How you can add movement to your kids' day for healthier remote learning

Dr. Lynn Pantuosco-Hensch, Westfield State University
Spooner boards are a fun alternative for a standing and moving station. These boards are intended for indoor and outdoor play – making them a great option for movement breaks.

For years, I have researched the importance of movement in the classroom. Previously, I shared movement suggestions for parents and teachers. Whether students sit on a Hokki Stool, pedal a Deskcycle or get up for a movement break – research shows that many students benefit from movement in the classroom.

Now that COVID-19 has turned our homes into schools, moving while learning is more important than ever. The excessive sitting and screen time at home are concerning. Many kids struggle to remain motivated and focused on remote learning. Therefore, I’ve adapted my classroom movement strategies for use at home.

At our house, my husband and I are working from home while our children are remote learning. Our four sons range from first to eighth grade. Each child has their own unique work space set up with healthier options for sitting, standing and screen time. The new year is an opportune time to customize the work spaces for your family too. I’ll share some of my favorite movement tools, practical tips and shopping links (yes, Amazon owes me a kick back!).

Sitting

Balance discs are an affordable option to use on any traditional chair. Some discs have both a smooth side and a sensory side.

Sitting is necessary for students for some of the day. Forms of active sitting are best for health and wellbeing. Ideally, alternative seating can be used to build core strength, stability and allow for some wiggling while seated. Some options allow for more lower body movement and even a cardiovascular boost.

· Balance discs are an affordable option to use on any traditional chair. Some discs have both a smooth side and a sensory side. Air pressure can easily be adjusted for body size and comfort. The discs encourage better posture and sitting position, while providing an opportunity to move. For instance, we have a balance disc on each of our dining room chairs.

Students report an increase in focus, engagement and learning sitting on a Hokki stool as opposed to a traditional desk chair.

· Hokki stools come in a variety of sizes and colors. The stools have rounded bases, which allow for subtle movement, without tipping. Sitting on a backless stool requires students to maintain posture and engage their core. My research with college students shows that sitting on a Hokki stool is beneficial compared with a traditional desk chair. Students report an increase in focus, engagement and learning. My middle school children especially like our Hokki stools.

· Physio-ball chairs are available as stand alone balls or with back supported options. We have a kids balance ball chair that is a crowd favorite at our house. The balance ball chair promotes healthy posture, improves balance and core strength.

· Bungee cords or Bouncybands can be used between the front legs of chairs (or the legs of a desk) as a wiggle bar. Bungee cords are a low cost way to provide students with a movement outlet while seated. Students can bounce their feet on the bungee cord to expend energy, improve blood flow and increase oxygen to the brain. Bouncybands offer a few other products designed to promote active sitting. A Clemson University study supports the benefits of Bouncybands. Bands or bungees are recommended for children with any attention deficit needs or off task behaviors.

· Deskcycles are my favorite movement tool to invest in. My research with elementary and college students also supports the use of Deskcycles to increase focus, engagement and learning. Deskcycles are quiet, portable and fit easily under a desk or table. The tension dial allows for a range of intensity levels. Deskcycles give students a way to move vigorously while learning. My elementary school children and I use our Deskcycles daily. Deskcycles are a great option for older students and parents, as well.

Standing

Desktop laptop stands are useful depending on the height and configuration of the desk space.

The act of standing over sitting burns more calories and equates to more Metabolic Equivalents (METs) per hour, per day. Standing also increases blood flow, oxygen uptake, and muscular fitness. Work spaces can be modified for standing stations.

· Standing desks are available in a wide range of styles and price points, many of which are expensive. Standing desks have gained popularity in classrooms. At home, we use a multi-purpose laptop stand which is a more affordable choice. It is a space saving option that adjusts to the size and space of the user. My children periodically stand while on Zoom or Google Meet to help maintain attention and alertness.

· Desktop laptop stands are useful depending on the height and configuration of the desk space. These low profile, reasonably priced stands lift a laptop or Chromebook up to various heights to accommodate standing. I find this tool helpful for teaching online. The stand enables me to keep my screen at eye level so I can stand and speak as I normally would in an actual classroom. Standing also reduces the “Zoom fatigue” I feel after a few hours online. My children borrow this stand to put on their standard height desks and pair it with a Hokki stool.

· Spooner boards are a fun alternative for a standing and moving station. These boards are intended for indoor and outdoor play – making them a great option for movement breaks. Students can also stand, balance, and shift weight on these boards while at a work station. The Spooner boards develop core strength and balance. Using a Spooner board during synchronous learning may be an adjustment, depending on each student’s age and stage. Our new Spooner board is already in high demand at our house.

· Bosu balls are a versatile option, albeit at a higher price point. Parents may be familiar with Bosu balls (or a generic alternative) from the gym. Families who enjoy exercise, may want to utilize these half exercise balls as another standing work station option. Similar to the Spooner board, the Bosu balls make for great movement breaks. Students can stand, stabilize, and shift weight on a Bosu ball while at a desk or in front of a screen. Our whole family uses our Bosu ball for exercise and occasionally at our work stations.

Healthier Screen Time

Increased movement and reduced sedentary behavior are valuable at school and at home. Research findings reinforce the benefits of moving while learning. Hopefully, families can use some of the tools presented here to increase the movement options at their home work stations.

Another critical aspect of remote learning is reducing the health risks associated with excessive screen time. While I am not an expert on the effects of screen time, like most parents, I am well aware of the potential concerns. For more information try Screenwise.

At our house, we try to reduce exposure to Electro-Magnetic Field radiation (EMFs). Some of the products we use are EMF reducing head phones and protective laptop sleeves/cases. To learn more about specific products try https://www.defendershield.com/ and https://techwellness.com.

Another healthy addition to our remote learning routine are blue light blocking glasses. I started using these glasses years ago to reduce the eye fatigue and headaches associated with lengthy screen time. More recently, we outfitted each of our children with their own pair of blue light blocking glasses. It took some convincing for my children to wear their new glasses during synchronous online lessons. However, my children are more comfortable wearing their glasses during asynchronous screen time. Early anecdotal reports from my family are encouraging. For long-term benefits, I defer to the eye doctors.

Add Movement for Healthier Remote Learning

The extent of our remote learning at home, greatly depends on our state and school systems over the coming weeks. While I am very hopeful our children will be back in school, the adjustment to remote learning remains necessary for now. Adding movement to remote learning routines has potential to improve students’ mental, emotional and physical health. Parents can use these tools and tips to customize the home learning environment for each of their children.

Dr. Lynn Pantuosco-Hensch is an Associate Professor at Westfield State University in the Movement Science Department. She is also a licensed soccer coach with the United Soccer Coaches.