Dr. Lisa Marnell, OTD, MBA
Is There a Link Between Math and Movement?
Updated: Oct 29, 2019
Everyone knows that children like to move!
Activities like jumping, running, and spinning come to mind. Often, these movements seem more silly than purposeful. But we must remember that a child who moves is building important skills like balance, postural control, limb strength, and coordination. Also, a child who moves is learning about the world. Concepts like gravity, force, and timing are honed.
Can physical activity influence OTHER types of learning? Can movement paired with math, for instance, help a child master math skills more quickly and efficiently? Researchers in Australia, Denmark, and the Netherlands teamed up and looked at this exact question (Myrto-Foteini 2017). (This article was published in The Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.)
Scientists designed this study as a 4-week preschool intervention which integrated movement into cognitive tasks related to numerical skills. They looked at four groups:
1- One group of children did only physical activity.
2- One group did math tasks only (they were sedentary).
3- One group paired physical activity with doing math tasks simultaneously.
4- One group observed the physical activity but did sedentary math tasks.
The MATH TASKS included counting forward and backward from 20 and recognizing numbers that the teacher called out (0 to 10, 10 to 20, then 0 to 20).
The PHYSICAL ACTIVITY included using foam numbers on the floor. Children did the following activities:
* Running/jumping over foam block numbers on the floor.
* Walking forward to the right of numbers while counting forward.
* Walking backward to the left of numbers while counting backward.
* Pointing to a foam number on the floor when the teacher called out the number.
What do you think researchers found? You may or may not be surprised!
If you think that children's math skills became strongest in the group that took part in BOTH math tasks AND physical activity, then you are right. Also, researchers found that all children who performed physical activity (whether paired with math or not) enjoyed their instructional time in school more.
1- So much evidence points to the importance of incorporating physical activity into a child's day. Whether or not this is paired with teaching, it's a good practice to offer frequent movement breaks to children (every 30 minutes or so).
2- Use your creativity and pair movement with learning! As a parent, teacher, or therapist, try to take a minute or two and see if there might be a way to get kids moving while learning. It doesn't have to be fancy or amazing or anything. Something as simple as jumping up and down while counting might help children master simple math concepts.
If you would like, consider my seasonal and holiday-themed Brain-Building Brain Breaks resources for some simple and affordable ideas to get kids moving in the classroom. See them at my store HERE:
Feel welcome to leave a comment! What are your favorite go-to movement activities for kids? What blog posts would you like me to do next? Get in touch!
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Lisa Marnell MS, OTR/L