Children can’t learn if they don’t move. Many moms don’t fully understand the scientific importance of movement in our child’s life. We may see it more as a behavior issue and mistakenly equate being still to being obedient. But movement is critical for healthy brain development. There is exciting research on the importance of movement, exercise, and brain health. Exercise increases the blood flow to the frontal cortex resulting in better executive brain function, it also increases the growth of new neurons in the areas of the brain essential for learning and memory. Children need to move a lot to learn, to establish muscle balance, impulse control, focus and yes, even handwriting. All of these basic coordination tasks are mastered through practicing active body movement.
How does this work? The fluids in the vestibular center (inner ear) detect body movement which then in turn sends messages to the specific muscle group needed to carry out the task to keep your child upright, toned, and coordinated. This system lays the foundation for balance, posture, core strength and general muscle tone in children. When your child is swinging for example, his vestibular system is activated. The back and forth motion of the swing requires your child to use his abs and back muscles against gravity strengthening his core and head control to stay on the swing. This is a great exercise for building a strong vestibular system as messages are sent to muscle groups to contact allowing the child to balance and stay on the swing. Merry-go-rounds, balance beams, rough and tumble play, rope climbing, and other inner-ear activating movement are some of the many options available for strengthening this immature system. The more they move, the more children are able to learn for two reasons:
1. blood flow increases to the learning center of the brain.
2. better gross motor control leads to stronger fine motor control. They can sit still in school, have a longer attention span, and have less frustration with handwriting which effects all learning.
Just as we rock our babies to calm them, an hour of rich movement a day for your child can significantly reduce impulsivity, anxiety, and depression in children. The results are even better with many hours of active play a day. Recess is as important as math in school and older children need developmentally appropriate equipment not the ‘watered-down-toddler’ equipment found on most playgrounds.
Technology does not support movement and exercise. Period. While some can argue that systems like the Wii allows exercise, it is a far stretch from the real movement that children need. Mom knows that her kids are easier to handle and happier after lots of movement and teachers know that recess is critical for learning. Children who are slumped on the sofa watching TV or playing games for long periods of time are not using their vestibular system, they are not swinging or jumping up and down, or getting the rough and tumble play that is critical for healthy development. The only muscle group activated is in the fingers, which can be good for eye hand coordination, but without adequate gross motor movement control, the fine motor development is not adequate or complete.
Statistics show that exercise is significantly decreased for children who play video games and overuse technology. For every minute on a screen you have traded a minute of potential movement. Young children who have their head down in a device for hours a day are not developing proper head control and core muscle strength. Technology replaces this critical step in child development. Your child does not know the science of why this is important for him, but now you do. His body craves movement even if his brain wants to the screen, so think hard before you hand over your phone or game controller or let him watch cartoons for hours. Give him a basketball instead and send him outside to shoot hoops. While technology is not all bad for your child, look for ways to keep it balanced with the movement he needs. It is hard to have too much movement in our busy day but it is easy to have too much technology. You now have a reason NOT to keep him still!