While it’s normal for children to occasionally become fidgety or inattentive, for those with attention deficit disorders, the need to move can severely impact their ability to focus, in turn hampering learning and interaction with others. That’s why an elementary school in Laval has introduced bicycle-desks into its classrooms.
Children with attention deficit disorders need to be constantly moving – whether it be chewing on a pencil or tapping on a desk – in order stay focused. It was while researching options that would allow students to move in class without distracting others that Mario Leroux, a remedial educationalist at Des Cèdres Elementary School, stumbled upon the exercise desks. The desks have already been implemented in a number of schools across the United States and their ability to impact learning has been lauded by many.
“I work with a lot of students who suffer from attention deficit disorders so I was looking for a way to incorporate something new into the classroom to facilitate their learning,” Leroux says. “Pedaling increases the level of oxygen to the brain to support better concentration.”
Even though the desks have only been in the school since May, Leroux says he already sees a huge difference. “What we’ve observed is that kids on the bikes are very attentive, they will sit and finish their work from start to finish,” he said.
Currently the school has four desks that it has put in the grade 4-5 classroom. In a class of about 20 students, approximately half will use the bike; students take turns pedalling for about 15-20 minutes during class time. Leroux stresses that the desks aren’t solely intended for those with attention deficit disorders, and that any student who feels stressed, anxious or wound up is encouraged to use them. “There are a lot of very smart children who just have problems performing,” Leroux says. “This desk is a tool that helps them reach their peak and become their best selves.”
Allion Elementary in LaSalle began a similar project in February. Each teacher has a pass they can give students that can be used for 10 minutes of “read and ride” time on one of six stationary bikes set up in front of the school office. The pass can be a reward for good behaviour or given to a student who needs a break from the classroom.
“My goal was to put action-based learning in motion and provide our students with an outlet to release bottled-up energy,” said Allion’s French resource teacher Pamela Anzovino, who spearheaded the project. “I want students to know that reading can be fun, anytime, anywhere.”
Tammy Gercom, a Grade 6 teacher at Westpark Elementary School in D.D.O., is trying a slightly different approach – she has two standing desks at the back of her classroom. In an interview with CBC, Gercom explained that the kids don’t need to ask permission – when they feel like they need a break, they can bring whatever they’re working on to one of the desks and continue what they were doing.
“It’s mainly the boys in my class [who use them],” she said. “When they are fed up of sitting down and they need to move, they’ll get up and go to the standing station.”
According to a study done at Ward Elementary School in North Carolina, which has been introducing bicycle-style desks for more than six years, students who spent more time on the bikes scored significantly higher on reading proficiency, an average of 83 per cent, over those who spent the least amount of time, who scored an average of 41 per cent.
Though the idea of exercise desks might seem a little outside the box, the results are not surprising given the already established correlation between physical activity and learning in school children. In 2010, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a report looking at nine studies that explored how the introduction of brief physical activities into classroom settings affected things like aptitude, attention, memory and mood. Eight of those studies turned up positive associations between exercise and academic achievement.
Research has shown that physical activity increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine emitted by neurotransmitters in the brain, which is similar to what ADHD medications do. Both chemicals are imperative to honing focus and attention.
“There are limited options for children with ADHD apart from medication, which is not right for everyone,” Leroux said. “I think all schools should introduce these bikes into their classrooms because there’s a need for it.”
Annick Brault, principal of Des Cèdres Elementary School, says while she thinks the bikes are a good idea and there is a need for them, there is no current plan to purchase more as they each cost approximately $1,000. The ones they currently own are thanks to a donation from the National Bank. The bikes are made in the U.S. by Kidsfit and according to one of its representatives, Savannah Tyler, the company has been inundated with orders from schools across Canada since the CBC reported about the bikes.
In 2012, Kidsfit began working with a team of brain research experts, educational consultants and classroom teachers to develop a new way for children to learn and interact in their classrooms. They came up with a line of kinesthetic desks and tables that allow children to be in motion while they learn.
Perhaps these desks represent the next big revolution in education – and not just for elementary schools – the University of Waterloo also installed a few stationary exercise desks this year.
For more information, visit youthfit.com.