Friday, March 21, 2014

Embodying Education

I had a troubling "ah-hah" moment last week when, hours after reading research into the dangerous health consequences of sedentary lifestyles, I found myself repeatedly asking a duo of young, rambunctious students to sit down while I was subbing for a 5th grade class.

As I've written before here, one of my huge stressors as a teacher was my constant reflection on whether what I was teaching was helping my students build the structures, skills and knowledge for a happy, healthy and empowered life. Now that I've given myself the freedom to only teach part-time, I find myself with the time and emotional energy to be increasingly critical of the ways in which schools are traditionally structured. Demanding that children as young as 5 or 6 spend most of the school day seated in chairs is a criticism that I never carefully considered until recently.

We face an epidemic in this country of people who are disconnected from their bodies-- eating disorders and lifestyle diseases abound. Concerned educators push back as recess and physical education continue to be cut out of the school day in many districts. And yet, most children are asked by those same caring teachers to sit down for most of the day, even though it's apparent that for many children this is an unnatural, uncomfortable, even painful behavior. And then these children who have been trained to sit down must spend the rest of their lives fighting to relearn how to listen to their bodies, how to exercise enough, and how to fight the health impacts of the sedentary lifestyle that we trained them to adopt.

Teachers, administrators and advocates across the country are exploring this issue:

+Slate magazine published an interesting call to rethink the school desk.

+The NEA (National Education Association) wrote a lovely article recently about how fidgeting helps some students focus on learning

+Psychology Today summarizes the research on benefits of embodied education

+One young Floridian teacher purchased stability balls for her wiggly first graders, and she says they've benefitted

Do you have any ideas for how to structure learning environments where learning can be more fully embodied? Any experience or knowledge of schools that have moved on from standard desks & chairs? 

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