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Physical Activity: The Root of Learning Through Leisure in Education

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In an ancient Mesopotamian school, boys write on clay tablets.


A Classical Perspective on Kinesthetic Learning

Education is the key. Our education starts at school where we prepare for what’s to come by learning what we need to know. The ancient Greeks saw learning as important for the progression of society and the development of good citizens. Schooling today has lost sight of activity in education, a factor that the Greeks were first to highlight in their philosophies.  

The Root of “School”

The modern word “school” means “a place to learn from teachers” and comes directly from the Latin word schola. The Greek “school,” however, meant “leisure” or “that in which leisure is employed.” Since “school” was synonymous with “leisure,” the origins of the “school” were grounded in the idea of comfort through artistic endeavors and physical activity. This connection between enjoyment, learning, and physical activity is further strengthened once we better understand the education system of the ancient Greeks.

What Was School Like in Ancient Greece?

The Greek civilization’s “appreciation of the body and focus on health and fitness are unparalleled in history” (Kravitz 2002). The Greeks believed that development of the body was as important as development of the mind. A common saying in ancient Greek times was ‘exercise for the body and music for the soul’ (Wuest & Bucher 1995).”

Although general education was very important, the majority of people were impoverished and could not afford to attend. General education for the ancient Greeks is more like private tutoring sessions nowadays; a student paid for academic tutoring or coaching. This is similar to education now where some students have private tutors or personal trainers. Economically disadvantaged families can not always afford or even have access to these opportunities. Back then, only wealthy families could afford to educate their children. Today, we are much better off through the implementation of public education.

Kinesthetic Approach Then and Now

Math & Movement brings physical activity back into the classroom in order to (1) combat childhood obesity, (2) to help children succeed in math and literacy, and (3) to make school fun. By strengthening the mind and body Math & Movement helps kids succeed.  Interestingly enough, Math & Movement’s research-based approach to kinesthetic learning is actually rather similar to the ancient Greek and Roman approach to general education, an education founded on kinesthetic components.

All in all, when physical activity is added to the curriculum, school can be fun. When students find comfort in their education, they become life-long lovers of learning. School then becomes a leisurely activity like it once was. Although the ancient society may be quite different than it is in 2018, the importance of strengthening the mind by strengthening the body can improve our individual lives and our communities.

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