Meaningful movement – not just for P.E. classes anymore

By Barbara Gruener

Meaningful Movement

I love Will Rogers’ adage, “Even when you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” It’s funny, but it’s also very true. His point? Get moving!

Infusing meaningful movement into your students’ day is a ‘trrfcc’ way to connect with kids and increase productivity. Professor and author John Medina wrote all about it in his book Brain Rules. “Physical activity,” he claims, “is cognitive candy.” Because exercise boosts brainpower, students simply have to move to maximize their cognition.

After reading that exercise can actually trigger the tiny protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and act “like Miracle-Gro for the brain,” I started walking the track with the students who request counseling sessions. Because movement actually aids in executive functioning like concentration, impulse control, foresight, and problem solving, my students’ minds open up and possibilities become realities.

Dr. John Ratey, author of the book SPARK, puts it this way, “To improve our brains, we have to move our bodies. . . . Exercise, involving a series of complex movements while coordinating one’s balance, has been proven to generate a greater number of connections between neurons. These connections make it easier for children of all ages to learn.” That’s why I make it a practice to seal the deal on my guidance lessons with a song and a dance.

How might more movement motivate and impact your students?

The folks at Special Olympics have designed a cool campaign to engage kids and get them moving with their Get Into It curriculum. The free resource, available at, offers activities, videos, athlete stories, and supplemental materials to help teachers educate, motivate, and activate their students. Their lesson plans connect to state standards to provide critical curricular connections with a service-learning emphasis.

I’ve also used activities from the book Great Group Games For Kids: 150 Meaningful Activities for Any Setting by bestselling authors Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor. My students really connect with the game ideas provided in this valuable resource because they promote purposeful play and align with the Six Pillars of Character.

Here’s one game from the book that helps promote trustworthiness, respect, fairness, and caring. It’s posted at Search Institute’s website:

Balloon Stomp

Time:  10-15 minutes

Supplies:   a balloon for every person*, plus a few spare balloons, string, scissors

Prep: cut an 18-inch piece of string for each player

The Game: Let the children blow up the balloons and help them tie them.  Use the string pieces to tie a balloon to each child’s ankle. When the game leader says “go,” each player should try to stomp on the other player’s balloons while simultaneously guarding their own balloon from others. When a child’s balloon is popped, he should join the game leader on the sidelines to watch the fun. The last child with a full balloon wins!

Going Deeper:

  • Was it harder to stomp other balloons or keep your balloon safe?
  • What is something you want to protect and keep safe in your life? (Note:  prompt with ideas:  character, reputation, dreams, goals, self)
  • What can you do to protect yourself against being stomped on?
  • It’s easy to get a reputation for what you do. What are some “stomper” actions that don’t contribute to a good reputation (gossiping, bullying, etc.)?
  • What are some “protector” actions that do contribute to a good reputation (helping others, etc.)?
  • How can you achieve and keep a good reputation?
  • What can you do if you see someone else stomping on someone else’s character or even physically threatening them?

Asset Categories

Positive Identity, Boundaries and Expectations, Social Competencies , Empowerment

*For younger students, consider using an alternate to an inflated balloon as the popping noise of an inflated balloon can be a startling sound.

Balloon Stomp was reprinted with permission from Great Group Games for Kids: 150 Meaningful Activities for Any Setting.  ©2010 by Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor; published by Search Institute®, Minneapolis, MN: 800-888-7828; All rights reserved.

Barbara Gruener is a school counselor at Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, TX, a winner of the 2009 CEP National School of Character Award. For more information on Westwood’s program, visit its website.