June 17, 2020

Cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, bone health, improved balance, agility and coordination —the physical benefits of regular exercise are well established, and a growing body of research suggests frequent physical activity can improve academic performance, too.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Active children are better learners. Here’s why: brain health and basic cognitive functions that underpin learning, such as attention and memory, are enhanced by physical activity.

Clinical studies have shown that exercise increases the number of brain neurotransmitters (which play an important role in attention and focus),as well as brain-derived neurotrophins that support neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to adapt and rewire itself).

Just one session of moderate-intensity physical activity can positively impact your child’s learning. One study found that after walking on a treadmill for 20 minutes, children exhibited greater neural activity and increased attention, memory and reading comprehension, compared to sitting fora similar length of time.

Similarly, a meta-analysis of school-age children revealed participation in physical activity resulted in beneficial cognitive outcomes across several measurement categories, including perceptual skills, IQ, achievement and verbal and mathematics tests.

And, when physical activity is used as a break from academic learning, research shows the effects include better attention, increased on-task behaviours and improved overall academic performance.

At Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure, physical activity is an important, and much-loved part of the children’s day. “We open at 6.30am, and from the moment the children start to arrive we’re outside, throwing and kicking balls, and climbing and playing games,” says HayleyWalker, an early childhood teacher at Sanctuary’s Buderim centre.

“At 9.30am we go inside for morning tea and begin activities for literacy, math and cognitive learning, and the children are better able to sit still and concentrate because they’ve had all that physical activity first thing in the morning. By providing regular opportunities for movement and exercise we notice that the children are more engaged in their learning and have a greater attention span.”

Physical Activities To Enjoy At Home

“For babies and toddlers, it’s really just getting outside and moving, and giving them a chance to explore, climb and run,” Hayley says. “You can introduce fun little details too, like pretending to act like a certain animal — your child might love stomping around like a dinosaur, for example.”

Another source of joyful movement for this age group: balloon play! Because they’re light and buoyant, unlike a regular ball, balloons are great for young ones to chase after and practise playing catch — which aids the development of gross motor skills.  

When it comes to kindergarteners and preschoolers, Hayley recommends trying more advanced activities. “It could be copying dance moves, or throwing or kicking a ball back and forth, but it helps to choose something that has a specific focus,” she says. “Explain the movements or which muscles you’re using, or try a game with instructions, like ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf?’”

Inclement weather? No problem. “We encourage children to go outside in the rain in their raincoats and gumboots to jump in puddles and explore,” Hayley says. “Or, if we have to be indoors, we use a lot of technology, as well. Here at the centre we have an interactive TV, and one of the kids’ favourite games is Just Dance, where they copy the dance moves. That’s a good one to try at home because most people have a smart TV and it’s such a fun way to get children moving their bodies!”

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