Children learn math best when they are engaged in physical activity and movement, finds a recent study by the University ofCopenhagen.
The study was conducted over the span of six weeks, with 165 first-grade children from three different Danish schools serving as the participants. The children were selected by how similar their demographic profiles were, as well as their grade-based performance in school. The children were then separated into three groups: “gross motor math,” “fine motor math” and “control.”
Each group focused on a different style of applied teaching method. The gross motor math group used gross motor movements in various learning activities to better teach mathematical concepts. Movements in this group included balancing on one leg, crawling, hopscotching, skipping and throwing. The movements were employed in conjunction with math lessons lasting around 60 minutes.
The fine motor math group instead used fine motor skills while learning. This involved the participants moving and placing Lego bricks throughout their math lessons to support whatever concept that was being taught. Children primarily sat at their desks to complete these exercises, which, like the lessons in the gross motor movement group, lasted for about 60 minutes.
The control group of children used conventional learning techniques and was instructed by researchers to not utilize any additional motor activity or exercises during the lessons.
Children were tested for mathematical ability directly before the study, during the study and eight weeks after the study’s completion. Tests on the children’s mathematical ability, as well as their cognitive and motor functions, were all conducted by the team of researchers.
Researchers found that the gross motor movement group performed better in mathematical tests after the six-week period than the fine motor movement or control groups. Children in the gross motor movement group improved their math scores by 7.6 percent, twice as much as the fine motor movement group.
However, these positive results were only seen in “normal” performers—children who were underperforming in school at the study’s outset did not benefit from increased physical activity during instruction.
From this data, the researchers asserted that instruction in schools needs to not only be more physically interactive, but more individualized.
“We need to keep this in mind when developing new forms of instruction,” said Jacob Wienecke, an author of the study. “The new school reform focuses on, among other things, the incorporation of physical activity during the school day, with the aim of improving the motivation, well-being and learning of all children. However, individual understanding must be taken into account. Otherwise, we risk an unfortunate combined outcome in which those who are already proficient advance, and those who have not yet mastered concepts cannot keep up.”
The researchers indicated in their conclusion of the study that although their findings were positive, more research on movement and activity as a learning tool would need to be done before stating its benefit as a complete fact. They recommended studying the differences between individual children’s learning styles as the next step in discovering more about this topic.