Physical Activity and Child Development
It's Only Child's Play
This was his third attempt to grasp the rattle in front of him. Each time he stretched and reached out he moved a little closer to the toy. His gaze was intent upon the rounded blue top and his whole body wiggled with delight as he cooed over his advancements. It was amazing to watch this little baby hard at work.
If we could only peek inside of his marvelous brain, we would see that the child is actually processing information rapidly, visualizing the results and then turning them into skills. This is all due to the brain's response to movement and sending information (signals) to the child's somatosensory cortex for processing. Play processes activate neurotransmitters that help a child develop neural pathways in the brain which aid in the formation of behavioural and social development.
Resources on Child Development
Great Physical Activity for Babies
My husband found it very amusing to watch me exercise my four month old's legs and arms a few minutes each morning. I would sing a song and simulate him gently marching to the beat and also clap his hands in time to the music. My husband would chuckle and roll his eyes, followed by, " I know it's good for the body and brain. But, do you think he's enjoying it?" All right, he didn't always smile during the exercise time, but I believe he learned to crawl at an early age as a result. The truth is physical movement leads to brain growth and development which is important in building a child's sense of balance and motor coordination.
Studies have proved that infants who are placed on the floor right from birth to experience movement learn to respond quicker to their environment. Babies learn depth perception as they observe and move through the space around them. As an infant begins to lift her head, roll over, and kick her legs, her muscles are beginning to strengthen and the brain is also processing the new information for future use. Some pediatricians believe that children who learn movement early in life develop a stronger respiratory system and it contributes to the child being able to eat solid foods earlier. (Source: J. Doman, Institute for Achievement for Human Potential)
Physical Activity: Simon Says Movement Suggestions
These cross-lateral moves will help the brain to stimulate connectivity between both hemispheres (contralateral and ipsilateral connections). This will aid in the growth of primary sensory and motor skills in child development.
- Pat head and rub belly
- March and pat your belly
- Tap your head and pat your knee
- March and clap your hands
- March while touching your elbows to your knees
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Physical Activity For Older Children
A study completed by J. Pallatschek and F. Hagen in 1996 showed that children engaged in early physical education showed superior motor fitness, academic performance and attitude toward school as compared to children who did not.
Movement stimulates the inner ear which contributes to motor coordination and balance. Believe it or not, a child's spinning around and around can actually help them to relax and remain focused on academic learning activities. Gentle rocking motions help to stimulate brain activity, which is why many children love rocking chairs, swings and tipping back on chairs (to the demise of most parents).
Getting children outdoors to play is crucial to motor skill development. The running, jumping and climbing builds those large muscles and helps them to strengthen through play. Studies have reported that through physical play children decrease stress, improve their immune system and respond at a faster rate to challenges due to increased brain stimulation.
The following are suggested play activities that will help your child to develop a strong body and mind. I have included some indoor games for those days when weather prevents going outside. These types of games work the entire body while providing oxygen to the brain and strengthening the basal ganglia (vision-sensory perception) and cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that coordinates muscle movement, maintains equilibrium, and helps us to respond to stimuli. As a parent, you can appreciate all the wonderful results from encouraging physical activity such as this. Just make sure the level of games are age appropriate and supervised. For instance, jump rope is usually a skill for older pre-school children and up
- Musical Chairs
- Stretching Games (i.e. "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes")
- Ball Toss (use foam type)
- Hop Skotch
- Swings and merry-go-rounds
- Jump rope
- Walking and Running
Physical activity is a key factor in child development. Parents who stimulate their infant through active play will help their child to develop mentally and physically and will increase their ability to perform well as they grow, especially when they reach those academic years.