Pedaling to better grades? Hope for parents with energetic children


Let me preface this by saying I have an active 8-year-old son. His personality is spirited, tender-hearted, excitable, disputatious, emotionally sensitive, and cherub-like…when he’s asleep, and I wouldn’t change a hair on his head. Anyone raising boys with the kind of energy I am alluding to has probably experienced those moments of dread those first few weeks back to school. The wild and free days of summer are replaced too quickly with structure, lessons, worksheets, and sitting in your chair for hours a day. We’re lucky in that my son actually loves going to school but his ability to sit still is much like his inability to stay in position on the soccer field! We call it “squirrel” in our household (if you saw the movie Up you’ll get this).

“The most tiring thing you can ask a boy to do is sit down. It’s appropriate to expect kids to sit still for part of the day, but not all of the day.”  ~Joseph Tobin, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Arizona State University

As much as I love and value my son’s elementary school, it’s just not set up for boys like him. Boys tend to start slower with reading and writing, and are less socially mature and less verbal than girls. This was especially true for my son who received speech therapy for articulation between the ages of 2 and 5. So it’s not surprising that asking him to sit down and carefully write spelling words is received like torture. In third grade and only three weeks in, my son is incredibly critical of his handwriting. Sure he needs more practice, but there is something amiss when an 8-year-old views his struggle with writing as a personal character flaw.

Jane Katch, a Kindergarten teacher and author says “our demand for more and earlier skills, of exactly the type that boys are less able to master than girls, makes them feel like failures at an early age.” As a parent, I find this upsetting because I see this happening in certain areas with my son.

There may be a better way to channel young energy.

Last week I had my son complete his writing and math homework while sitting on the ball chair we have in our home office. I don’t know what prompted me to try that, but I’m happy I did. I left him alone so I could cook dinner and I was surprised that within 20 minutes he was done. No meltdowns, no panicked cries for help. He was also more responsive to receiving feedback about the math questions that were wrong. It wasn’t until I read this recent article, Pedal power boosts N Caroline pupils’ performance, that I realized there may be something to the movement that helped my son focus.

Image of middle school student pedaling in NC classroom

Paul Cory, Wake County Publich School System

Bethany Lambeth is a middle school math teacher in North Carolina who put bike pedals under her students’ desks. The article describes how her students would get restless from sitting for so long and that she was having trouble keeping her students still. Bethany was inspired by an article she read where bike pedals were used in primary school, so she put the pedals to use in her own classroom to see what would happen.

“I didn’t tell the students what they were for but just put them under the desks and said ‘see what you think of this’.”

Interestingly, as quickly as a week the students self-reported that they were able to focus more in class and were noticeably more engaged in discussion. Their test grades also improved when comparing scores from April (when the pedals were introduced) to the beginning of the school year. The school is hoping to buy more pedals for other classrooms.

Now obviously this should be repeated in multiple settings, and measured objectively to see if there is any statistical significance, but it seems to be a great way to blend the needs of an energetic child – both boys and girls – with the demands of a structured classroom. It also seems like a logical solution to help young bodies be more active throughout the day. Perhaps school and our educational approach are what need to change, and not the children who are fidgeting in the classroom. I think I’ll pitch this at my parent-teacher conference and see how it goes!

Hmmm…I wonder if bike pedals could improve employee performance and productivity. What do you think?

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