Sean Slade

The Movement Continuum

This month's theme is about integrating movement across the school day. It's a theme that aims to look at not only why physical activity should be incorporated into and across the school day, but also how it can be.

Regarding the why, the research is pretty solid. There are cognitive benefits associated with physical activity, including improved memory, concentration, attention, and academic performance. All of these (and other) benefits were succinctly summarized by Charles Basch back in May 2010 with his publication Healthier Students Are Better Learners: A Missing Link in School Reforms to Close the Achievement Gap.

Yet there are also other benefits beyond the cognitive that influence what goes on in the classroom and across the school, including reduction in aggression (Basch, 2010; Bowes, et al, 2009), improved connectedness (Bond et al., 2007) decrease in depression (Roshanaei-Moghaddam et al, 2009) and—dare we even have to say it—improved health. Yes, there is evidence to show that participation in physical activity can improve your health (Basch, 2010).

However, the second part of the month's theme is a little more nuanced: how schools incorporate physical activity across their day. Schools fall somewhere along a "movement continuum." On one end, this continuum has schools that don't believe that physical activity (PA) has any major or beneficial role to play in schools, and also includes schools that see its only purpose as providing a break from classwork.

As we move further along the continuum, we see schools that understand the benefits of physical activity but vary in how they implement or incorporate it. Many schools nowadays have looked to incorporate activity breaks into their classes. To give students (and staff) a time to re-energize and refocus themselves before getting back to work. These may be five-minute games, stretches, or movement periods. Whatever they are called or however they are done, these breaks from typical classroom activity are beneficial to the learning process. Whole child partner organization the National Association of Sport and Physical Education has a selection of links to activity breaks that show how physical activity can be incorporated into and across the school day.

But can we move further along this continuum?

At the far end of the movement continuum, we have schools that include movement into the way they teach and the way the kids learn. Whether we are predominantly linguistically intelligent or logical-mathematically intelligent, we all, to some degree, are bodily kinesthetically intelligent (Gardner's Multiple Intelligences). And many kids are predominantly kinesthetic learners—that is they learn by doing, by being active in what they are learning.

These schools don't just use movement to provide a break from learning, they use movement for learning and plan it into lessons and activities accordingly.

So how can schools incorporate physical activity into a range of lessons?

Thomas Armstrong in his chapter "Teaching Strategies for Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence" in Keeping the Whole Child Healthy and Safe: Reflections on Best Practices in Learning, Teaching, and Leadership suggests that activities that incorporate physical interaction, physical stimulus, and robust body activities are the best pathways to help children learn.

Examples of how to teach various topics to children with bodily kinesthetic intelligence:


  • To teach addition and subtraction, give them multiple boxes and a set of balls. Make them move the balls around in the boxes, to illustrate addition and subtraction.
  • To teach them dimensions (length, width, area, volumes), teach them hand gestures that signify what they are. For example, an area of a triangle (1/2 width x height) has 3 hand gestures—for 1/2, use one hand sideways to cut the other hand's palm in half, for width, put your palms together and move them apart horizontally, for height, put your hands together one on top of the other and move them apart vertically.


  • Have your child do a role play about science concepts—for example, evolution from prehistoric animals to apes to humans, or a butterfly's lifecycle from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly.
  • Have your child learn about atoms, electrons, protons, and more by drawing an atom, the nucleus, and a nucleus's orbits on the floor. Let your child move around on it to learn the role of all of the particles.

Susan Gris in "Creative Movement: A Language for Learning" (Educational Leadership, Vol.51 Iss.5) explains how

Movement improvisation offers an alternative avenue to understanding for many students, especially those who learn well in a bodily-kinesthetic mode.

And discusses how dance can be incorporated into lessons to reinforce learning:

[C]hildren can explore geometric shapes by stretching their bodies and long pieces of elastic and discovering the relationship of one shape to another. To help with fractions, children can make complicated rhythm charts that govern the timing of their dancing—for example, eight runs take the same time as four skips or two body swings, or one circle ending in a pivot turn. By linking different combinations of these movements, children can practice adding mixed fractions.

However it is achieved, promoting, providing, and incorporating physical activity across the school day has benefits greater than just improving health. It improves cognition, memory, attention, behavior, and when embedded into lessons, improves learning and understanding.

As stated by ASCD author Eric Jensen in the chapter on movement and learning in his book Teaching with the Brain in Mind (2nd ed.),

It's truly astonishing that the dominant model for formal learning is still "sit and git." It's not just astonishing; it's embarrassing. Why do we persist when the evidence that lecture alone does not cut it is so strong (Dolcourt, 2000; Slavin, 1994)?

