Most children love summer for the joys of playing in and around a swimming pool, the sea, river or lake. Parents enjoy the relaxation of being able to let children amuse themselves in the water – although remaining vigilant, of course. And the healthy, outdoor exercise is obviously good for growing bodies. The brain also benefits from the extra oxygen taken in during the exercise, but swimming may also develop skills that are valuable for school learning.
The bilateral cross-patterned movements in swimming strokes help with the development of neurons (nerve fibres) that connect the right and left sides of the brain. This makes fast, efficient communication possible between the two. The result is better cognitive functioning which will be seen in better learning ability.
A study was conducted in 2012. It involved over 7000 preschool children in Australia, New Zealand and the USA over three years. The results showed that children taught to swim at an early age reached developmental milestones consistently quicker than average. They showed better coordination and increased fine motor skills like cutting, colouring in, drawing shapes and many mathematically related tasks.
The research found significant differences in academically related skills between those children who were taught to swim and non-swimmers, regardless of socio-economic background. There were also no gender differences.
Professor Robyn Jorgensen of Griffith University in Australia who led the research, said “Many of these skills are highly valuable in other learning environments and will be of considerable benefit for young children as they transition into pre-schools and school.”
For further information about the study, you can contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, though, that these children were taught to swim using strokes that allow us to swim ‘properly.’ They weren’t merely ‘doggy paddling,’ jumping around, splashing in the water or bobbing with water wings or other flotation device. To get the most out of swimming as a brain boosting activity, children should learn the basic strokes and spend time using these to move through the water.
And, of course, it keeps them safe around water!
Martial arts include several different forms, like karate, judo and tae kwon do, which teach striking and blocking and judo and jiu-jitsu, which focus on wrestling. They are part of ancient cultures in Asia meant (and are still intended) for self-defence. The benefits of all these forms lie in the fact that they use very specific, repetitive movements which rely on a connection between the brain and the body. This has several beneficial spin-offs.
The nature of these sports helps to improve coordination, a tendency to impulsivity, the ability to focus and pay attention, self-esteem and other important learning-related skills.
Peg Rosen (see more of her blogs at www.relish-this.blogspot.com), lists nine potential benefits:
- Martial arts focus on individual progress and growth rather than on team participation. Traditional sports can demand too much from children with learning challenges and many are not able to meet the demands of a competitive team. They also may lack the coordination for activities such as ballet or gymnastics.
- Goals in martial arts are concrete and attainable. Some children with learning difficulties may feel discouraged because they never “win” at anything. In martial arts, children work at their own pace and each time they master a new skill level they earn a different coloured belt. This is highly motivating and boosts self-esteem.
- Routines are broken down into manageable chunks. A certain skill in in martial arts can have many different movements. Each can gradually be mastered by repeating the movements and adding steps as they go. They learn to anticipate which step comes next and eventually put everything together into fluid movements. All of this helps develop their working memory.
- Self-control and concentration are fundamental to martial arts. Children have to stay focused in order to learn and perform. When a child’s focus drifts, instructors will often ask them to take the “ready stance.” This position allows them to reset and ready themselves for what’s next.
- The deliberate, repetitive movements of martial arts can help children improve their sense of proprioception. This is a knowledge of where their body is in space – a sensory system that serves as a foundation for learning and coordination and one that is often seen as being underdeveloped in those with learning difficulties.
- Martial arts provide structure and clear expectations for behaviour. Good martial arts instructors have clear rules and constantly reinforce them. They also emphasize good behaviour in and out of class.
- The activities provide a safe outlet for excess energy. While aggressive or violent behaviour is not allowed, kicking, karate chopping or grappling are healthy ways of releasing frustration or anger while still practicing self control.
- Respect is a core value in martial arts. All participants are expected to display respect for their instructor and Negativity is generally not tolerated in class, and children are encouraged to support each other.
- Those who practice martial arts are regarded with respect by others.Children with learning difficulties often feel inferior and less capable than others but lots of youngsters think that martial arts are ‘cool.’ It’s much easier to feel special when you’re wearing martial arts gear and breaking boards in half.
