Boost Student Learning with Motor Skill Exercises

Lauren Finn, Active Learning Specialist
Lauren Finn, Active Learning Specialist
Lauren Finn, Active Learning Specialist

The association between physical activity, cognitive function and academic performance in children is compelling.  Research tells us that schools need to spend more time on physical education, include longer periods for recess, and provide more opportunities for students to get up and move around in the classroom.  How can we achieve these objectives in a typical school day?


Physical activity is often associated with cardiovascular or aerobic exercise. These activities often require students to change clothes (or at least shoes) and move to another location (the gym or outside). The result is what teachers and administrators call “lost time”.

As an alternative, particularly in the classroom, schools should consider motor or coordinative exercise.  A recent study[i] compared cognitive and memory performance among children randomly assigned to one of three groups: cardiovascular exercise (CE), motor training exercise (ME), and control (CON). The participants were 9 to 10 year olds that took part in 45 minute sessions, three times per week for ten weeks. Students in the CON group attended assisted homework sessions while the CE group participated in running and running-based activities and the ME group participatedcAin motor training (balance, coordination, spatial orientation). Following the intervention, the cognitive performance of both the CE and ME groups improved greater than the CON group; however, the ME group improvement was larger. In addition, the ME group alone showed significantly higher scores on memory performance than the CON group.

Does this mean we need to change direction? No. It means we have more options. There are many easy activities that can be done in a classroom to develop balance, coordination, and spatial orientation. For example: Have students stand next to their desks. Ask them to lift their left leg in front of them. Instruct them to raise their arms out to their sides for balance. If they can do that, tell them to use their right hand to touch their left foot and then return to having their arms at their sides, without lowering the left leg to the floor. Repeat 5 times then switch legs. There will be quite a range in students’ ability to do this!

Motor activities are easy to find online and, due to their less intensive nature, may be easier to incorporate into the daily life of a classroom. This, in addition to strengthening our PE programs, and offering increased opportunities for active play at recess sets our children up for success. Physical activity – in the forms of both motor and cardio exercise – can and should be a natural part of the school day.

[i] Flora Koutsandreou, Mirko Wegner, and Henning Budde, “Active Voice: Exercises that Emphasize Motor Skill Factors Are Better for Improving Cognition in Children,” ACSM Sports Medicine Bulletin (September 6, 2016).

Lauren Finn earned her Masters and PhD in Education Policy from the University of Maryland. She is a certified Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist as well as an Active Learning Specialist.

Her email address is:


Fizika Group Applauds Every Student Succeeds Act

Active Learning in the Classroom 2

Fizika Group applauds “Every Student Succeeds Act” – signed into law by President Obama in December 2015.  The bi-partisan legislation took more than a decade to emerge from Congress.  The new law elevates the role of school health and physical education as part of a student’s “well-rounded” education. Other subjects noted in the definition of well-rounded education include art, civics, history and geography. The term well-rounded education replaces the term “core subjects” that was used in previous Elementary and Secondary Education Act proposals.

The new law delivers a much-needed fix to the outdated policies of No Child left Behind by rejecting the overuse of standardized tests and one-size-fits all mandates, and instead, empowering states and school districts to develop their own strategies for improvement.

President Obama signs landmark education bill

“We applaud the U.S. Congress for recognizing the importance of school health and physical education as key components of a well-rounded education,” says SHAPE America Chief Executive Officer E. Paul Roetert, Ph.D. “Health and physical educators are uniquely qualified to ensure that all of America’s students develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to enjoy healthy, meaningful physical activity for a lifetime.”

Fizika Group was founded in 2009 to help make health and physical education relevant and prevalent.  Research has shown that active students make better learners.  “We applaud this new law and look forward to working with school districts across the country to make quality health and physical education available to every student,” said Ginny Ward, Managing Director of Fizika Group.   “Students who move while learning are more attentive, focused on task and perform better academically.”

Exercise is Medicine – a Worthwhile Prescription

Brain scans by Dr. Chuck Hillman.1

Biker Fast 1

Concerned about getting older? Memory not working as well as it once did? When was the last time you rode your bike? Is physical activity part of your daily regimine? This is a prescription for how to age gracefully – and retain your mental capacity. No, this script isn’t available in a pharmacy.  Yet research scientists have confirmed that vigorous physical activity stimulates the brain – building new proteins that prevent the hippocampus from shrinking and improving executive function and decision making.

60 minutes a day is what the Institute of Medicine recommends for school age children. Many workplaces are now considering stand up desks, treadmill desks, and stability balls as a way to help employees stay fit – and be more productive on the job. Cities like Lancaster, PA are prepared to make significant changes in the city’s roadways to make it safer and more convenient for people to walk and bike to work. These are important steps forward. It begins with each of us. Join Fizika in advocating more daily physical activity for preschoolers, students, faculty, administrators, parents and families. We need a movement – movement that recognizes that running, jumping, skipping, walking, hiking and biking are not just for fun – but important exercises to keep our brains and our bodies in shape.