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We are Listening.

This year, we had the pleasure of meeting with over 1500 educators, principals, clinicians, administrators, school psychologists, SLPs, OTs and PTs in 5 countries and 20 US and Canadian Cities. Your feedback about The Kinetic Classroom and Musical Thinking programming has been meaningful. We have been listening carefully.

What we learned from you was transformative.

We heard from you that you are seeing a change in your classrooms and clinics when students engage their brains in a collaborative and creative manner using cognitive-motor activities that require thought. We heard from you that adding rhythmic beat-based coordinative movements appear to impact cognition more than simply adding physical movement in the classroom.  

Importantly, you told us, classroom cohesion, social interaction, self-esteem, and confidence have grown in your students.

The question for us all remains: 

What types of activities in what dose (how often) and duration (how many minutes) – recess, movement breaks, PE, cognitive-physical movements, before, during and after school movements/sports – makes what degree of academic difference in which types of students (Title I, low-stimulation, poor EF, ADHD, LD)?  

Honestly, scientists do not yet know. We are studying this.

What we do know is: 

There is a relationship between the executive functions that underlie learning and the cognitive-motor activities which engage these executive functions. Executive functions (including but not limited to attention, working memory, response inhibition, cognitive flexibility, and self-regulation) have been shown to precede learning and academic achievement. Specifically, we study the effects of complex coordinative steady-beat movement on attention, working memory, response inhibition, cognitive flexibility, and self-regulation.

More Relevant Research Findings


Motor development and cognitive development are closely interrelated (Leisman et al., 2016) and studies suggest children with high levels of motor coordination have better cognition than their less coordinated peers. 

The interrelation between motor and cognitive development is also reflected by the existence of neuronal connections between the cerebellum, limbic system, and the prefrontal cortex (Raichle, et al., 1994; Diamond, 2000).

The simultaneous activation of the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex primarily occurs in cognitive or motor tasks, which are complex, unknown, require fast reactions or underlie changing conditions (Diamond, 2000). 

Cognitive–Motor-Training enhances the consistent and persistent coordination of cross-systems in the lower and upper limbs, in general, praxic performance, stressing their readiness or rapid activation. The promptness, the efficiency, the consistency and self-regulation of the activation of these aspects, constitute the active principles underlying the practices of our Practical- Theoretical Cognitive-Motor-Training (Crispiani, 2016a). Despite the very significant improvements the dyslexic participants have made in all their skills, further research is needed using this approach in order to further validate these promising findings that can reinforce traditional intervention (Crispiani et al., 2019).

Tempo, Rhythm, and Timing

Beat perception and the ability to move to a beat are correlated with ADHD (Puyjarinet, 2017). 

Clapping in time parallels literacy and calls upon overlapping neural mechanisms in early readers (Bonacina et. al 2018).

Subcortical structures including the basal ganglia and cerebellum are suggested to play a role in beat and rhythm perception (Grahn & Brett, 2009; Grahn, 2009; Thaut et al. 2014; Tierney & Kraus, 2013).

Although beat perception develops spontaneously in humans, individuals vary widely in their ability to extract a beat from musical rhythm. Some of this variability may result from musical training, which enhances beat perception abilities (Bouwer et al., 2018).

Beat perception, beat synchronization, motor timing and rhythm detection appear to be associated with regions of the brain often indicated in ADHD and developmental dyslexia, (Lundetræ & Thompson, 2018).

An important and meaningful relationship exists between rhythm, grammar, and syntax (Gordon et al. 2015; Asano & Boecks,  2015).

Beat and rhythm-based rehabilitation are reported in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, (Ashoori, 2015; Dalla Bella et al. 2017), with varying outcomes, more research is in progress. Musically-cued gait training is also an interesting line of inquiry.



Music Matters!

Children who play a musical instrument appear to achieve at higher academic levels than non-musical students (Guhn et al., 2019)

Specifically in a study including 112,000 high school students, music students did better in math than non-musical peers.

“Learning to play a musical instrument and playing in an ensemble is very demanding,” said the study’s co-investigator Martin Guhn, an assistant professor in UBC’s school of population and public health. “A student has to learn to read music notation, develop eye-hand-mind coordination, develop keen listening skills, develop team skills for playing in an ensemble and develop discipline to practice. All those learning experiences, and more play a role in enhancing the learner’s cognitive capacities, executive functions, motivation to learn in school, and self-efficacy.” 

Musical training, especially training that focuses on cross-modal integration among visual, auditory, and motor systems, benefits literacy-related language skills, presumably because it enhances the dynamic connection between these different brain areas important for literacy, (Bonacina et al., 2018: Habib et al, 2016).

