Studies are showing that children all over the world are getting too sedentary. They sit more than they move. With the prevalence of growing technology, children are sitting in front of screens more than any time in history. Children need to move and they move to learn. In fact, children make sense of the world around them by exploring it with their bodies. When they walk, run, jump, twirl, dig and climb they are using essential problem solving skills that are key to learning. Finger activities such as song motions, digging, even pointing builds the brain. These small muscle movements encourage spatial-reasoning skills. Small muscle exercise stimulates brain growth using finger plays, bead stringing, clay and drawing. Studies show that activities that ask children to manipulate their fingers can actually activate cognitive development in young children by enhancing the connections in the brain.It has been found that both short and long-term memory (useful in learning to read) is supported by these movements.
Activities that cross the midline of the body are directly related to reading skills your child will need as she begins to mature. The classic movement needed for this development is crawling. Some children skip crawling and begin to walk but it is important to encourage your child to crawl too. Get down on the floor and crawl with her too. She will love it. You will be building the parts of the brain that relate to reading. On a larger scale, climbing, biking, raking, sweeping and hopping all work in the same way to stimulate the parts of the brain essential for reading. Cross lateral movements also balance both the right and left sides of the brain. These movements activate both sides and enhance all forms of learning.
Of course, all body movements increase blood flow, which then oxygenates the brain. Interestingly there is a direct correlation between regular exercise and creative thinking!
It really doesn’t take much to add active play to your day. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
A Colorful Treasure Hunt: You know the importance of learning to recognize and name colors. You can reinforce this learning at home. Play an active color treasure hunt in the house. Show (or name) a color and ask your child to “hop” to something in the room that is the same color and touch it. Then suggest a different movement (tip-toe, crawl, slide, skip) for moving to each color. What other movements can your child suggest?
Play “Mommy (or Daddy) Says”: You can create your own version of this traditional game by being the leader yourself. This is great practice for your child to do what you say! Explain that in the game she is to do the movement (such as touch your nose, or tap your head) whenever you say, “Mommy says”. Don’t worry if she makes a mistake. Just smile and laugh and try again. Use movements that cross the midline of the body: touch your opposite side, shoulder, knee, etc. Try using “Mommy says” when you are giving directions throughout your day. Your child will smile and might even do what you say!
Turn a walk into a fantasy journey: We all know how important it is to take a walk. It is healthy and educational for children and adults. Add some variety to your walk to keep your child interested and involved. For example, you caninvite your child to pretend to walk the tightrope along the edge of the sidewalk or on a stick, climb a mountain as you go up some stairs, swim laps through the sea of aisles at the grocery store, jump over the stream as you go through your door at home. This is a FUN way to build creative thinking.
Play traditional games both inside and out: The old favorites of Hide-and-Seek, Ring Around the Rosie, and Jump Rope (without a rope) are all easy to adapt for family play.
Here are a few Non-Traditional Movement Games to try.
Be an Animal: Your child will love to fly like a bird, crawl like an ant, jump like a frog. What other animals can she be?
Dance Around the House: Put on your favorite music and get the entire family dancing. Add some scarves or streamers for more physical movement fun. Stop the music periodically and ask everyone to “freeze” like a statue. What kind of funny statues can we make? Start the music again so everyone can go back to dancing. Then FREEZE again.
Play with Balance: Ask your child to try balancing on one foot while waiting on line. Now try the other. Which is easier? Balance is an important tool for preparing the brain to learn to read.
Add some Stretching: You can add movement to Television Time by asking your child to stand up and stretch. It works well during commercials. Invite her to touch her toes; stretch side-to-side, twist and bend!