What the Research Says

Current research is telling us that there are positive correlations between movement/physical activity, learning and achievement.

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Jensen (2005)

“Simple biology supports the obvious link between movement and learning” (Jensen, 2005, p. 62). Jensen explains that oxygen is necessary for brain function, more blood flow equals more oxygen –physical activity increases blood flow (2005). Other outcomes of increased exercise/movement are: more cortical mass, greater number of connections among neurons, and gene expression to improve learning and memory (Jensen, 2005). It has also been documented that stimulating the vestibular (inner ear) and cerebeller (motor activity) system through movement activities (spinning, crawling, rolling, jumping, bending ect.) can result in “significant gains in attention and reading” (Jensen, 2005, 62).

Shovel (2001)

“The more the learners used learning activities with movement, the higher their academic achievements, especially with the following activities: sustained movement-assisted learning activities; physical contact with the learned environment; use of visual and movement modeling; and socio-kinesthetic interaction” (Shoval, 2011, p. 462).

Shovel describes four successful movement based learning activities:

Physical contact with the environment being studied- “One can expect that physical contact with the environment would provide additional kinesthetic information increasing learning when information provided by conventional audio-lingual perceptions in academic learning is not sufficient (Zacks 2005)”  (Shoval, 2011, p. 455).

Visual and kinesthetic modeling – “Subjects were able to assess their knowledge much better when it was linked to moving in and feeling their physical surroundings” (Shoval, 2011, p. 455).

Verbal and socio-kinesthetic interaction – “Movement adds imitation of movements to learning processes, leading to a child observing a peer’s successful performance” (Shoval, 2011, p. 456).

Sustained movement-aided learning activity- “Movement is an exterior stimulus, and as long as the learner is engaged in his or her learning task the movement indicates that the learner’s attention is directed toward what is being learned. When attention is purely mental (interior) the activity becomes very difficult to sustain, because the nerve and muscle systems are inactive” (Shoval, 2011, p. 456-457).

Shovel also explains that if we are passive learners, then we are more likely to “ignore the on-going learning process” (Shoval, 2011, p. 459) even if it is by mistake (minds tend to wander). On the other hand, by incorporating movement activities, the learner is essentially forced to engage in the learning process unless he/she chooses not to, making engagement observable (Shoval 2011).

Boswell, Boni, and Mentzer (1995)

Another study was done by Boswell, Boni and Mentzer (1995). They tested movement integration in poetry with elementary-age students with learning and/or behavioral disabilities and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some of the benefits they observed were:

Positive social interactions –  “Students demonstrated increased positive social interactions with peers in other classes while participating in the Movement Poetry Program” (Boswell, Boni and Mentzer, 1995).

Release of excess energy – “Releasing excess energy through planned movement activities can help children release tension and promote relaxation”  (Boswell, Boni and Mentzer, 1995).

Growth in movement expression, reading and vocabulary – “poetry combined with movement encourages growth not only in movement expression, but also in reading and vocabulary” (Boswell, Boni and Mentzer, 1995).

Reilly, Buskist, and Gross (2012)

“While little evidence exists to show that this extra time spent working on academics each day is beneficial to student achievement, an abundance of evidence supports the importance of exercise to children’s ability to learn (Pollatschek and O’Hagan 1989; Michaud and Wild 1991; Hannaford 1995; Ratey 2008)” (Reilly, Buskist, and Gross, 2012).

“Even when included, physical education classes alone may not offer enough activity to promote learning and successfully curb obesity. In reality, children need to be moving more during the day to get the recommended 60 minutes minimum of physical activity for proper growth and development (CDC 2012)” (Reilly, Buskist, and Gross, 2012).

“Physical activity breaks throughout the day can improve both student behavior and learning (Trost 2007)” (Reilly, Buskist, and Gross, 2012).


Boswell, B. B., & Mentzer, M. (1995). Integrating poetry and movement for children with learning and/or behavioral disabilities.Intervention In School & Clinic31(2), 108.

Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind. (2nd edition). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Reilly, E., Buskist, C., & Gross, M. K. (2012). Movement in the Classroom: Boosting Brain Power, Fighting Obesity. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 48(2), 62-66. doi:10.1080/00228958.2012.680365.

Shoval, E. (2011). Using mindful movement in cooperative learning while learning about angles. Instructional Science, 39(4), 453-466. doi:10.1007/s11251-010-9137-2.

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