Physical activity has long been recommended as a way to keep physical health in check and to promote healthy growth and development, but research also indicates that physical activity is important for brain and learning health as well. Studies from 2013 suggest that increasing physical activities and physical fitness may improve academic performance and that the time in the school day dedicated to recess and gym class may also increase academic progress.
Given that many schools have cut down on or eliminated recess and P.E in the academic schedule in favor of core academic subjects, this research indicates that implementing those changes may do more harm than good. In fact, core subjects such as mathematics and reading are among the topics that are most positively influenced by physical activity because they depend on efficient and effective executive functioning, which physical activity has been shown to promote. Research has also indicated that taking physical activity breaks during the academic schedule can improve memory and attention to tasks, which can ultimately serve students better in the classroom.
This research indicates a need to increase physical activity for kids and adolescents both in the school environment and at home. Learning about how being active can improve academic performance can help you advocate for your child’s physical and mental health.
How being active can improve academic performance
Physical activity can have myriad benefits for students in the classroom as well as benefits for overall brain development. When you exercise, the flow of oxygen to your brain is increased, and this can have numerous positive effects. One benefit is that neurotransmitters are increased which has been shown to help improve focus, concentration, and the ability to handle and manage stress. It also increased the number of neurotrophins in the brain which are responsible for learning, memory, and higher-order thinking skills.
In addition to brain development, the CDC has claimed that increased physical activity is linked to higher grades. This can be attributed to the impact on cognitive skills such as concentration and attention but it is also reflective of the enhanced behaviors and attitudes in the classroom that physical activity can provide. One study out of the University of Illinois found that children who were physically fit were more likely to achieve higher grades in school. Clients in this study were given EEGs to measure their brain activity and how fast they responded to certain stimuli. Those children who were more physically fit, their synapses fired faster which resulted in stronger overall language skills.
Physical activity can also boost several psychological functions such as nurturing their engagement, motivation, and self-esteem which can contribute to success in the classroom. When students participate in vigorous activity, they tend to have higher self-confidence and they interact more positively with teachers, peers, and parents. Physical activity that encourages and supports autonomy has also been linked with increased motivation both inside and outside the classroom. When schools include physical activities that are culture and context-sensitive, children also learn about the value of inclusion and social interactions.
These benefits are found to have both immediate and long-term impacts on academic performance. Immediately after exercise, we see an increase in concentration on learning tasks, which can help children better process information in the moment, but these effects continue for longer academic gains if the exercise continues. One study found that students who had been randomly assigned physically active lessons for three years did consistently better on standardized testing than their peers who did not.
The benefits of physical activity can be found in short physical breaks, even if your child’s school has cut down on recess or physical education. One study compared students who were randomly assigned to a 10-minute energizer physical activity break during their lesson, and they exhibited a significantly higher frequency of on-task behavior compared to those who were not given an activity break.
To help your child receive the benefits that physical activity can have, there are 3 domains you can work with to increase overall activity level. The first is at the school, which you may not have complete control over. However, you can advocate for the return of more physical education and scheduled physical activity breaks, or you can enroll your child in a school where this is a focus in the curriculum. Secondly, you can work to increase the activity level of everyone in your home. Parents can model activity by participating in sports together, going on walks, and generally encouraging a more active lifestyle. Lastly, you can turn to professional intervention if your child still isn’t getting enough activity. Programs such as BlueFire Wilderness can help get your child moving so they can improve physical, cognitive, and emotional health.
Activities we provide at BlueFire to help your child thrive academically
BlueFire Wilderness Therapy takes an innovative approach to academics that can help those students who struggle in a typical academic environment learn to thrive. Many families who have experienced academic issues in and around the classroom have found success in our wilderness environment tailored around creating educational success. To help our students achieve the best outcomes, we’ve combined the best of academic assessments with structured, experiential adventure activities.
Our educational process follows four simple steps: assessment, addressing challenges, using nature as a hands-on learning environment, and easing the transition back home. When our students first come to our program, they will undergo learning styles assessments to give our educational experts a proper understanding of your child’s current situation, so we can help them move forward academically. Our educational assessments can also offer a level of insight to parents that they didn’t previously know was available.
Once the assessment has been completed, we use the wilderness not only as a therapeutic landscape for behavioral change, but to address academic challenges and concerns as well. Using state and national standards, each client will have an individualized academic treatment plan based on their assessment that targets unique academic goals and challenges.
We then utilize nature as a unique and hands-on learning environment, which provides everyday opportunities to learn in real, tactile, and experiential ways. For example, we see and touch science or learn social sciences by traversing the same paths as previous generations. This experiential element helps to drive home lessons and make them personally relevant to our students. Research has indicated that this type of experiential learning can have a positive impact on the social, psychological, and intellectual development of adolescents.
Because we understand that living and learning in the wilderness is not a permanent solution for your child, we also focus on the transition back home. We use the environment as a tool kit to build positive behavioral and educational habits and focus on teaching translatable skills in academics that can help ease the transition back to the “real world”.
In addition to our heavy focus on academics, we also understand the importance of keeping students physical active to help fuel their mind/body connection. Groups will participate in multi-day hiking expeditions where they will camp at different sites each night. During these expeditions, students will engage in a combination of adventure learning and volunteer work to help them understand how they fit into this world by learning to give back to the community. A typical day might include adventure activities such as hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, or canoeing and kayaking. Other physical activities clients will experience at our program include backpacking, yoga, and cross country skiing. These physical activities help to build self-esteem, teach team-building and cooperation skills, and help develop essential communication skills.
If your child is struggling in his typical academic environment, he could benefit from the multi-modal approach to education that BlueFire Wilderness provides.
How BlueFire can help
BlueFire Wilderness Therapy is a premier wilderness therapy program for troubled teens struggling with emotional, social, and behavioral challenges. We utilize a comprehensive approach to teen treatment based on research and decades of experience. Our strength is combining clinical expertise, adventure experiences, academic assessments, and a family systems approach. We utilize highly trained staff, cutting-edge technology, and the latest research to create the best environment for change.
Our program has a therapy focused component where our therapists work with clients on individual and group therapy four times a week in the field. We also take a family-centered approach to care that involves parents in a comprehensive program to reconnect the entire family through a family systems process. In addition to traditional therapy, we also provide our students with weekly equine therapy and adventure therapy to help them explore personal growth through a variety of new experiences. For more information, please call (208) 502-2326.