The newest piece of equipment in Canadian classrooms is surprisingly low-tech and hugely successful.
A new piece of equipment is popping up in classrooms across Canada. It is not a new tablet or Smart Board, but rather a good old stationary bicycle, installed in more than 1,300 schools to help fidgety, anxious children burn off excess emotional energy.
CBC Radio host Connie Walker spoke on The Current with a number of educators to find out how the bikes are working. One primary-grade teacher from Nova Scotia describes the bike as an integral part of the classroom. “The kids go on it all the time. If they’re feeling a little bit of energy, if they’re feeling sad, if they’re feeling angry, they bike for a couple of minutes. Off they get and back to work they go.”
Educators can see a big difference when children are able to burn off steam in a physical way. Being physically active is important, not only for health, but also because it is related to better learning and cognitive function.
Grade 2-3 teacher Nicole Mount agrees: “After exercise, the kids are sharper, they’re more attentive, less impulsive, not fidgety, and they’re able to sustain their attention longer.” The kids have had positive reactions too. One little girl says the bike makes her feel happy.
The introduction of stationary bicycles is part of a broader discussion among educators about “self-regulation” in the classroom, defined loosely as “your own ability to calm yourself and understand your anxiety so that you can reset your situation in order to become calm, alert, and ready to learn.” More formally, self-regulation is the “idea that children start to understand themselves and the demands being asked of them and are able to deliberately navigate their engagement.”
Self-regulation is a hot topic these days because of the sheer number of children experiencing stress and anxiety. Teacher Nicole Mount describes it:
“Some kids come to school frustrated before they even get to school or they’re sad or they’re angry or they've had a bad morning. Maybe they didn't have breakfast. It could have been anything. So we just wanted to try to see if having the bikes in the classroom made a difference.”
It is wonderful that teachers have physical strategies such as stationary bikes, standing desks, movement breaks, and stretch sessions to burn off emotional energy, but it leads to other questions. One is, what’s causing all of this emotional distress?
Secondly, what if kids were simply allowed to walk to and from school each day? If a portion of the cost of stationary bikes were allocated toward improving the safety of pedestrian routes to school, then kids could burn off energy, connect with nature, and arrive at school feeling clear-headed, calm, and empowered by independence – the very same emotions for which educators strive using the bicycles.