So often we when we think of learning we think of paper and pencil. Or
maybe we think of watching an educational program or listening to an
It’s important as parents and caregivers to know that movement, and
especially movement in free play, is a major contributor to brain
growth. In fact, movement it is the pre-cursor to all learning.
Here are three easy ways to ensure your child gets the movement he or she
needs for optimal brain development.
1. Give your child lots opportunities to practice balancing.
Have you noticed how children naturally look for things to balance on?!
Think street curbs and the arms of your couch :). There is an innate drive
inside a child to work on their balance skills and to balance on
increasingly complex things. An infant is constantly working on balance,
moving from rolling to sitting to pulling up. A toddler will try balancing
on a log and then jumping a few inches to the ground over and over again. A
grade-schooler will also try balancing on a log but one that is suspended
over water with the goal of reaching the other side. Middle and high
schoolers love things like slack line and ever increasing balancing
challenges. As a child’s body and muscles become more coordinated their
brain capacity increases. Higher academic achievement is always correlated
with higher levels of fitness.
So what can you do? Take your kids outside and expose them to different
types of terrain. Moving over uneven terrain will help them as they work on
their balance. Hike with your kids and then watch as they are drawn to
fallen trees and to large rocks to climb on. Encourage them as they test
their bodies and work towards more difficult goals. All of that balancing
work will contribute to academic success!
2. Give your child a rich sensory environment.
Every one of our senses carries information straight to our brain. Consider
all of the senses that are engaged when a child plays in a stream outside.
They feel the coolness of the water, rocks beneath their feet, and mud
squished between their fingers. They hear splashes, the sound of moving
water, and the chorus of insects and birds. They see all sorts of
variations of colours. They see reflections. They see items of all
different shapes and sizes. They taste the water as they splash. They may
even taste some dirt. And of course there’s the smell of the great outdoors
which will vary depending on where you are.
Every square inch of our bodies is designed to take in information and send
it to our brain. The more time we allow our children to be in sensory rich
environments the greater opportunities there are for brain growth.
So what can you do? Take your kids outside and let them explore with all
their senses. The longer the better! Try and find differing environments: a
field, a stream, a beach, a forest. The great thing about nature is that
even if you frequent the same place often those places are ever changing
and will always have something to offer your child.
3. Give your child lots of eye-strengthening opportunities in nature.
When I think about movement I don’t tend to think of my eyes but vision is
actually closely related to movement. Every single time we move, our eyes
adjust and take in new information. The more our eyes move together, the
stronger they become and the stronger the connections to the brain become
as well. Tracking with our eyes is an extremely important part of reading
and so we want our children to have developed muscles when they reach the
age where they are physically ready to read.
Think for a moment about the differences between looking around inside
versus looking around outside. Outside the stimuluses are almost infinite.
Moving clouds, flying birds, swaying leaves, small insects moving along the
ground, etc. Additionally, even in the same location the outside stimulus
will change day to day due to weather, season and other factors whereas the
inside walls remain largely consistent. Outside the lumens from the sun
enter right through your eyes and go straight to the brain elevating the
mood. A child in a relaxed and good mood is in a much better state to learn
than one who is anxious or depressed. Consider your baby’s eyes when you
take her on a hike. As you carry her on your hip or in your baby carrier
her eyes are constantly adjusting with the up and down of each step. As you
do this you are helping to strengthen her eyes and organize her brain.
So what can you do? Expose your kid’s eyes to the vastness of the outdoors
by allowing them to be in nature frequently for lengthy periods of time.
It’s always worth your time to let your kids play outside! Give yourself a
goal. Schedule it is as one of your first things. And be confident that it
will contribute to greater academic success over time.
Ginny is a home-schooling mum of five children in Southeast Michigan, USA.
Through their journey of parenthood, she and her husband Josh have noticed
that parks, trails, campsites and nature-scapes are often devoid of
children. They wondered why, and while researching, they read that 4-6
hours of outside time within a day is ideal for children. Though they
initially thought this seemed excessive, they gave it a try and have never
looked back. Ginny and Josh and their children experience the many varied
benefits of time spent in nature, and find that if they spend 20 hours
outdoors per week, this amounts to about 1,000 hours each year. Now they
encourage others to get outside too – take a look at their website for more