The Walking Classroom
Mark Katz, PhD
“A bout of exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.”
—John Ratey, MD
Experts say that regular exercise can significantly improve the lives of individuals affected by ADHD, including school-age children. As a result, many schools across the United States are incorporating exercise into a typical school day.
One former fifth grade teacher took this a step further, however. She figured out a way to couple daily physical exercise with a structured school lesson plan, with students learning new material and getting exercise at the same time. Known as The Walking Classroom, the program is the brainchild of Laura Fenn, MSEd, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
How the program works
As part of their school day, students listen to educational podcasts while taking brisk walks around the campus. The podcasts align with state standards, so the children gain important knowledge related to educational objectives. They are walking, listening, and learning at the same time.
According to Fenn, the program was an instant success on many levels. Student achievement scores, for example, improved by the end of the school year, with struggling students showing the most noticeable gains. Physical exercise was successfully incorporated into a child’s school day without sacrificing instructional time—and the children enjoyed participating in the daily activity. No wonder that since the inception of the program in 2011, thousands of schools across the United States have adopted The Walking Classroom.
Other program features
Students in grades three through eight engage in daily brisk walks roughly twenty minutes in length. The wide-ranging podcast topics include (but are not limited to) English language arts, social studies, and science. All the podcast lessons are child-friendly and come preloaded onto student audio players, referred to as “WalkKits.” The program also offers a mobile app for either Android or Apple devices, where students can listen to the same lessons.
A brief health literacy message accompanies each lesson. Teachers receive their own educator guides with lesson plans corresponding to each podcast, as well as discussion ideas and quizzes. The WalkKit audio players can be shared with other classes and reused from year to year. The Walking Classroom can also be incorporated into after-school programs, summer programs, and other educational settings.
Research conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows the Walking Classroom’s positive impact on student learning, classroom engagement, and overall mood enhancement.
Now a program of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, The Walking Classroom can serve as a universal prevention practice where all children can benefit from participation, not just children with special needs. This eliminates the worry about stigmatizing a child who might be singled out for a particular school-based intervention.
As we learn more about the potential benefits that children with ADHD can derive from daily physical exercise, what this program offers certainly matches up very well with their needs.