In late February over 40+ educators joined One Workplace and V/S America in our Oakland Active Learning Center for a presentation that focused on the importance of designing and renovating schools that will encourage movement through ergonomic furniture, facility and curriculum design. Dr. Dieter Breithecker, a German Health and Kinetics Scientist and Europe’s leading expert on school ergonomics lead the presentation. The objective behind hosting this event was for us to bring awareness and understanding as to why ergonomics is significant to productivity in both the workplace and in school
“Successful learning must engage the body, the mind, and the soul.” – Dr. Dieter Breithecker
Throughout the course of the presentation we practiced various exercises which enabled us to see the value in activity and not sitting for long periods of time. You have to integrate movement into your daily routines. “Standing isn’t a replacement for sitting.” Says Dr. Breithecker. The change from sitting to standing, to moving is what is most important in any work environment. In fact, research shows that today’s 10 year olds are the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, proving that physical movement is detrimental to our health and learning. We should not solely focus on the negative effects of lack of movement however. More important, are the positive effects of adding movement back into our lives. One study at a German elementary school resulted in increased math and reading scores for an active group of students over an inactive control group. Meaning that regular stimulation of the sensomotoric system is proven to be effective. The basic premise is that oxygen is nourishment for the brain. To increase oxygen you need to increase blood circulation, to increase blood circulation you need to increase muscle contractions and movement. By allowing students opportunities to transition frequently from sitting to standing, or to have free movement throughout the room ultimately helps makes them better and more engaged learners. When considering preferred amounts of student movement Dr. Briethecker’s recommendation is to allow for 4 hours sitting, 2 hours standing and 2 hours moving around throughout the day – in short increments.
Our senses have evolved to work together which means that we learn best if we stimulate several senses at once. We have to satisfy the entire sensory system. When you integrate all of your senses, learning happens more sustainably. Movement and physical stimulation are one important piece of that equation. An equation that not only factors intentional movement, but involuntary movements as well. Even fidgeting! Dr. Briethecker believes that we have to accept that fidgeting is an activity driven by the needs of the body. It is a subconscious and self-organized act intended to keep the body stimulated. “The objective for us is to make peace with fidgeting” and to take into account that keeping our body in motion – in all its forms – keeps our brains in motion.
Dr. Breithecker is the Director of the Active School Movement and the Director of the Federal Working Group on the Development of Posture and Exercise for the German Ministry of Health in Wiesbaden, Germany.