Lessons with integrated physical activity significantly improved mathematics and spelling test scores among elementary school-aged children, according to recent research in Pediatrics.
“The development of new ways of teaching and learning to foster children’s academic achievement is an important issue in educational sciences,” Chris Visscher, PhD, and Marijke J. Mullender-Wijnsma, MS, of the Center for Human Movement Sciences at the University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands, and colleagues wrote. “Participation in the … physically active math and language intervention positively contributed to math and spelling performance of elementary school children.”
Marijke J. Mullender-Wijnsma
The researchers tested the effectiveness of a physical activity program, called “Fit & Vaardig op School,” among a cohort of second- and third-grade students in the Netherlands. The researchers divided the study cohort into a control group of 12 classes (n = 250 students) and an intervention group of 12 classes (n = 249 students). The intervention group received a 20- to 30-minute physical activity learning session, three times a week for 44 weeks, over 2 school years. The sessions, each 10 to 15 minutes, were dedicated to math and also language skills. Each session included simultaneous, integrated physical activity that ranged from moderate to vigorous. Academic progress was determined via two standardized math and two standardized language tests.
During the study period, students in the intervention group had increased performance in mathematics (P < .001) and spelling (P < .001) compared with the controls. The researchers said this equated to an additional 4 months of learning gains over the control group. The results also showed no significant gains were recorded in reading skills.
“The findings suggest that physically active academic lessons should be part of the school curriculum because it is an innovative and effective way for teachers to improve children’s academic achievement,” Visscher and colleagues wrote. “Physical activity should specifically be integrated into math and language lessons to optimally improve those important skills.”
In a related editorial, Sara E. Benjamin Neelon, PhD, MPH, of the department of health, behavior and society at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote that these study data are promising but may widen the achievement gap by not focusing on disadvantaged children.
“It is important … to consider the context of these studies and the children who participated,” Benjamin Neelon and colleagues wrote. “[The researchers] do not report racial or sociodemographic information about the children in their study, but given the geographic location in the northern Netherlands, we may assume that the majority of children are white.
“Physically active lessons for children therefore appear to improve the academic outcomes of more advantaged white children, but are these effects similar across population subgroups, and what is the feasibility of implementing active lessons in schools serving disadvantaged children?” – by David Costill
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.