Browsing through the website of The Early Years Alliance, I came upon a piece by UK-based music and movement specialist, Helen Batteley (https://www.eyalliance.org.uk/music-and-movement-encouraging-physical-activity). She was advocating for ‘No Chair Day’, an initiative to provoke teachers to think about the importance of physical activity for children and about alternatives to sitting in classrooms. The simplicity of the campaign appealed to me and I floated the idea to the Junior School staff. To my great pleasure, many took up the challenge, pitching the idea to their students and brainstorming ways learning could be re-designed without the need for sitting.
The amount of time children spend indoors and sitting actually scares me. At such a crucial time in their physical development, young people the world over are sitting at desks and spending enormous amounts of time engaged in sedentary activities. Picture a classroom - where children spend, on average, 6-7 hours - and you think of a room with 4 walls, desks, chairs and a whiteboard/chalkboard as the focal point. Hardly any time is given over for children to refine the gross and fine motor skills needed for healthy development. ADHD diagnosis rates are at an all-time high and the ability to sit still and listen seems to be the mark of a good learner.
At our school the classrooms are actually very dynamic with plenty of choice for children in where and how they learn but, on the whole, the majority of the time students are, indeed, seated. Many also have a bus journey of at least an hour or more each way so that’s another 2-3 hours sat down, inactive. We have been focused on learning through play and outdoor learning this year so many teachers embraced No Chair Day immediately; and they did so in consultation with their students. I put together a display for our staff room with some facts and figures about the importance of physical activity, challenging our teachers to think deeply about how we can boost the amount of daily movement our children experience.
|Staff Room Display on Physical Activity|
No Chair Day is really an invitation or an incentive to re-design the whole approach to learning and teaching. It isn’t about removing the tables and chairs from the classroom for a single day and sitting in the floor instead. It provokes us to think about how the whole body can be involved in the learning process and how physical growth and development must become a priority in the holistic education of young people.
It has been really satisfying to support a fellow educator’s campaign and I really hope it gains traction. There are some encouraging initiatives at the state-level which give hope that things are changing. One is the Singapore government’s campaign to raise awareness of the link between spending too much time indoors and increased risk of myopia. Another is the mandate by the Finnish government stating that for every hour spent in the classroom, children must have 15 minutes of break-time. Grassroots level campaigns like Helen’s are perhaps where the effect can be biggest as they force educators to re-think the design of the learning spaces and pedagogical approach. I wish her all the best and will continue to reflect on ways to implement No Chair Day with our young learners.