BUILDING CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING USING EXERCISE

When you search “teaching cultural understanding in the classroom”, you get a laundry list of thoughts and suggestions. A lot of them are great, and I personally love Matthew Lynch’s article, Promoting Respect for Cultural Diversity in the Classroom. As I continued to search and pass by the posters, lists, and tips, it became evident that one major way of connecting kids to different cultures was missing: immersion. Yes, ideally we would take a trip, but that’s unrealistic for the majority of schools. What if you could immerse the kids in a culture in the classroom? How can you get kids to involve oneself deeply in a particular activity or interest? EXERCISE.

Take Makru, the West African dance know for its fast tempo.

If kids can learn about West African culture by first dancing to Makru, would they learn more? Pay attention for longer? Understand why it is vital to their society? Feel more connected? Have more questions?

For myself and Fitbound, the answer is YES.

EXPERIENCE THROUGH MOVING

If kids exercise before learning, they maximize their capacity to learn. Various studies have found that students who participate in exercise before or during class outperform students who did not participate in exercise. It’s a no brainier to implement exercise into the day to teach subjects that have real world implications. Exercise can help shake up the way one teaches a lesson and allows kids who are visual learners or those who learn by doing to experience a subject in their optimal form before sitting down to have a conversation.

REDUCE THE NERVES

According to John Ratey, “Exercise provides distraction, reduces muscle tension, builds brain resources, teaches a different outcome, reroutes brain circuitry, improves resilience, and ultimately sets you and your brain free from anxiety or stress.” When learning about a new topic or a sensitive topic, complex family dynamics can come into play, kids can become nervous that it’s different than what they know, or they just don’t want to look foolish when discussing a subject that is foreign to them. Exercise can combat all of this! Why not set the classroom environment up for success from the start and get kids in the right mindset to learn and be accepting of information.

AUTONOMY IS KING

When kids believe that they control the direction of the path they are taking, even if it’s for 10 minutes, the engagement factor skyrockets. Now, imagine if kids learn from each other around the world, immersing in another culture inside their classroom using exercise. Engagement skyrockets and they also have a purpose and a mission to present themselves, their culture, their beliefs to others and explain why it’s important to them.

The simple answer is every child should move throughout the day to enhance cognitive function and increase fitness habits. The more complex reasoning is that when kids are active they are able to ask more questions, concentrate better, and be more open because of stress reduction. If kid’s are creating the content that we are exercising to and driving the way we connect with one another around the world, they will grow up with a more open world view which is paramount to combating all the negative viewpoints that have become prevalent today.