Academic interventions based on physically-active regimes have been found to have a positive effect on the short-term success of children. However, a very few studies have analyzed the influence of long-term academic interventions on similar success rates. A study published in the journal Pediatrics reports the effects of a physically-active academic intervention based on two years, focusing on exercises to be used specifically during math and language lessons to assess any changes in children’s achievement.

Introduction

The development of novel teaching and learning regimes to cater for a child’s academic success is an important aspect of educational sciences. Many programs have been recently formulated to incorporate physical activity into regular academic lessons. Most of these programs have focused on short-term (immediate) effects with respect to academic engagement, academic motivation and executive functioning – all of which improved as a result of the intervention. Whether long-term interventions have a similar effect on academic achievement is unknown.

Since language and math skills contribute significantly to a child’s educational career, social skills and daily occupational functioning, physical activity must be integrated while teaching these subjects for their overall improvement. This has many potential benefits, such as:

  • Sensorimotor information analyzed by the body (for example, through physical activity) seems to have a positive effect on learning during childhood.
  • Moderate to vigorous physical activity that instantaneously increases brain activity may enhance attention.
  • Spending more time on tasks during regular lessons (after a physically-active academic lesson) may improve long-term academic achievement.
  • Prolonged periods of regular moderate to vigorous physical activity could cause morphological changes to the brain (formation of new cells and blood vessels) as well as functional changes (affect cognitive performance).

Fit and Academically Proficient at School

A recently developed set of lessons entitled ‘Fit & Vaardig op School’ (Fit and Academically Proficient at School [F&V]) incorporated physical exercises specifically used during math and language lessons in Dutch elementary schools. It is precisely designed to enhance academic achievement via the integration of physical regimes in visual and auditory academic lectures. A one-year pilot study showed significant improvements in reading and math outcomes.

Study: Methodology And Findings

The cluster-randomized controlled trial involved 499 participant children with an average age of 8.1 years from second and third grade classes of 12 elementary schools. Of these children, 249 were randomly assigned to the intervention group and 250 were randomly assigned to the control group. The intervention group was involved in F&V lessons for a period of two years, 22 weeks per year, thrice a week, while the control group received regular lessons. Academic achievement of all the children was measured before the intervention and after the first and second year using two mathematics tests [speed (solving arithmetic problems) and general mathematical skills] and two language tests (spelling level and reading speed).

After the two years of the study, multilevel analysis demonstrated that children receiving the intervention had significantly better scores in mathematics speed test, general mathematics and spelling – four months more as compared to the control group. No differences were recorded in terms of reading scores.

Strengths And Limitations Of The Study: Games Make Children Better Students

Potential strengths of the study include:

  • The cluster-randomized controlled trial study design.
  • Large study sample to increase efficacy of the results.
  • Novel contribution demonstrating that integrating physical activity into math and language lessons is sufficient to enhance important academic skills.
  • The school curriculum was comparable with most Dutch elementary schools; hence the findings can be generalized to other Dutch elementary schools.
  • Extra physical activity during academic lessons could contribute positively to the overall health of children, preventing them from becoming overweight and helping them achieve the recommended 60 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity.

There were also certain limitations to the study, such as:

  • The improvement in academic performance recorded after the first year might have been due to the presence of specially trained intervention teachers. However, this was removed by training the regular teachers to teach F&V lessons in the second year.
  • The child academic monitoring system (CAMS) was delivered by the schools, which could have influenced the results.

Discussion And Analysis

These findings corroborate those of the Physical Activity Across the Curriculum (PAAC) study, in which integrating a variety of existing academic lessons with physical activity proved that physically active academic lessons enhanced academic achievement. The findings of the current study go a step ahead by demonstrating that their newly developed physically active series of lessons aimed specifically at improving math and language skills significantly improves the achievement of elementary school children.

A possible reason why the F&V intervention did not improve reading skills could be because of the content of the program and academic tests. The intervention focused mainly on the memorization and duplication of concepts learned during earlier lessons – solving arithmetic problems and correctly spelling words rather than the overall speed of reading was taken into consideration.

The possible results obtained could be attributed to a number of reasons, such as:

  • The effect of moderate to vigorous physical activity on brain activity and academic engagement.
  • The innovative teaching strategy influences the brain and body to work in conjunction, since our cognitive knowledge is embedded in bodily awareness, especially in terms of children.

Future Prospects

The study makes certain valuable contributions to the educational sciences, and the following initiatives can be taken in the light of its findings:

  • Further research with more than one intervention and a control group should be conducted to assess why incorporating physical exercise in academic content is an effective means for improving academic achievement.
  • The findings demonstrate that incorporating physically active academic lessons in the school curriculum is an innovative and effective strategy for teachers to improve academic achievement.
  • Physical activity should be integrated specifically into mathematics and language lessons to substantially improve these important skills.