Using the Whole Body Across the Curriculum: Tips & Strategies Subject by Subject
Whole-body learning can be integrated across the curriculum to engage students in subjects that are traditionally done pencil to paper. This has many benefits for students, such as increased attention, enthusiasm, and participation. As many educators know, learning is not just an intellectual process. Our emotions and bodies also have a huge impact on how we learn. Therefore, it is important to recognize that children need to experience the world through their cognitive, emotional, and physical selves to be able to understand the environment around them in a deeper way.
The Body As a “Thinking Tool”
When students consider their bodies as a “thinking tool”, they begin to see themselves as active participants in their learning. They spend less time sitting quietly at their desks and more time learning while moving. The body as a “thinking tool” enhances students’ ability to be creative, tap into their intuition and emotions, generate new ideas, make connections between concepts, and recall what they have learned for months or even years after the lesson has ended. In other words, the body becomes a vehicle (or “tool”) for learning that goes beyond cognitive processes alone.
Numerous research studies indicate that academic achievement and personal success is greatly enhanced when students are engaged in learning that is experiential. Hands-on and movement-integrated lessons are a powerful way in which experiences are created. Furthermore, teaching that involves the whole body means being able to accommodate the unique needs of every student in the class. For example, whole-body learning is beneficial for students who are self-guided, for those who need action to stay engaged, or even for students who are learning English as a second language and learn through mimicking.
Students who are encouraged to experience learning through “doing” have an enhanced mind-body connection where their cognitive, physical, mental and emotional needs are given equal importance for development. They also have a greater awareness of self, increased comfort in expressing how they feel, and confidence in taking the lead in their own learning. Whole-body learning is good teaching.
Whole-Body Learning Across The Curriculum
When whole-body learning is implemented across the curriculum, students are given the opportunity to explore concepts in new and exciting ways. Below is a list of examples that are broken down by subject to give you ideas of how to get started.
Using manipulatives and playing games are two ways that learning math can become more engaging for your students. Manipulatives allow students to have a hands-on, self-guided, and active approach to math where they develop skills such as spatial awareness, problem-solving, sorting, and ordering. Math games encourage students to get out of their seats and into their bodies, which enhances understanding and recall of concepts. Examples include creating a human grid for graphing, playing hopscotch for addition and subtraction, and designing obstacle courses for directionality.
Taking a field trip can also be beneficial for students to see how the skills they are learning in the classroom can be applied in the real world. This might include going to the grocery store as a class to give students the experience of seeing aspects of the financial literacy curriculum in action. Another field trip worth taking is a walk in nature where students can learn about geometry by looking for examples of symmetry, patterns, and shapes. Being outdoors also supports student’s overall health and well-being while having fun.
Science is a subject that requires exploration and participation to truly comprehend. Therefore, it is important for students to guide their own inquiries. What do they want to know? What do they find interesting about the topics being explored? How can they relate what they are learning to their own life? Taking students outside (or bringing elements of the outdoors inside) is an effective way to activate their senses and think deeply about the world around them. For example, consider bringing plants into the classroom or even planting seeds and watching them grow. Students can work in groups to examine, analyze, and reflect on aspects of the plant and its life cycle. In turn, students learn how to care for their plants so that the plants can thrive. Students can also plant a community garden from seed or go to a local park to study the vegetation.
Imagine exploring aspects of science through drama such as having students take on the role of electrons, neutrons, or protons to learn about atoms or demonstrate the cycles of the seasons through dance. Science also encourages students to build structures using a number of materials to determine an outcome. Ultimately, science is about trial and error, hypothesis and investigation, asking questions and seeking answers, analysis and the communication of results, and so much more. Hands-on, whole-body, and experiential lessons allow the science curriculum to come to life in ways that keep students engaged.
Social studies education helps students learn about the world they live in, which includes topics such as history, geography, culture, identity, government, economics. Students learn what it means to be a citizen and how they are intricately connected to their local, national, and global community. It is very important that students see themselves reflected in the social studies curriculum from what is taught and how it is taught, to lessons that are relevant to their lives and lived experiences.
Whole-body learning allows students to explore various aspects of the curriculum through teaching strategies such as role-play, games, and simulations. For example, students can learn about citizenship by getting into character as politicians, holding an election, or planning a peaceful protest for a cause. They can also recreate historical novels through role-play while acting out a different outcome. Charades is a simple game that can be played to help students learn about concepts, people, time, or places. Another activity is “four corners,” where each corner of the room has a label (strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). The teacher asks the class a question and the students move to a corner to indicate their answer. Whole-body learning in social studies helps students develop new perspectives, put themselves in the shoes of others, explore conflict, solve problems, investigate social issues, and develop communication skills among many other benefits.
Resources for you: Exploring Indigenous Perspectives Through Nature
Students often sit at their desks for long periods of time reading and writing, which is a significant aspect of the language arts curriculum. This can be very challenging for those who need to move frequently or struggle with literacy. One way to change things up in the classroom is by giving students choices as to how they would like to participate. For example, can they sit on the floor with their friends and read, read by themselves while listening to music, or even read while standing? Perhaps take students outside to read where some students can lie in the grass and others can walk the perimeter of the playground. In terms of writing, can students write while lying on the floor on their tummies, while bouncing on an exercise ball, or write on paper taped to a wall? Accommodations such as these can often help students focus and stay on task.
Other ways to enhance whole-body learning in the language arts classroom includes the use of games and the arts to get students out of their seats and into their bodies. For example, students can use role-play to show the relationship between characters in a story or create a tableau to demonstrate the conflict that occurred. Dance can be used to interpret and perform a poem or as a means to demonstrate the students’ emotional response to a news article. The arts are a particularly powerful means for exploring media literacy such as writing and performing commercials or public service announcements. The language arts curriculum can also be explored through a number of games and activities to help with spelling, storytelling, perspective taking, communication skills, and so forth.
Whole-body learning through the curriculum has endless possibilities for taking learning to the next level of fun. How have you engaged your students across the curriculum where the whole body is included? What are some activities that your students have loved? Share in the comments below.
Traci L. Scheepstra, Ph.D., is the CEO/Founder of Embodied Learnings. Read here to learn more about her work in education.
Samantha Murdoch-Rock, B.A., Embodied Learnings Director and Indigenous Education Lead. Want to know more about her work? Read here!