On most mornings in the kindergarten through third-grade building in Armstrong School District, more than 100 children can be found walking around a track.
Between breakfast being served at the school and the morning bell signaling the start of the day, children spend about 15 to 20 minutes firing up their neurons by walking around a course in the school gymnasium. The Armstrong School District Walking Club was started about three years ago as a way for students to start the day with a stimulated mind and body. Multiple studies have shown the brain benefits from aerobic exercise, and that idea is something the Armstrong faculty has embraced.
“This is a way to get kids moving at the beginning of the day,” says Devin Lorigan, a physical education teacher and health and wellness coordinator for the school district. “They walk and talk and get their brains working.”
So called “brain breaks” have become popular in schools across the U.S. Armstrong’s first- through third-grade students participate in the walk one day per week. Because of the size of the school, Lorigan says about 110 children, on average, from each grade level are walking at any given time. The numbers tend to ebb and flow a bit depending on when buses arrive with students in the morning, but typically it’s a big crowd.
Students report to the gymnasium and trek around a course marked out with orange cones. Music accompanies them as they move around the course by themselves or clustered in groups. The students are encouraged to walk the course wearing their backpacks or carrying their books in order to add some extra resistance to the walk, Lorigan says.
The youths are encouraged to maintain comfortable paces. Some walk faster than others, but Lorigan says the tide of bodies keeps moving. The music also seems to determine the flow. The type of music played during the walking period is fairly fast-paced, and students typically match their walking pace to the beat of the songs, adds Lorigan, a 16-year teaching veteran.
“There’s no running,” he says. “The kids walk and talk. It’s a fairly controlled event. The kids know their expectations and don’t get too out of control. We aimed to get the kids active in an organized manner. It’s part of our way of fighting obesity.”
Although students are in constant movement during the walk, Lorigan says the schools do not take any measurements of how far the students walked or what kind of pace they maintain during the walking sessions. Nor have they attempted to measure what kind of effect the morning exercise has had on students' brain activity. One thing they do know, though, is that the students look forward to their time to walk.
“When they see the space opened up for the walk the students are always excited,” he says. “They really seem to enjoy it.”
For many of the students the walk is one of their few chances each week to have some sustained exercise. Lorigan says most of the students only get one physical education class each week.
“This gives them a chance to get their bodies moving,” she says.
The walk and single PE class are not the only opportunities that the school administration provides for students to get some exercise. Every day when morning announcements are finished, Lorigan leads the school in a few minutes of stretching exercises and marching in place over the public address system. She says the school administration wants to do what it can to battle the obesity epidemic in the U.S.
“We look for any way we can to increase their activity every day,” Lorigan says.