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 number of children who are described as ‘picky eaters’ seems to be huge. So many desperate parents dread mealtimes which become battle fields, with children resorting to tears, spitting out food, vomiting, throwing food on the floor and so on. Parents fluctuate between clownish behaviours (‘Look, here comes a chook-chook into the tunnel …’), angry orders (‘If you don’t eat you can’t have a story’) and their own emotional tears of despair.
Why is feeding children such a problem? Often children start out by taking their solids happily but typically begin to refuse food around the age of one year. The trouble starts with visits to the clinic or paediatrician and the child’s weight, head diameter and other measures are seen not to match the charts used to gauge ‘normal’ growth.
So is the problem our expectations created by perceptions of normality or the child’s seeming urge to starve themselves and suffer poor health throughout life?
It might well be our perceptions that need adjusting if you believe Dr Carlos Gonzalez. His book isn’t new but it certainly carries a comforting message to families who are concerned about a reluctant young eater.
To start with, Dr Gonzalez remind us that children typically show a slowed growth rate at around one year and may remain small eaters until puberty – when they change and suddenly turn into ravenous fridge raiders.
He also challenges the emphasis placed on growth charts. The percentile curves are drawn up according to statistics and don’t necessarily ‘fit’ the weight or height gain of an individual child. Instead of fretting about each meal, allow your child to dictate what and how much she will eat. If, after a couple of days, her weight has not dropped by 1 kg, you’ll know there is nothing to worry about.
Basically, the message is that babies don’t eat because they don’t need to or they are full. Certainly he advocates breastfeeding until the age of 2 years and if children are receiving breast milk, they don’t actually need much in the way of solids. He believes that breastfeeding should be on demand and reminds us that breastfed babies will not accept solids as willingly as those who are bottle fed.
Babies tell you they are not hungry by non-verbal communication. Typically they will:
- Turn their heads away and close their mouths
- Accepting the food, chewing it a little bit and then spitting it out
- Vomiting it up
Solids introduced at six months is advocated, but rather than present a dishful of food, offer a variety of foods at each meal. Don’t worry if they peck at one or more foods like a bird, they will be gradually becoming accustomed to the texture, smell and taste of the foods and benefit from taking in a few calories.
In brief, he lists some rules for food (p.112) as follows:
- Never force a child to eat
- Breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and then continue for 2 years and beyond
- Offer solids at six months, after breastfeeding. Bottle-fed babies should be having 500ml of formula a day
- Start with very small amounts of food (the tip of a teaspoon), without too many new foods at a time
- Limit foods containing gluten (i.e. give very small amounts)
- Drain cooked food
- Don’t add salt or sugar to foods
- Don’t be in a hurry to introduce allergenic foods, such as dairy, eggs, fish, soy, etc.
The book might be a refreshing and comforting approach to a problem that is enormous in many of our young families. Older parents often take a more relaxed approach to ‘picky’ and reluctant eaters. In fact, I’ve heard many interesting stories about such children. One concerns a young boy with a very restricted diet of virtually nothing but pasta and chips who developed into a keen and accomplished young cook after puberty, producing gourmet meals complete with a variety of vegetables!
The book might serve to encourage moms to feel better about the feeding situation. I’ve inserted the cover of the book, which is available from amazon books and kindle