Physically Active Lessons in School Can Enhance Pupils’ Learning and Motor Skills

Four children on a mat in the gym.

The most excellent subjects children can learn aren't graded. (Image: Robert Kneschke via Dreamstime)

Sports scientists at Nottingham Trent University examined how bouts of physically active math lessons for eight hours per week affected children aged 6-7 during their first two years of school, by comparing them with another group that studied the usual way.

They found that the physically active lessons boosted primary school children’s cognition and motor skills, and also enhanced their mathematics ability. As part of the study, games-based activities were connected to key mathematical concepts and included warm-up exercises and short physically active learning tasks. In one lesson, for instance, pupils — who were from elementary schools in northern Italy — were required to complete a mathematical-themed orienteering course, with the answers to each problem providing them with a route around a map.

In one lesson, elementary school pupils were required to complete a mathematical-themed orienteering course, with the answers to each problem providing them with a route around a map.
In one lesson, elementary school pupils were required to complete a mathematical-themed orienteering course, with the answers to each problem providing them with a route around a map. (Image: Sergunt via Dreamstime)

Physically active lessons improve both cognitive function and motor development

During the study, pupils in both groups also performed a series of cognitive function tests that assessed factors such as language, visual perception, memory, attention, reading, writing, and calculation. They also performed tests that judged fundamental motor skills, such as running, hopping, horizontal jumping, and object control using a ball, which included kicking, throwing, and catching. The team found that the physically active lessons improved cognitive function tests by about 30 percent on average when compared to the other group, and that motor development tasks improved by about 25 percent.

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As a secondary effect, the intervention also led to stronger math development in the children, the researchers found, with ability improving by 17 percent. The researchers argue that, while they focused on math lessons, the same approach could easily be used in the classroom with other topics, such as language teaching.

As a secondary effect of physically active lessons, the intervention also led to stronger math development in the children, the researchers found, with ability improving by 17 percent.
As a secondary effect, the intervention also led to stronger math development in the children, the researchers found, with ability improving by 17 percent. (Image: Monkey Business Images via Dreamstime)

Lead researcher Dr. Daniele Magistro, an expert in physical activity and health at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology, said:

“Our study showed that the inclusion of physical activity in math lessons led to synergistic benefits in cognition, gross motor skills and academic achievement among pupils. Encouragingly, the positive differences remained following the school holidays and continued to the end of the second school year. Opportunities for physical activity can sometimes be sacrificed to concentrate on more ‘academic’ subjects, but schools can actually provide an ideal setting for interventions aimed at increasing activity.

“Physically active lessons could be a useful addition to curriculums; combining movement with learning activities can be extremely beneficial for children’s cognitive and motor communication development, which is critical for optimal development in the early years.”

The study, which also involved Italy’s University of Torino, University Center of Asti (Astiss), and Comprehensive School Guido Gozzano, is published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Provided by Nottingham Trent University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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