Kinetic Combo: Students Find Reading Cadence

Susan Mesta seems to find a calming effect in pedaling

Clark VanDop was engrossed in a book about poisonous animals called “That’s Deadly.” But while his brain was soaking up information about creepy critters, his legs were busy pumping bike pedals.

He preferred the kinetic combo to the normal reading routine.

“Usually you’re just sitting,” Clark said, still pumping. “But with the pedalers, you can read and have exercise at the same time. I like that.”

Nixon Bosma, a skateboarding fan, said pedaling gives him a good physical outlet in class

So do a lot of other students in Aelise Goller’s third-grade class at Zinser Elementary School. Since late November they’vebeen pedaling while they work, thanks to the 25 portable pedals Goller purchased with an $800 grant from the Kenowa Hills Education Foundation. Fellow Zinser second-grade teacher Julie Hughes also bought pedals for her students with a $640 grant.

The idea is that students can concentrate better on academics if they’re burning off excess energy. Research supports the theory that physical activity enhances mental focus in the classroom.

“They are much more focused when it’s time for them to sit and listen,” Goller said. “When they’re reading, they will sit there a lot longer and it just helps keep their attention a little better.”

But don’t take her word for it. Several of her students said pedaling helps them to read and write — even though they have to push back from their desks to have enough room to do it.

“They help me stay focused, so I pay attention,” said Madison Riley. Agreed Ella Thayer, “I like it because it makes me concentrate when I’m writing.”

Funding Innovative Teaching
The Kenowa Hills Education Foundation awarded about $10,150 in grants to 19 Kenowa Hills teachers for innovative projects. Some examples:

  • More than $1,400 to purchase ukuleles to help students at Central Elementary learn music. A grant for those instruments was awarded last year for students at Zinser and Alpine Elementary Schools.
  • $400 to supply 11th-grade classroom libraries with books of high interest to students, which they can read by choice as part of a program to stimulate interest in reading and combat “aliteracy” – a lack of reading experience among high school graduates.
  • Grants of $200 and $600 to continue and expand the knitting and yoga projects at Central Elementary, which teachers have found calms students and increases their focus on academics.
  • $682 to Alpine Elementary to improve students’ physical education classes with new gym balls and other equipment.
  • $500 to the Middle School Social Studies department to host the school’s first Geography Bee. Students are taking practice quizzes online to prepare for the school- and statewide bee.

Source: Kenowa Hills Education Foundation

Staying in Their Seats

Goller and Hughes turned to the KHEF for funding after learning of other teachers who had had success using pedals with their students. While theirs are portable models bought on Amazon for about $35 each. Other, more expensive versions are built right into students’ desks. Pedal desks made by KidsFit can accommodate up to six students.

Advocates say the exercise stimulates students’ brains and benefits their bodies while providing a harmless outlet for restless fidgeting. That’s particularly helpful at this time of year, keeping kids active when it’s too cold for recess.

Goller and Hughes both tried out one set of pedals in their classrooms last fall. Students loved them, so in went the grant applications – which the teachers were grateful to have approved.

Each student has a pair of pedals they can use if they want, either at their desks or next to a chair. It might sound like a recipe for chaos, but it’s quite the opposite, the teachers say.

“They have helped some of my students who need to move while they learn or sit at their desks,” Hughes said. “I’ve seen a reduction in random bathroom breaks and students being distracted by things at their desks.”

Although she thought her more hyper students would use them the most, Hughes said some of her most active pedal-pushers are calm and quiet kids.

Students can pedal whenever they want – or not. Once or twice Goller has asked speed-pedaling students to stop, but in general it’s not been disruptive or distracting, she said. In fact, it makes students less prone to wandering, she said.

“It gives them the outlet to be able to move while staying put, and that’s important for them,” Goller said. “This way they are getting some of their energy out. They’re not jumping out of their seats.”

Boundless Energy, Meet Your Match

For sure, said Nixon Bosma, who was dressed in a skateboarding T-shirt: “It gets my energy out when I want to run or something.” He noted he can adjust the tension of the pedals, depending on how much energy he needs to get out.

“When I feel like I’ve got to run, I just, like, jog under my desk,” added Maya Haynes. “It helps me exercise and it feels good, too.”

Watching the class pedal away during reading time, it’s clear many of them find it soothing and calming, helping their minds follow the story lines of their books.

“You can just slide your feet in, get comfortable and start reading,” explained Aaron Razmus. “You just feel relaxed.”

Some, like Addison Baseman, prefer to go pedal-less, but say they don’t mind others using them. As for what other students think of them, Addison said, “Friends are like, ‘What are these? They’re so weird.’”

Chimed in Maya Haynes, “We say, ‘They’re so fun though!’”

CONNECT

Pedals Under Desks Help Children Learn

KidsFit pedal desks

Kenowa Hills Education Foundation

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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