Comments (10)

Group Link Post 11/24/2011 | KJsDiigoBookmarks

November 24, 2011

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Malke Rosenfeld

November 28, 2011

A great post!  It’s exciting to see the conversation using movement in a learning setting moving past ‘why’ and into ‘how’! In my opinion, any purposeful movement in a child’s life is an invaluable panacea to the ‘sit and git’ model. Just one of many examples of integrating math and dance/movement is my program, Math in Your Feet, where students use mathematical thinking, practices and topics to create their own foot-based dance patterns. In this process, students are mentally, emotionally, physically and cognitively engaged in their own learning.  It’s amazing to watch how motivated students are to share their *own* creative work and easily use math vocabulary to describe and analyze their patterns both verbally and on the page.  Other great math/dance programs include Marcia Daft’s Moving through Math, and the MathDance program.

Marcia Daft

November 28, 2011

I appreciate your expanding the conversation to include the actual practice of integrating movement with classroom learning. There is plenty of conversation about why it’s important to engage the whole child through active, creative learning, but few models of specific lessons, units of study, or curriculum. Our “Moving Through Science” DVD titled “Caterpillar to Butterfly: Adventures in Science, Music, and Dance, for children ages 4-8 is the first movement-based educational product to receive the NSTA Recommends Award from the National Science Teacher’s Association. And our preK-5 movement-based math program “Moving Through Math” is being adopted district-wide in Waterloo, Iowa. This confirms that there is interest from teachers and administrators in movement-based learning. There are other wonderful programs as well that deserve attention. When teachers see movement-based approaches to teaching in action in the classroom - they are stunned by the 100% student engagement and retention. We all need to get actual lessons, units of study, and complete curriculum into the schools.

Nan Smith

November 30, 2011

An excellent article.

Jennifer Bridges

December 1, 2011

Well done Sean. My colleague, Karen Weiller Abels, PhD and I (Jennifer Bridges, PhD) have been working hard to develop materials at the early childhood level that utilize movement as an integral part of the teaching-learning process. We have just published an early childhood curriculum, ALPHABET ON THE MOVE, to provide preschool teachers with movement activities, printing, coloring masters, and full color laminated posters of the letters of the alphabet highlighting the KINETIKIDZ characters demonstrating movements for each letter (e.g. B = balance). If you would like to follow-up on this you can check out our website: to see a brief animated video with sample materials and a link to the publisher.

J. Gilbert

December 5, 2011

The Regional Training Center in conjunction with The College of New Jersey and Gratz College in NJ, PA and MD offers a 3 credit graduate course called the Kinesthetic Classroom based on a book by the same name by Lengel and Kuczala, co-published by Curwin and the Regional Training Center. Register for the course at or purchase the book from Curwin Press, Amazon, etc.

K Purdy

December 6, 2011

Excellent!  As a PE teacher I am always happy to see movement used across the curriculum.  I have taught, through our teacher’s center, a course: “Enhancing Student Learning With Movement Activities”.  Elementary and MS teachers love it because it gives practical suggestions and activities that can be done in a classroom setting with little/no “extra” equipment.  It is more difficult to include this type of learning at the secondary level - mostly because many teachers travel to differnt classrooms as well as the students and there are logistics involved getting the “stuff” to the classroom.  However, some teachers are trying and with the new “core curriculum standards” we are facing in NY, I think it will become more prevelant.
Malke: Would love to know more about “Math in your feet”.

Sandy Mills-Alford

May 22, 2012

Great post. It inspired me to blog today. Regarding the continuum, you could go a little further left and add, “PA is disruptive to learning” because I truly believe a lot of teacher’s feel that keeping them tucked into their desks keeps them in order and on task. And how about the vast majority of our professional development offerings? When teachers sign up to learn about “engaging” techniques, you will mostly see lecture-based delivery taking place.

Learners want to be engaged. Thank you for posting such helpful resources here, and for being part of The Whole Child initiative.

To see how I reflected on your post, visit

Sean Slade

May 23, 2012

Thanks Sandy. To debunk the “PA is disruptive to learning” theory of some educators I’d recommend evryone read Chuck Basch’s great publication “Healthier Students Are Better Learners” (2010) []

We’ve known this for a while but its about closing our own knowing-doing gap.

Deborah Rose

August 15, 2012

Let’s Move! Museums and Gardens in collaboration with the NSF-funded STEM activity collection has created a search engine of science, technology, engineering and math activities for all ages that incorporate movement to teach and illustrate scientific principals as well as offer learners the chance to move as part of their STEM learning. These activities can be found at

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