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Keep kids moving and help them learn

Published on: August 01, 2004

know that kids love to move. That's why we enroll them in dance, cart
them to parks and watch them at mini-gyms. We enjoy the exuberance,
energy and sheer delight they exhibit as they climb, somersault and
prance through the maze of whatever paraphernalia we introduce.

Here's what we may not realize: Experts say that when kids move --
whether in structured or non-structured activities -- nerve cells in
their brains are getting crucial stimulation. "Movement creates neural
activity and connections that literally grow the brain," says Helene
Freda, an education specialist who is now senior program developer for
Gymboree Play and Music. "When it's combined with other sensory
experiences, movement is the foundation for all learning."

That's why the most valuable early childhood experiences are those that
keep kids moving -- and also involve touch, sight and sound, according
to Freda. "Preschoolers can develop kindergarten readiness skills by
participating in developmentally appropriate activities that allow
exploration and engage all the senses," she says.

Christine Roberts is a big believer in floor play. Roberts developed
"Nurturing Pathways," a Seattle and Kirkland developmental movement
program for children birth to age 3. "Keep the babies out of saucers
and seats," she advises. "They should be on a mat; there is so much
that happens just by playing on the floor."

Calling movement "food for the mind," Roberts explains its significance
in her pamphlet, Growing From the Ground Up. "We can compromise our
otherwise perfectly able babies, waddlers and toddlers if we do not
give them ample opportunities to move, explore and play with others,"
she writes.

That means less TV, video and computer time and more whole body
movement -- which sometimes translates into just plain playing. "The
less we move, the less we use our neural networks," says Roberts. "If
we're using our whole body, we are engaging more parts of our whole
brain. And for a developing brain, that's very significant."

If anyone understands movement and motor development, it's Robin Wes.
Wes founded The Little Gym nearly three decades ago and has helped
children hone their coordination ever since.

"We are building readiness proficiency for that first day of
kindergarten," Wes says. "It's not just about developing the motor
skills; there's a whole emotional, social and cognitive component

In Little Gym classes, kids learn to follow directions, listen, take
risks, problem solve and focus, Wes says. "While a preschooler
explores, he looks at a situation ('what could I do on that balance
beam?') and has to make decisions about how to proceed."

Jumping, spinning, climbing, swinging and running in class can also
help reinforce spatial concepts such as "near and far" and "under and
over," according to Mary Kay Bisignano-Vadino, who teaches creative
movement classes at Dance Fremont.

Through what she calls the "concepts of space, time and energy," children are introduced to dance.

"It's important that children learn how their bodies work in space,"
says Bisignano-Vadino. "Do they want to move slowly? Move fast? Are
they comfortable when other kids are too close to them? Understanding
these things will help them function more effectively in a school


Linda Morgan writes frequently on education issues for ParentMap. 

How to encourage movement:

  • Place babies on a soft mat that allows them to move and protects their heads.
  • Be a part of their world down on the floor, rather than elevating them to yours.
  • Give toddlers ample opportunities to move in open spaces inside and outdoors.
  • Provide toys that move and spin like Hoppity Balls and Scooters.
  • <
    Provide good music and a box of instruments for them to play so they
    can develop rhythm for their language skills.
  • Sing nursery rhymes and chants and move with them for their social and emotional development.
  • Provide opportunities to safely climb and swing to activate their vestibular system.
  • Make simple obstacle courses for stepping over objects and going
    through tunnels and around coffee tables or desks to help with motor
    and mental sequencing.
  • Introduce them to movement and music classes that they find engaging to
    develop and refine their motor skills and social and emotional

From "Growing From the Ground Up" by Christine Roberts, founder of Nurturing Pathways.


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