furniture for the human body and the way it moves. Dynamic furniture plays a role in good ergonomics, because chairs that swivel and adjust are better suited to helping a child sit at the optimal height and to be able to turn to face the teacher or other forms of instruction at various placements in a classroom. Foot and arm rests, the ability to stretch (such as at standing tables or in pushing back against an adjustable-seat back) and adjustable-height levers all assist in ensuring good ergonomics for the various sizes of children in a classroom: even for the same child who is growing from the beginning to end of a school year.
Will dynamic furniture and opportunities for healthy movement take care of all behavior and attention problems at school?
While studies have shown the positive effect of opportunities for healthy movement in the classroom, many other factors will affect students' behavior and attention. Other aspects of the environment such as noise level, visual distractions, color, temperature, room arrangement, access to supplies and many other variables are all important for supporting learning. In addition, there are many other factors that play a role in how students learn. Healthy movement is not suggested as a "magic cure" but rather one piece in the puzzle for supporting students to be their best for optimal learning.
What can I do to encourage "healthy" movement options for my child's school?
Learning more about how sensation and movement support positive behavior and engaged learning is a first step. Sharing that information with educators and administrators is another way to increase awareness about the importance of having options for children in the school environment. Providing sample furniture or working with local groups such as parent-teacher associations or booster clubs is another way to advocate for change and to increase access to healthy movement for children.
Where can I get help if I am concerned about my child? What resources or search words can I use to find help in my community?
When children appear to have significant difficulties with learning, attention or sensory issues, seeking assessment and assistance as early as possible is recommended. Some resources available in most communities that are likely to offer guidance include:
- The special education department of your local school district
- A pediatrician, child neurologist or child development specialist;
- The occupational therapy department at the school district or at a local children's hospital;
- The American Occupational Therapy Association (1-800-SAY-AOTA);
- Your state's Occupational Therapy Association;
- Occupational therapy, child development, psychology or education departments at your local university;
- Parent support groups in your area;
- Searching the Internet for additional resources by using such keywords such as "learning disorders," "attention deficits," "sensory integration," "sensory supports for learning" and "educational assessment"