Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fighting Childhood Obesity With ... Fidgeting

Mayo clinic researcher Dr James Levine has come up with what I think is a brilliantly clever strategy for fighting childhood obesity - designing an experimental classroom in Rochester, MN to take advantage of a child's seemingly "natural state" of fidgeting. Standard desks and chairs have been replaced by adjustable podiums that allow kids to stand, kneel, or balance on big excercise balls. And instead of constantly being told by teachers to sit still, the students are encouraged to move around if they feel the urge.

The data still aren't all in, but the observations of teachers and administrators are very encouraging thus far. And there appears to be an added benefit - these "free-to-fidget" students appear to actually be more focused than their desk-bound peers.

While this might be surprising to some, it makes sense if you think about it in terms of human history. The reason being allowed to fidget helps a child's focus is probably similar to why daylighting and natural views are prefered by (and, as studies suggest, increase the performance of) students (and people in general) within the built environment.

Prior to and after the advent of modern humans, between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens and their ancestors learned by "doing" out on a landscape illuminated primarily by the sun (and not rigidly confined to a sitting position). This did not begin to change until after the advent of urbanization between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago, and it has only been since the late 19th century that the use of "desk learning" and electric lighting have become the norm.

As such, general human physiologies and psychologies require a certain degree of movement for fitness, and are well adapted for operating within view of the natural environment and making use of daylighting (and therefore less well adapted to long periods of confinement, artificial lighting [particularly electric lighting], and being visually disconnected from natural views). And therefore what we typically have are classroom settings (as well as office settings) that work against the evolutonary history of our species. Food for thought for all those associated with education and the built environment.

No comments: