NEWPORT NEWS—For Martha Swirzinski, a movement education teacher, it's all about keeping children moving in their classrooms.
"I've been involved with movement and children for more than 15 years," said Swirzinski, who received her master's degree in kinesiology, the study of movement, from the University of Maryland at College Park.
In addition to lateral movements, hopping, skipping and jumping are also linked to specific cognitive activity in the brain, according to Swirzinski.
"Movement helps to enhance learning, because when children sit for longer than 10 minutes, oxygen and glucose are pulled from the brain. When this happens, after a certain amount of time, the brain gets sleepy and basically turns off," Swirzinski explains.
Incorporating movement into education leads to better morale for students and their ability to function at a higher level in school.
By functioning at a higher level, students are able to retain more information and remain focused in the classroom.
"I've noticed my students are more attentive, they listen a little better and are able to focus on the next subject we're going into," said Inge Wilzoch, a first grade teacher at B.C. Charles Elementary School in Newport News. "It reaches more children, and every educator will tell you that's the most important thing, finding something that reaches and helps the most children."
Movement education also helps combat the growing problem of childhood obesity.
"It's alarming when you hear statistics like 70 to 80 percent of obese children will remain obese into adulthood," said Swirzinski. "If we can just change the way children view moving, and make it more enjoyable, they'll have it for a lifetime and be healthier people."
One way movement education makes activity more enjoyable, is by incorporating it into books used in the classroom.
Swirzinski has written three books, including, "Leap ... Laugh ... Plop," "Guess ... Giggle...Wiggle" and "Kick...Catch ... Buzzzzz," all of which offer ways for children to engage in the story and move. In a book about animals, for example, there's a picture of a dog with a red and black coat. "Is this a cute little dog I see, or is it a ladybug crawling to me? What other animals crawl? Show me how you crawl. Crawl fast, now slowly. Crawl forward and now crawl backward."
The activity stories help provide 30-60 minutes of recommended structured daily movement, versus just having children sit on the floor and listen to the teacher read the story.
"Computers and video games pose a problem for education nowadays," said Wilzoch. "Kids have to move, it's so important. I've seen this program help with their maturity. It helps them learn organized movement."
"This is one of the ways I try to show other teachers and parents how movement doesn't have to be separate from education, it can be tied into lesson plans," said Swirzinski.
Movement also helps children who don't learn as easily using traditional methods.
"Eighty-five percent of students are kinesthetic learners, meaning they learn better when things are hands-on," said Swirzinski. "By incorporating movement into classroom lessons, you can help these students who may have a harder time focusing."
One of the barriers Swirzinski has found hard to break down, is that moving is just for fun and isn't important for education.
"Changing attitudes is the most challenging part," she said. "Movement isn't just a way to get energy out and have fun. The body helps train the brain how to learn, and it helps keep our kids healthy."