Importance of Play and Movement in Distance Learning

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Incorporating play and movement into learning is a sound, developmentally responsive teaching practice that is critical for learners of all ages. Infusing the school day with movement and activity is essential for effective teaching under normal circumstances, and perhaps even more vital as teachers pivot to facilitate student engagement in distance learning. Regardless of the “classroom,” when teachers disperse playful energizers and brain breaks during the day, students meet their needs for physical movement and fun, which keeps them focused and engaged with their learning in deeper and more meaningful ways.

Moving to an online classroom in the wake of COVID-19 presents challenges to long-held notions of what teaching and learning look and sound like. Whatever the current “new normal” may be, though, students are still depending on their teachers to create conditions for them to engage in challenging and joyful learning. One way educators can continue to create these conditions in an online environment is to ensure that no matter where or how learning is taking place, students are still meeting their needs to move and play.

A sense of playfulness in the classroom can help students feel more comfortable and creative in their learning. Not only can playfulness coexist with the serious and important work of school but it can enhance and support that work by helping students feel more open, at ease, and engaged.

Seeing the Good in Students: A Guide to Classroom Discipline in Middle School (Center for Responsive Schools, 2019)

The following three practical strategies can be used by educators to ensure that play and movement are infused into distance learning for students K–8. Energizers and brain breaks can be used to begin or close a synchronous virtual lesson or at any point during it, and also for asynchronous learning occurring through lessons or activities done online or offline.

Play for Students in Grades K-2

Students in early elementary grades are eager to use creative and physical play in all areas of their learning. Activities that include movement, music, and rhyme are especially popular at this level. Younger elementary students enjoy having a repertoire of ener­gizers that can be built into the school day to provide physical activity and fun.

Play for Students in Grades 3-5

Students in the upper elementary grades are growing rapidly and have lots of energy. Students at this age enjoy creating their own rules and respond well to activities that in­volve more complex steps. They also enjoy taking a game and creating variations of it to make it more challenging or more fun.

Play for Students in Middle School

Students in middle school experience rapid physical growth and hormonal changes so they benefit from frequent opportunities during the day to pause, move, and interact through playful movements. Brain breaks also give them the opportunity to recharge and refocus their energies while providing a structured way to connect with peers and teachers