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How movement can help our children to be healthier, smarter

PhD graduate shows exercise the key to improve the way pre-schoolers learn

Young children spend most of their time on the move. They don’t sit still for long; they jump, dance, skip, hop, and run through their days.

For Myrto-Foteini Mavilidi, a PhD graduate from the School of Education, this constant movement helps, rather than hinders, a child’s ability to learn about the world around them.

Dr Mavilidi, who was based in the University of Wollongong’s Early Start Research Institute, has spent the past four years researching how teachers can incorporate movement into the preschool classroom.

The result? Kids are happier, healthier, and learn more along the way.

“I was really interested in how we can combine movement and learning in the preschool years,” said Dr Mavilidi, who today (Wednesday 18 April) graduated from UOW with a Doctor of Philosophy from the School of Education.

“I conducted four experiments, in the subjects of foreign language, science, maths and geography. My research found that if you try to create movement related to what you are trying to teach the children, they are more engaged and their learning performance is better.”

Dr Mavilidi’s PhD enabled her to combine her passions for education and movement, and working for cute children was a huge bonus.

She completed her undergraduate studies – in psychology - in her native Greece, at the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens. As part of her studies, she spent her final year in Paris, as part of an exchange program. After working in Greece, Dr Mavilidi decided to pursue her Masters in Educational Psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, where she met Professor Fred Paas.

Professor Paas, who is professor in educational psychology, based between Rotterdam and the University of Wollongong, encouraged Dr Mavilidi to consider undertaking her PhD in Australia.

While Dr Mavilidi's studies have taken her around the world, she found a special place in Wollongong.

“I loved being part of Early Start,” said Dr Mavilidi, who can speak Greek, English, Italian and French. “I loved Wollongong and had such a great time there. My supervisors were Professor Tony Okely, Professor Paul Chandler, and Professor Paas, and they were so supportive of my work.

“It was such a nice lifestyle in Wollongong. I have very nostalgic memories of my time there.”

One particular highlight was meeting her boyfriend, who was studying his PhD in geochemistry at UOW.

Dr Mavilidi is now based at the University of Newcastle, where she is applying the same research – movement-based learning - from her PhD with a focus on primary school children, looking at ways to integrate movement into the education curriculum, collaborating with Professor David Lubans and Dr Nick Riley.

“Movement and learning should be connected, but it’s not happening. Learning this way is more fun for children. They are learning, but they don’t realise it, and at the same time, it is promoting healthier lifestyles. It has physical and cognitive benefits,” she said.

“This type of learning can help young children to have a solid beginning and it will benefit them later in life. They have a natural tendency to move, so it is more fun for them.”   

Posted in Education
Tagged: graduation, Education