A Montreal-area elementary school has seen a dramatic drop in behavioural issues and attention problems since it implemented a program called Club Energy. Designed by Grade 3-6 teachers at Forest Hill Senior Elementary, an English public school in St. Lazare, the program allows kids who are having trouble focusing in class to ask for an ‘energy break.’
Kids take a timer and can go alone or with a friend to one of a dozen or so ‘stations’ in the halls, where they have five or 10 minutes to play a quiet game of catch, read a book while pedalling on an exercise bike, or jump on a mini trampoline. Kids are responsible for playing quietly, cleaning up after their break, and returning to class on time.
It’s a simple idea that has made a big difference for both students and staff. Principal Sylvie Monette said after implementing the program, students reported feeling more trusted, less anxious and found it easier to focus. Instead of sending kids to the principal’s office for being disruptive in class, teachers now suggest an energy break.
“We started to see the benefit of Club Energy really fast,” Monette said. “Kids don’t act out because they know if they need a break, they can have one.”
Forest Hill teachers have also redesigned their classrooms to encourage movement. Most classrooms now have a variety of seating, including tall stools, bean bags, and mats, along with traditional desks. As much as possible, children are encouraged to do their work wherever they feel comfortable: sitting, standing, pedalling an exercise bike or even lying down on a yoga mat on the floor.
“Children are not meant to sit still,” said Grade 4 teacher Angela Davison. “Not all kids want to sit at a desk all day long — I don’t want to sit at a desk all day long”
Since implementing the program, Davison says the children seem happier, more productive and are able to concentrate better when they are asked to focus.
This year, the program has been rolled out at the junior campus (K to Grade 2) and early indications are that it’s working there too. Principal Jennifer Bray Le Gallais worked with the Home & School Association and advisors from the senior school to adapt the program to young kids.
For example, they added a station for kindergarteners with a Lego wall, train table and giant building blocks. Other energy stations include a giant white board ‘doodle wall,’ exercise bikes, items for juggling, and a plush monster-themed bowling game.
Bray Le Gallais said the program fits in with recent research pointing to the dangers of sitting too long, the benefit of movement on learning, and trends in education encouraging teachers to do more to adapt classrooms to accommodate children of all abilities, needs and learning styles.
“It does help, tremendously,” Bray Le Gallais said. “Kids can run off energy or just have a change of pace.”
Both the junior and senior campuses are also integrating iPads and Chromebooks into teaching, and looking beyond pen-and-paper tests to evaluate learning. By changing the physical environment to be more child friendly and training teachers to provide learning material in engaging, non-traditional ways, Forest Hill hopes to remove barriers to learning for kids with attention disorders or learning challenges, while also making school more enjoyable for everyone.
While some teachers had already intuitively incorporated some of these ideas into their classrooms, all teachers are being offered training and funding from administration and Home & School to create school-wide change. “We want kids to have choices in the way they receive information, and how they show us what they know,” Bray Le Gallais said.
At the end of our tour of the junior school, we passed by two kindergarten boys playing catch with Velcro mitts. Just like the big kids at the senior school, the boys were careful to keep their voices down, and moved out of the way when teachers or children passed by in the hall. As we approached, the timer went off. The boys stopped right away, sprang up to put the ball and mitts neatly back in a bin and returned quietly to class, smiling.