| Preschool | Kindergarten | Child Health + Development

Keep kids moving and help them learn

We 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 involved."

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 setting."


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


There are no comments yet. Be the first to comment

Read Next