In this blog post, the fourth in the preparing to learn series, we discuss the importance on movement for the bodies and minds of developing children.
Spending lots of time engaged in physical movement is one of the best things for a young persons health, both physical and mental. In a traditional classroom setting, however, students are often required to sit quietly for long periods of time with minimal movement breaks, and are chastised for fidgeting or moving around too much. As more and more studies emerge about the topic of movement and learning, we are seeing that this educational model is not only outdated but ineffective.
Although we tend to think of exercise as something that only benefits the physical body, there is research that suggests that the part of the brain that processes movement also processes learning, meaning the two are inextricably linked. There is also evidence suggesting that a number of traditional playground activities like jumping, rolling, tumbling, and climbing can lead to increased attention and reading skills. Even the simple act of standing up and stretching for a moment increases the heart rate, sending more oxygen to the brain and thereby increasing its capacity for learning. As well as prescribed types of movement, children also benefit greatly from most kinds of physical play. The benefits of play include increased cognitive abilities as well as increased social skills, emotional intelligence, and decreased stress levels.
Movement can also help children prepare for learning. To learn well a student must be engaged, focused, and mentally alert. Moving regularly and in varied ways can help children prepare for learning by maintaining good mental health. In particular, it has been found that different types of exercise can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity, and can even reduce symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
A study done on university students found that when class time was split between aerobic activity and a traditional lecture, that their memory and overall cognitive performance increased over the length of one semester. This is important information for educators and administrators who have the power to determine what happens in the classroom, but there are many ways that parents and caregivers can help their children maintain an active lifestyle.
An initiative called Sparking Life which is being introduced to schools across Canada and the United States has found a way to integrate aerobic exercise into middle school and high school classrooms. This movement, pioneered by Harvard Professor Dr. John Ratey has had massive success not only with improving academic standards and attendance but also with reducing behavioral issues in the classroom.
There are many ways that parents and caregivers can ensure that their children are engaging in exercise daily. Parents can enroll their kids in after school activities that focus on movement like gymnastics, soccer, dance, or martial arts, as well as making sure that children are encouraged to play physically at home and on the weekends. Taking your kids to a local park to play on the monkey bars or tossing a ball around in the backyard can be a great way to promote movement while enjoying some time together as a family.
While all types of movement have their value it is important that children are able to participate in physical activity in a safe and fun way. If children learn that physical activity is enjoyable they will be more likely to seek it out for themselves and to develop healthy relationships with exercise as they grow. Check in often with your kids and make sure that they are aware of strategies for avoiding injury and know when to rest.
In discussing the importance of movement I want to acknowledge that not all families have equal access to extra-curricular activities and classes and writing a blog extolling the virtues of a exercise risks ignoring this issue. Providing our children with opportunities to play and move is a privileged position that as a community and society we should always be seeking to provide to all our citizens. As parents and guardians we can support our children to the best of our ability with the resources we have available and this blog is meant to help with that task. See the local physical activity resources section at the bottom of the blog for assistance with accessing funding for after school programs in the the Nelson area.
Local physical activity resources