While martial arts are not considered to be a ‘treatment’ for learning difficulties, experience has shown that many children do benefit and their more traditional treatments may be supported and helped by participating in one of these forms of activity.
ILT strives to uncover the root causes of children’s learning difficulties – and help them cope at school and home. Visit our website www.ilt.co.zato learn more about this approach. We offer accredited courses over correspondence for teachers (CPD points with SACE as well as credits on SAQA for further qualifications), parents and helping professionals to enhance understanding of why children fail to thrive in school Our training also points the way to effective help.
The field of neuroscience is peppered with information about the strong links between movement and learning. We know through science that early movements are crucial for brain development and recently, more and more studies are appearing to support the view that children need movement to learn efficiently.
In spite of this, schools seem to be determined to limit opportunities for movement, both in classroom settings and in the school time-table. Most teachers are scared to introduce movement breaks into their classrooms for fear of discipline problems and losing control; schools are pushing for even longer times spent sitting at desks engaged in academic tasks. It seems that the fear of poor performances in standardised tests is part of the reason for the ever increasing pressure on children to learn skills through more academic time – including time spent on piles of homework.
South Africa spends a fortune on education. Despite this, the academic performance of our learners lags far behind the rest of the world. The additional time spent on academics at school and at home does not seem to be improving matters.
More importantly, if we deny our learners the chance to engage in movement during the school day and afternoons at home, we are depriving them of a vital and necessary ingredient of childhood. Children love to move; they need to move. Those who cannot sit still are labelled as disruptive, hyperactive or some other popular label. Many young children are presenting with anxiety, developmental delays and depression.
I do not believe that so many of our children are so incapable of learning skills and acquiring knowledge. Those who report to Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) practitioners are found to be bright and capable but very often not learning ready. Those children have not had the chance to develop the neural networks needed for efficient learning. The reason may well be because they were and still are deprived of the movement opportunities needed for this to happen.
It is time for pre-school educators to face this challenge and introduce brain-developing movements into their daily programme. ILT has carefully worked out programmes for them to follow – designed because we are passionate about ensuring that our young learners succeed at school. These movements prime the brain for learning.
Two examples of the significance of movement:
It helps to understand the role of the ‘movement centre of the brain’ in learning. The area of brain responsible for coordinated movements is called the cerebellum. This is also known as the ‘little brain’ at the base of the big brain (the cerebral cortex). Although it might look very much smaller, it is incredibly densely packed with brain cells. Nerve cells (neurons) do not all run from the cortex to the cerebellum so that the brain can ‘order’ the cerebellum to move the body around easily. Instead, most of the cerebellar neurons are outbound, meaning that they travel from the cerebellum up to the cortex. In terms of brain function, this means that during learning, information is sent to the cerebellum, where the absorbed information is processed, practiced, timed, rehearsed and corrected before it is sent back to the areas of the cortex that are responsible for the motor response or action. In other words, when we learn a new word, the action is to say or spell the word; when we learn a new maths skill, the action is to perform the skill by solving a maths problem. This shows that the cerebellum is an area crucial to the learning process. All new information passes through the cerebellum before it becomes a learned skill or new piece of knowledge.
Secondly, we need to understand the role of the sensory motor system.
We use our senses to help our brains ‘know’ what is going on in the external world. The media these days publishes many articles about how a child needs good sensory integration in order to be able to pay attention and learn. It is fairly obvious that our senses of sight, hearing, touch and so on have to be functioning well so that we can absorb learning events. But sitting for long periods of time does not stimulate all the senses. Listening to a teacher’s voice might stimulate the auditory system but this is one of the least developed senses in a young child! Compare this to a child who is playing outside. Actions such as swinging, sliding, building sand castles, playing catch, skipping rope and so on, engage multiple sensory motor systems at the same time. These actions are firing neurons that are similarly needed in paying attention – a crucial ability in a classroom.
We need parents and teachers to join forces to encourage a change in all our classrooms and time-tables. Movement needs to be a major focus during the school day – rather than be seen as a misbehaviour.