Originally published May 28, 2013
Imagine a classroom full of elementary school students running and jumping next to their desks, coached by Olympic athletes as they pretend to run hurdles in an Olympic race in just a few minutes between lessons.
That was the scene for students at Mary Lin Elementary School in Atlanta on May 16 when they were visited by Olympic decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton, Olympic hurdler Queen Harrison and Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., as they tested GoNoodle, a suite of interactive games that features running, stretching, dancing and deep breathing activities.
HealthTeacher, which produces Go Noodle and other Web-based health games and apps for kids, designed the program to be a free, easy way for teachers to add physical activity to their classrooms without having to create additional lesson plans or activities.
"We just want to make getting physical activity in the classroom as simple as possible," said Holly Stephenson, marketing manager for HealthTeacher. "And kids just go crazy over it."
A break for physical activity is more than just a fun break from school work. A growing body of research shows that letting kids be physically active throughout the school day is tied to better academic performance. A 2010 study found that physical activity breaks of about five to 20 minutes in the classroom can improve attention span, classroom behavior and scores on standardized tests. A 2012 scientific review of 14 studies found links between physical activity and school performance, including strong correlations in two of the studies.
That kind of scientific evidence is also a driving force behind Georgia SHAPE, Gov. Nathan Deal's statewide initiative to combat childhood obesity. The initiative's newest program, Power Up for 30, aims to help schools add 30 extra minutes of physical activity for elementary school students, whether it's before, during or after school hours.
Fitzgerald said getting kids moving is one crucial change Georgia must make to keep childhood obesity numbers on the decline in the state.
"The data are clear and the message cannot be ignored: We must get our children moving more during the school day," Fitzgerald said. "Increased physical activity means higher test scores, increased attention in class and a healthier student population."
GoNoodle is available for free from the program's website, www.gonoodle.com. Teachers can create an account and play any of the games on a projector or interactive white board.