By Dan Lawler, Ph.D

This week I am introducing aerobic exercise as an intervention in a program for students with moderately disruptive behavior.  The kids in this program account for nearly 25% of the office referrals because they so frequently interfere with both their own learning and that of others in the class.  While the teaching staff strives to have these kids included in the regular classroom, they often find it difficult because of the disruptions they create.  The resource teacher works with these students, and, traditional interventions (e.g., positive rewards, corrective feedback, work detail, after-school detention, out-of-school suspensions, parent conferences,) are typically used.  Unfortunately, the pattern of behaviors often persist, with success sometimes being measured more by decreasing the severity of the incidents.

Most of these students are boys, and many of them have some form of ADHD along with significant behavioral issues.  What is interesting is that we ask these kids, who are naturally very active, to sit in a chair for over 6 hours a day and then wonder why they become discipline problems for the school.  In interviewing the principal, he said, “We are not going to suspend our way out of this problem.”

After becoming more familiar with the research, the teachers are excited about the intervention of exercise dispersed throughout the day.  What they now know is that exercise can lower aggression, increase on task behavior, and improve the overall mood of these kids.  Though everyone realizes that these kids’ problems are multifaceted, it makes sense that the school exacerbates the problem by forcing these kids into a non-movement environment most of their day.

The teachers will be starting a morning workout program for these kids prior to the school day.  The students will be introduced to Exergaming equipment as the means for raising their heart rate to derive the side effects that rigorous exercise stimulates.  The students will be using Xavix, a motivational game that requires balance, coordination, and endurance.

The expectation is, that if we can get these kids moving, they will actually be happier at school, more ready to learn, and demonstrate less behavioral problems in school.  Once the success of this program has been demonstrated, the long-term goal is to introduce exercise through Exergaming as an intervention for every program in the district that is working with behaviorally disruptive students.  The key to the success is two-fold: 1) exercise improves behavior and mood, and 2) Exergaming is a powerful tool that will capture student interest and maintain motivation because it is so fun and engaging.

These teachers have added a tool to their toolbox that is truly exciting.  Their kids will have fun and, at the same time, become significantly more active.  This is a research-based intervention that will truly help the students emotionally, physically, and cognitively as well as decreasing the number of discipline issues these kids create for themselves and the school.  This will also help these kids’ lives be better and more positive at school.  How exciting!!