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Putting the stand back in understanding

Can a new classroom design help kids keep fit while learning?

By Carol Lloyd

Some classrooms are approaching the problem of childhood inactivity from a decidedly new angle. Instead of putting children through their paces in gym class or packing evenings with organized sports, some educators are testing the idea of building natural movement directly into the learning environment. In Minnesota kids in “active classrooms” sit on physio balls instead of chairs and use desks that can be adjusted for standing as well as sitting. Another research project on standing desks began in 2010 in Idaho Falls with the Idaho National Laboratory.

Based on the ideas of Mayo Clinic researcher James Levine, these classrooms take advantage of the power of non-exercise activity thermogenesis, aka NEAT. According to Levine, NEAT is the primary means we expend energy (even for devout gym rats) and a great way to get kids to be more active. Check out this slide show.

In one 2009 study, researchers measured children's energy expenditures and academic performance in an active classroom (principal researcher Beth Lewis at the University of Minnesota has not yet released the results). Although the data on calorie burning and test scores is still pending, Marine Elementary principal Lynn Bormann, whose school in Marine on St. Croix, Minn., has implemented active classrooms, told the New York Times that she’s already seeing positive results in terms of fewer sick days and referrals to the office.

is the executive editor of GreatSchools and mother to two raucous daughters, ages 9 and 13.

Comments from readers

"We need to consider the cause and effect of our solutions before we infring them upon the next generation. Hasty solutions without the thoughtful consideration of long term effects has caused us to poison generations of American's with harmful pesticides and chemicals in our food. It doesn't take a genius to feel the effects of our eyes and posture when hunched over a laptop for several hours. Standing for long periods of time can cause the protrusion of varicose veins. Really, Mayo Clinic this is your solution? "
"I've now seen it all. Is there no common sense out there? Classrooms of the future to combat obesity? How much is this foolishness going to cost? Put children back sitting at desks in neat rows and give them physical education and recess. These children are coddled and subject to every ridiculous experiment that comes down the pike, and nothing works. Billions of $$ are spent on education every year, and yet our children are becoming less educated every year. "
"Montessori schools allow students to move between each work assignment, which may be frequent. Students also may lie on the floor, sit on a rug, sit at a table, etc., while they do their work. Why we ignore this program, I don't know."