Artwork on the walls, students sitting in desks while a teacher reads aloud, it looks like a regular elementary classroom. At one side of the classroom, however, a student is furiously pedalling on a stationary bike. A bike may seem out of place in the classroom, but not for elementary students in Albert County.
In December 2015, both Riverside Consolidated and Hillsborough Elementary acquired stationary bikes with the support of the Bennett and Albert County Health Care (BACH) Foundation Inc.
Since the bikes arrived in December, classrooms are actually quieter than they were before. Students take turns riding the bikes for five minutes at a time. The result is greater focus on the lessons and less disruptive behaviour.
All the students in these classrooms can ride the bikes. At times, teachers suggest a bike ride when they see a student is fidgeting or looking distracted. At other times, students ask to use the bike when they are feeling agitated, stressed or restless.
“I like riding the bike when I’m feeling frustrated,” says a girl in Grade 3. “It makes me feel calm.”
Susan Wilmot, Principal of Hillsborough Elementary, describes how the students work on clipboards while on the bikes. She hopes to integrate a desk-like platform on the handlebars to further facilitate classroom work.
Principal Snider tried out one of the bikes (the adult-sized one) during a meeting for school administrators. He was surprised to realize that the meeting wasn’t disrupted when people took their turns on the bikes. Granted, not just any stationary bike would work in the classroom. These bikes are silent and sturdy enough to handle a lot of use. They are produced by Sparks Fly, a program of Run for Life, a not-for profit organization.
Snider, who is also a Physical Education teacher, appreciates how exercise can enhance learning and mental health. He was convinced that the bikes would be a valuable addition to his school but, unfortunately, the bikes are expensive. That’s where BACH comes in. The Bennett and Albert County Health Care (BACH) Foundation purchased two bikes for Riverside Consolidated and two for Hillsborough Elementary.
At Hillsborough, a teacher new to the school recommended the bikes. Gloria Trail, who teaches Grade 3, had positive experience with bikes in the classroom when she joined the staff at Hillsborough Elementary in September 2015. The school borrowed a bike and soon teachers, students, the guidance councillor and administrators were convinced that the bikes would be an asset in their classrooms.
Principal Wilmot says just five minutes of physical exercise can help stimulate brain functions and sharpen focus. There may also be long-lasting effects as students learn how to ‘self-regulate’ their behaviour. The goal is for students to become more aware of their mental, emotional and physical state, and then learn to develop coping mechanisms.
“The students learn to listen to their bodies,” she explains. “When they realize they are becoming stressed, they stop and focus on their breathing. They might go into the ‘calming corner’ or take a turn on the bike.”
“We don’t want to return to the classrooms where students were expected to sit still for hours,” Wilmot says, “because we know some students can’t do that.”
“Sometimes,” she concludes, “children just need to move.”
By Janet Wallace, freelance writer and coordinator of Connecting Albert County. www.JanetWallace.ca