A veteran teacher shadowed two students for two days and then wrote about her experience. She has a lot of good observations but her overwhelming takeaway is that sitting all day is exhausting. Even as a teacher for decades in classrooms, she never realized how much kids sit and how physically and emotionally painful that experience is.
This should surprise none of us because we already know that sitting for long periods is bad for us. What is also not surprising is how we as a society continue to ignore data that challenges our belief in school.
Remember when smoking was allowed in school? In grade school I’d walk past the teacher’s lounge and notice that some of the teachers were smoking. I was fascinated, but only because I was fascinated by everything teachers did that was not teaching—it was so surprising that they had lives outside the classroom.
Today we would scoff at the idea of teachers smoking in school. I think when my kids grow up they will laugh at the idea that kids sat in school all day. Because sitting is the new smoking.
Sedentary people are less productive.
You know that corporate America does not get on a bandwagon that’s not tied to money. And they are definitely on the movement to keep people from being sedentary at work. This is because reams of data show that people who are sedentary at work are unhealthy and unproductive.
Companies routinely bring experts into the workplace to teach people how to move more during the day. There is also a whole industry of wearable computers that track sedentary behavior and teach people to move in response to their body’s needs instead of in response to the needs of their particular work.
Being motionless is an unnatural way to learn.
Companies all over the US offer employees standing desks because people have longer attention spans if they can stand up whenever they feel like it. Research has shown that this is true for kids as young as elementary school as well—their attention spans increased when they stood up to learn.
The Read and Ride program puts exercise bikes in schools and their data shows kids learn reading more effectively while riding an exercise bike than sitting sedentary. This is likely related to the fact that children who are more fit have more white matter in their brains. And white matter helps kids with attention and memory.
Sedentary life in school goes against medical recommendation
Web MD goes so far to call it a disease: The sitting disease. And the medical research is clear that we need ten minutes of movement for each hour of our day. Web MD goes on to say that it’s fine to do an hour-long workout at lunch, but that leaves 7 hours of the workday where there is no movement.
So schools have the same problem—gym and recess do not address the other hours in the day. And kids have five minutes in between classes to walk around. Which is not enough, right? Humans evolved as walkers and humans need to move freely for ten minutes each hour in order to feel healthy.
Yet even though we know how much movement people need to stay healthy we apply this knowledge to change work. But not school. We allow kids to sit for a whole hour without getting up to move around.
One reason might be that we are terrified of the ramifications of school being unhealthy for kids. For example, the American Medical Association comes down hard on video games because of their sedentary nature, yet the AMA is suspiciously silent when it comes to kids sitting in chairs all day in school.
School is a staid environment for sedentary kids. It made sense when we were using school to train kids to work in factories. But today we have scientific data to show that kids develop best when they have freedom to move, when and where they want. It’s unbelievable to me that we ignore that research just to continue believing the myth that we are actually doing a good job educating kids in school.