Peter DeWitt

The Importance of Movement

Have you ever had to sit in the same seat for hours at a time at a long meeting? As you looked around you saw other attendees bouncing their legs up and down because they began to get restless after sitting for such a long period of time. Then it happens! The facilitator allows a break, and people jump from their seats to get the circulation going in their bodies. Movement increases your energy level and the feelings of lethargy float away.

That feeling of sitting down and not being able to wait to get out of your seat is how students in our school systems feel every day. They sneak a walk to the water fountain or get up to go to the bathroom just so they can move their bodies. Physically, they need to get out of their seats to alleviate some of the energy that they have stored up as they sit through a lesson.

As a school system, we are in jeopardy of exposing our students to more stress because we do not offer them the important breaks they need. Everyone needs time away from their desk to take a brain and body break from work. Unfortunately, some schools do not offer students the break they need because of an over focus on collecting data and increasing test scores. This is a sad reality that we all have the ability to change for our students.

Taking Away Recess

Less and less students in the United States and abroad are getting a chance to play at recess because some schools are replacing it with more class time. In an effort to accommodate stronger mandates, schools are pushing more academic time into the school day. School days cannot always be extended because of contractual issues, so recess becomes the opportunity cost in a quest to outperform other school systems.

In the long run, replacing recess with more academic time may not actually increase achievement within schools. It may increase test scores, but there is a lot more to achievement than high test scores. If test scores are the only priority for a school, that may be a sign of a lack of achievement.

Recess is a place where students learn a great deal about themselves. It is also where they learn little life lessons. Students who are allowed to go outside for recess are able to get a feel for nature, breathe fresh air, and learn how to interact with peers. It is a place where they establish rules within the parameters that the adults supervising around them set. They learn how to negotiate their way through games and adventures, which gives them a rest so that they can tackle the remainder of their school day.

Incorporating Movement into the School Day

As a former elementary school teacher, I used to do morning aerobics with my students. Every morning we turned on the song "Dreams" by the Cranberries and began our morning movement. From jumping jacks to running in place, students would start their day on a positive note. I still think of morning aerobics when the song comes on the radio. It was the most positive way to begin our day together.

Besides using center-based learning that forces students to get out of their seats, using music to break up the monotony of center transitions is another good method of getting students moving. Play the same song to signify the end of a center so students can move to their next center. Use a different song to symbolize the end of a 90-minute literacy block so they know it is time to move on to the next subject. Some schools even use music in upper grades to signify the end of a period, so students can move to their next class. All of which requires parameters so students do not get out of hand for the next class they are attending.

Get Up and Move

Our students spend a great deal of time inside at home and at school. Whether they live in an urban, rural, or suburban setting, we have a large percentage of students who do not go outside when they get home from school. Sometimes it is because they live in unsafe neighborhoods, while other times it is because they play video games and use the computer instead of going outside to be at one with nature.

This constant inactivity threatens their academic lives because they spend a great deal of time not being engaged and not using their imagination. Getting students to get up and move is an important aspect to their learning because it can inspire them to think differently, and instead of having a game think for them, they learn how to think for themselves.

Peter DeWitt, EdD, is an elementary school principal. He writes the Finding Common Ground blog for Education Week and is the author of Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (Corwin Press). Connect with DeWitt on his website and on Twitter @PeterMDeWitt.

Comments (6)

Cap Lee

November 8, 2011

Great thoughts! Movement is essential to a healthy day full of quality learning.  One can only wonder how many ADHD kids are not really ADHD but forced into a sterile, stifling environment.

Another thought is to have an active curriculum with projects and especially taking learning into the community to make it real.

Peter DeWitt

November 16, 2011

Hi Cap.

I’m glad you liked the blog. I completely agree with you and love the idea of active curriculum. We definitely try to do that in our school but can always try to do it more.

shannon Ramaka

January 10, 2012

Great Article. I use various classical music as background to storytelling—also even older students love to create movement improvs to various music as a warm up before class…

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[...] Hold a two minute dance party. Play a quick game of Simon Says. Ask your coworkers for their ideas. Peter DeWitt shared ideas just the other month. Some of our favorites are Dance Freeze, Four Corners and Bridge [...]


January 19, 2013

I recently started using a website called, Adventure to Fitness. It incorporates movement with learning activities and is a great option for indoor recess. Students are part of a story line that takes place in a historical setting or a scientific adventure. Children must run in place, jump over barrels, climb ropes, etc. to navigate the story line. It’s a great way get students moving and learning while stuck inside for recess!


March 26, 2013

I have found your blog and have read some articles here that really captivate my feelings! I have taught elementary school for 14 years and am now in school for my adminstrative degree. I enjoy thouroughly your ideas about teaching the whole child. This is something I feel many schools “are missing” as we focus more and more on data. I acturally use “rechargers” every half hour in my room- movement breaks for kids to get the wiggles out and refocus. It takes just minutes but really works!

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