Does Square Dancing Make You Smarter?

Does Square Dancing Make You Smarter?

For the life of me I still can’t figure out why we had to square dance in gym class when I was a student at St. Thomas More Elementary School in Munster, Indiana. I think we were even tested on it. It certainly isn’t a critical life skill, and I’m positive that I would be no more successful or happy if I had made more of an effort to master it. I did, however, reluctantly comply—unlike my husband who refused to square dance in his high school PE class and, subsequently, missed out on a scholar-athlete award for that semester. All these years later, I still don’t get it.

I do, however, get physical education. I am a big advocate of gym for its own sake. No, I don’t think knowing the rules of handball is critical to success later in life. And while I do appreciate knowing the general rules of volleyball when we go to the UW field house a couple times a year to watch the Badgers play, I know that that’s not really the point of gym.

Seven hours is a long time to sit at a desk. Lunch is short and recess gets shorter all the time. Kids don’t get much chance to move. In my humble opinion, I think the sedentary school day has a lot to do with childhood obesity and behavioral problems. Giving kids an opportunity to sweat a little and to blow off some steam seems like a smart idea. I know I’ve run my way through some tough emotional times.

So I’m a fan of gym class. I just signed a permission slip (and wrote a check) so my son can participate in a roller skating unit. Unless you count birthday parties at Fast Forward, there isn’t a whole lot of real-life applicability anymore. No one roller skates down the sidewalk. There may still be a drive-in with roller-skating waitresses somewhere in the world, but I haven’t seen one lately (if ever). But it’s fun for the kids and it gets them moving.

That usually isn’t compelling enough for the politicians who make decisions about what happens during the school day. From where I stand it seems like they are motivated first and foremost by test scores—if an activity or lesson doesn’t drive those numbers up, it won’t happen within the school walls.

The research supporting the links between physical activity and mental acuity (like this recent study TIME reported) isn’t exactly new, but scientists are starting to clearly connect the dots between movement and academic performance. I hope that means more gym class and more recess for our kids. Ironically, a little less time at their desks might not be good only for their bodies but also for their brains. And that might lead to fewer weight and related health problems and behavioral issues, too.

But for everyone’s sake, I just hope they aren’t still square dancing.