Children need to move to learn. This will be nothing new for our grandparents who have always known this. Physical movement actually sets up the neural pathways (the brain connections) required for academic learning to occur. Simple things like crawling, rolling, rocking, swinging and skipping all develop the brain architecture that is needed for later ‘classroom’ learning. For example, crawling is critical for later learning. Crawling develops the neck muscles (tonic neck reflex) required for sitting at a desk and reading from a whiteboard. It also develops tracking skills (following with your eyes) essential for reading and allows the eyes to focus on objects which are the exact distance you should hold a book in front of your face.
Today, many young children do not have the opportunity to develop and refine these basic movement patterns because we lead more sedentary lifestyles. From a young age, we place babies in carriers (baby carriers, rockers, slings, prams, high-chairs, seat-props) and the increasing use of screens and digital technologies has resulted in a more sedentary childhood. However, research tells us that children MUST move to learn.
We also know that children need to eat well fort their brains to develop effectively. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are needed to coat the axons (the connections between the brain) with a fatty substance. This fatty substance, myelin, protects the neurons (brain cells) and enables connections to be sent at a much quicker rate. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot make EFAs so we have to consume them through foods such as flaxseed oil, avocado and oily fishes like salmon, mackerel and sardines.
So What Can Parents and Teachers Do?
• Invest in a perceptual motor or movement program. There are lots of quality programs around for both preschools/schools and parents. Gymabroo is a popular Australian movement-based program for parents and children to attend to develop essential movement skills that children require to learn successfully. Moving Smart, Brain Gym and Move to Learn are popular commercial programs suitable for preschools and schools.
• Allow young children to PLAY. Children of all ages need time in unstructured play. They need opportunities to crawl, skip, hop, swing, roll, gallop, spin, run and climb.
• Provide children with foods high EFAs.
• Model healthy eating habits