Arts integrated instruction appears to improve memory for academic content particularly in children with lower reading skills (Hardiman et al., 2019). The arts are another important domain of inquiry.


What we wonder:

  • To what degree are academic achievement and beat perception/saliency/competence related, in which student populations, with which demand characteristics? 


  • Might beat competency (The ability to synchronize motor movement (gross & fine) to a steady internal or external beat, Kenney 2019) be a marker for good or poor executive function, in students with which types of demand characteristics?


  • Can consistent exposure to coordinative rhythmic beat-based movement shift a student’s academic trajectory, to what degree? At what dose and duration? What are the optimal ages?


  • How would consistent participation in coordinative rhythmic patterned movement affect reading, spelling and math, grades PreK-3?


  • If we add complex coordinative rhythmic beat-based movement, particularly in settings where children have low-stimulation environments or learning challenges how might this improve executive function and academic achievement?


  • Might beat competency be a marker for pre-cognitive decline, in adults with which types of demand characteristics?


Relevant Research Findings

Executive Functions

Executive functions play a central role in current and future academic achievement, (Blair and Razza, 2007; McClelland et al., 2007; Bull et al., 2008; Clark et al., 2010; Geary et al., 2012), as well as in self-concept (Mulder et al. 2017), social competence and future employment success. 

Executive functions have been shown as early as two years of age to predict math and language achievement at age 5 (Mulder, et al., 2017). 

Early cognitive-motor interventions that engage children’s executive functions promote social and academic development (Diamond & Lee, 2011). 

Complex coordinative exercises may provide effective stimuli for prefrontal cortex development and consequently for the development of cognitive function in children (Gallotta et al., 2015).

Research studies with children reveal positive relationships between cognitive functions and physical activity (Alesi et al., 2016; Bidzun-Bluma & Lipowska, 2018) as well as between cognitive and motor functions (Davis et al., 2011).

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Self-regulation has been established as a key mechanism associated with a variety of outcomes including school readiness (Blair and Razza, 2007; McClelland et al., 2007a; Morrison et al., 2010), academic achievement during childhood and adolescence (McClelland et al., 2006; Cameron Ponitz et al., 2009; Duckworth et al., 2010; Li-Grining et al., 2010), and long- term health and educational outcomes (Moffitt et al., 2011; McClelland et al., 2013), as cited in McClelland et al., 2014. 

The behavioral aspects of self-regulation may be especially important for academic and school success (McClelland et al., 2007a; Cameron Ponitz et al., 2009; McClelland and Cameron, 2012) as cited in McClelland et al., 2014. 

Physical Activity

Physically fit students outperform non-fit students academically (American Heart Association, 2010). 

For many students acute moderately-vigorous activity prior to an academic event (test, learning a new skill) improves learning outcomes (Have et al., 2018). 

Intervention studies suggest that both acute and longitudinal physical activity benefits cognition, (Bidzan-Bluma & Lipowska 2018; de Greeff et al. 2017; Donnelly et al., 2016). 

A single bout of physical activity can be a successful strategy to stimulate attention in children between the ages of 6 and 12 years (de Greeff et al., 2018).  

Intervention programs that implement continuous regular physical activity over several weeks are more likely to improve executive functions and academic performance than a single bout of physical activity, (de Greeff et al. 2018). 

Interventions programs over several weeks that include cognitively challenging physical activities seem to be more effective in improving cognitive performance than aerobic physical activity (de Greeff et al., 2018). 

When doing classroom-based physical activity cognitive engagement has been shown to improve attention and processing speed (Schmidt et al., 2016).

The strong predictive validity of motor coordination for EF and of the latter for academic achievement suggests that children engage in physical activities, which are both cognitively and coordinatively demanding (Schmidt et al., 2017).

Classroom Physical-Activity Breaks are gaining momentum. Ten-to fifteen-minute school-day PA breaks not only increase daily physical activity but are also associated with higher academic achievement, greater on-task behavior and positive affect (Mullins et al., 2019).

Physically active classroom lessons improve time on task, math and spelling in a sample of 2nd-6th graders (Szabo-Reed et al. 2019). 

Different types of physical activity impact cognition (academic, traditional physical education, aerobic) and achievement to different degrees (Vazou et al., 2019), further investigation is needed.


A warm thank you to Alex Doman, Sheila Allen and Nacho Arimany who brought the auditory neuroscience research front of mind for me in 2014. Our work was transformed by your research and caring.