The Science Behind Move4words

We now have a considerably body of evidence showing that Move4words does work, which you can see on the impact page.

But, WHY might Move4words work? Received wisdom would say that the only thing which will improve reading skills in children is more or better literacy teaching, so how could the addition of movement to the learning curriculum provide any benefit for school children?

Click HERE to read a comprehensive review of Elizabeth McClelland's ideas on how Move4words might work, calling on the work of more than 40 international scientific research groups.

Read on to see a simpler review of the evidence.

Embodied Cognition

Recent developments in cognitive science suggest that there is much more to thinking and learning than previously supposed. The radical concept of “embodied cognition” says that our brains cannot solve problems unaided, and that our bodies play an essential role in any form of thinking or problem-solving. For example, Anne Olmstead of the University of Connecticut, and her colleagues, have shown that tiny muscle movements in the hands are a fundamental part of language comprehension.

For an in-depth exploration of embodied cognition, see Andrew Wilson’s blog at and the links therein. Dr Wilson is director of the Perception-Action Lab at the University of Leeds and a leading researcher in the field.

This new approach opens up the exciting possibility that improving brain/body communication and control could indeed improve cognitive performance, by improving the effectiveness of the whole interactive brain/body problem-solving system.

There is growing support for this idea in various areas of research into the origins of reading difficulties.

For example, according to the academics Catherine Moritz and colleagues, physical rhythmic training can improve phonological awareness and reading for young school children.

It is also becoming clear that exercise brings wider benefits beyond improvements in health. Phillip Tomporowski and colleagues have shown that exercise performed on a regular basis for several weeks alters brain functions that underlie cognition and behaviour.

Adele Diamond and Kathleen Lee showed that the ability to think, plan and act in children aged 4 – 12 could be developed through physical as well as cognitive activities, so long as the physical activities involved incremental steps which gradually increased the challenge and which included repeated practice.

You can read more about the research which underpins Move4words here.

Concentration and Attention

The main practical focus of Move4words is to train children’s ability to pay attention. Why is this important for learning?

A large international study by Mark Wolraich and colleagues of more than 20,000 children found that poor attention was a key contributor to poor academic achievement. Scientists have also found that attention plays a key role in the development of reading skills (e.g. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, 2008; Chris Sexton and colleagues, 2012), and many have argued that literacy underpins all educational achievement (e.g. Neil McClelland, National Literacy Trust).

Various research groups have looked at the impact of exercise on children’s attention spans, and have found that short bursts of physical activity can have a surprisingly positive impact on improving concentration levels and academic performance (e.g., Liam Hill and colleagues, 2010; Matthew Pontifex and colleagues, 2012).

Elizabeth Hill, of Goldsmiths College, University of London, is convinced that classroom physical activity programmes could have a really substantial impact on improving children’s academic achievement. In 2010, she wrote that “Classroom interventions that do not single out specific children, and appear to benefit all children, will be crucial in improving outcome for all”. Move4words is just such an intervention.

Working with concentration is linked to the concept of embodied cognition. Training physical, visual and auditory attention will improve the way the brain receives information from the body, and thus should improve the functioning of the integrated brain/body problem-solving system.

You can read more about the role of attention and other important contributors to the development of literacy and learning here.

Move4words incorporates practical experience and current neuroscientific ideas

Move4words has been developed both empirically, by observing what seems to help many children to improve their learning in practice, and theoretically, by incorporating ideas from scientific research on what can prevent the effective development of literacy and learning.