How jumping rope may help your children learn math and spelling
Seven-year-old Trinity Reistad jumpes rope on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012 in Corvallis, Ore. (AP / Corvallis Gazette-Times, Andy Cripe )
Published Thursday, February 25, 2016 6:00AM EST
When it comes to children learning math and languages, it may be best to add some jumping jacks to the lesson plan, according to a new Dutch study.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Groningen, looked at the impact of using physical activity to help teach math and spelling.
In the study, 499 schoolchildren from 12 different elementary schools across the Netherlands were randomly assigned to either have special lessons involving physical activity or regular sedentary lessons. All of the students were in Grade 2 or Grade 3, and the total instruction time was the same in the intervention and control group.
The special lessons were taught in the classrooms three times a week for a total of 22 weeks per year. The trial lasted for two years. Each lesson was between 20 to 30 minutes, with half of the time devoted to math activities and the other half devoted to language activities.
The special lessons included short, repetitive physical exercises such as jumping, marching and jogging in place.
For example, when asked to solve the math question "2 x 4," the children jumped on the spot eight times. In another example, as they spelled out the word "dog," the children jumped in place for each letter.
These exercises were designed to focus on repetition of concepts that the children had learned in earlier classes, as well as memorization of these concepts, the study said.
The researchers used two language tests, two math tests and a reading test to examine how the children in each group were progressing in their academic achievement. The researchers also looked at the children's scores from a standardized test that is given to most Dutch schoolchildren twice a year.
They found that after the second year, the group that had the physically active lessons had significantly better spelling scores than the pupils in the control group. As well, after the second year, the children who had the special lessons showed significantly greater improvement in math speed tests and general mathematics compared to the control group.
The difference in scores was equivalent to about four months of extra learning, the study said.
The study adds to a body of research that suggests that adding exercise into academic lessons may have several benefits.
The U.S.-based Physical Activity Across the Curriculum trial (PAAC) found that schools that had specialized academic lessons involving physical activity had significantly greater changes in academic achievement scores. As well, the specialized lessons may help to reduce increases in body mass index, the study found.
Marijke Mullender-Wijnsma, the lead author of the Dutch study, said previous research has found that exercise increases activity in the brain, which may enhance the amount of time a child spends actually learning (called "time-on-task"). This in turn may improve academic achievement in the long term, she said in an email to CTVNews.ca.
As well, research suggests that a longer period of physical activity may cause changes in the brain, including the development of new cells and blood vessels, she said. This can affect brain cognitive performance.
The Dutch study results suggest that physically active academic lessons should be part of a school curriculum, as it is an effective way for teachers to improve students' academic achievement. As well, the added exercise may help improve students' general health, the researchers said.
Mullender-Wijnsma said outside of the classroom, parents can incorporate some of these techniques as they help their children with their homework.
"For example, multiplication tables can be practised while jumping on the spot or jumping rope," she said.