I am a fidgety person. I cannot sit still. And when seated, I love shaking my leg and it drives my wife crazy. Motion has a calming effect on me. It helps me concentrate. I especially need to do something with my hands. I remember in middle school all my friends (three Asian guys) would twirl their writing devices around their thumb. They would sit there listening to the teacher and spend the entire class session twirling their pens. I was always bitter I wasn't coordinated enough to do it.
My sixth grade teacher, Ms. Delbridge, let me entertain myself with modeling clay during her class. I would make tanks and alien creatures. She allowed it because she knew I was listening. Every now and then, I would pause to ask or answer a question and then go back to molding my gray block. I never had a problem staying engaged in that class - both because of the content and because of the creative freedom she gave me.
Fast forward almost twenty years. My former company sends me to a $3000 five-day facilitation class. It is the best professional education course I've ever taken. At the beginning of the first day, the instructor tells us: 1) The play-doh in front of you can be used at any time and you'll be amazed at the masterpieces former students have created by the end of the week 2) You may get up at any time to walk around, stretch, or jump if it helps you stay focused.
This instructor got it. It's not just kids who need to move or do something with their hands in order to learn. Adults need motion too. Perhaps it is because movement is deeply embedded in the learning process. After all, most men are kinesthetic learners. We appreciate hands-on activities and we love to create things with our hands. That's what tinkering and DIY home improvement projects are about.
Movement helps improve attention span and memory. In the 2006 movie, Akeelah and the Bee, Akeelah, an African American girl, competes in spelling bees. She learns that jumping rope while spelling words helps her to remember them. For every skip, she spells a letter. The rhythm and motion etch each letter into her consciousness.
This affects how we approach education, especially for boys. I worked with a group of home schooled boys last year and made them do push-ups, burpees, and other exercises while reciting grammar. I'm not sure if the movement helped them retain the material but the movement calmed them (sort of). Recognizing my need for motion has changed my behavior. I no longer feel embarrassed about pacing around during meetings. I still play with LEGOs. I go for a stroll or a bike ride when I'm struggling with writer's block.
There's a saying in orthopedics that motion is lotion for the joints. Exercise aids the body in creating synovial fluid to fight conditions such as osteoarthritis and back and joint pain. But movement benefits the mind as well as the body. So get up. Move around. Go for a walk. Twirl your pen. Run and jump. Loop your key chain. Motion is indeed lotion - for the brain.