Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash
In a world of sedentary activity we seem to have increasing problems with thought. The push on academics and the increasing amount of time children spend at their desk have not made our children smarter. Could it be that the answer is not more time at desks, but getting up and jumping around more?
“The notion that intellectual activity can somehow exist apart from our bodies is deeply rooted in our culture. It is related to the attitude that the things we do with our bodies, and the bodily functions, emotions and sensations that sustain life, are lower, less distinctly human. This idea is also the basis of a lot of educational theory and practice that make learning harder and less successful than it could be.” Carla Hannaford, P.H.D. Smart Moves
The importance of physical activity can be seen throughout history. The ancient Greeks highly prized their top athletes. Every boy not only went to school to study but also to train his body for sports competitions. (This had the added benefit of making sure the city-states were ready to go to war at a moment’s notice.)
Even in our desk centered modern culture, we still prize our top athletes as heroes. We know, somewhere deep inside, that what they do is amazing. We know our bodies matter. We know we should exercise in order to have a healthy heart and strong muscles. But we are just starting to realize we need to move for our brain.
If you want your kids to be smart, teach them to jump rope.
Brain Matter Depends on Movement
Often when we don’t have time to get something done every day it is not a matter of time but of motivation. Motivation is often an lack of understanding the importance of something. On both a daily level and a big picture level, exercise is an essential ingredient of what our brain needs to thrive.
On a basic level, we can remind ourselves that the brain needs an immense amount of oxygen, more than it will receive during sedentary breathing. But the brain’s need for us to move our bodies is much more complicated than just needing more oxygen. Movement begins a cascade of activity in the brain.
“Your brain literally depends on exercise for the growth factors it needs to thrive. Exercise stimulates the release of particular hormones in the brain that nourish brain cells (namely, nerve growth factor, or NGF), and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and other growth factors, which all stimulate the growth of brain cells and more synapses, or connections between brain cells.” Dr. Terry Wahls
In other words, we need to get our kids moving more so their brain cells grow and they form more neural connections in their brain.
“If you don’t exercise, your brain won’t get this all-important growth-hormone “bath” and your body will react by pruning the unused neural connections and making fewer new connections.” Dr. Terry Wahls
Do you want your kid’s brain to “prune out” what you taught them last year and make fewer new connections? Not the ideal learning environment.
“You are more and more likely to have early memory loss, declining social skills, and increased irritability and mood troubles.” Dr. Terry Wahls
Hmm…I included this quote, because, how many kids do we know who have trouble with moodiness and irritability? Not your kids? Congrats. I am not claiming lack of exercise is the only cause of moodiness in children but it is certainly a great way to start tackling that moody spirit. I am a witness that getting a kid to move several hours a day can transform their person.
Movement increases the quality of the white matter in your brain. The quality of white matter determines how fast and efficiently your brain processes information.
The cerebrum is the part of the brain where learning is processed, it is this very same area of the brain that processes planned movements, such as walking, dance, swimming, and any sports. So every time you take the time to train your children in the coordination of movement you are also strengthening the part of their brain where all the academic stuff is going to be processed.
“Every time we move in an organized, graceful manner, full brain activation and integration occurs, and the door to learning opens naturally.” Carla Hannaford, P.H.D. Smart Moves
Fitting It In
Fitting exercise into your busy homeschool day may seem impossible. But without it, you are not giving your child’s brain what it needs to be able to make and keep the neural connections needed for learning. You must find the time to fit it in.
I have fit this need to move into our schedule in different ways over the years. As I have become a more experienced homeschool mom I realize more and more, just how important it is and how much time be should be dedicated to moving our bodies. This is more important than cramming knowledge into our kid’s brains. Without building a brain that is capable of holding and processing that knowledge our efforts to form well-educated adults will be in vain. I think of exercise as a foundation for academics. The strong base that is needed to support the entire framework of what they will learn in the academic portion of their day.
Here is a list of ideas to fit more movement in your day:
- Go to the park before you start your ‘school day’. I did this when mine were little and the weather cooperated. It got them moving much more than just sending them out into the backyard. It also gave them motivation to get through their morning routine, because they knew that the sooner they got to the park the more time they would have to play there before heading home to hit the books.
- Get a mini indoor trampoline. These cost about $40, I think we went through about 4 of them over the years, as they got so much use they eventually wore out. These were a life-saver up north for those long stretches of months where it is too cold to stay outside for very long.
- Movement songs. When your kids are young, invest in a CD with motion songs, things that are easy to follow and encourage them to move in different ways. My favorite was Wee Sing and Move, when it was rainy or cold out we would put this on in the morning, and I would do the moves right along with the kids, until we were all tired. After that, their brain was ready to learn.
- Community sports. Depending on the state you live in, you may have access to do sports along with the public school, another option is the YMCA or sports through your local community center.
- Take a weekly hike. You may not have time to go for a hike every day, but you can dedicate at least an afternoon every week to getting out and enjoying nature while your legs get a workout.
- Kick them out of the house. I know this is a really retro idea, but believe me, prior generations had a lot of wisdom when they kicked kids out of the house. They can get nature therapy, and will get themselves moving in your own backyard.
- My kids have always loved contests, any kind of exercise is suddenly fun when you are trying to beat your sibling’s record. Jumping jacks, push-ups, and sit-ups jumping rope, and hula-hooping have all enjoyed being the center of numerous contests in our household.
- Dance. Dance incorporates rhythm, coordination, music, and physical movement all into one beautiful package. If you have a good studio near you and can afford it can be a great way to get in a little more movement. You can also try to learn some dances at home using YouTube tutorials.
- I also get them to move by limiting their screen time and making sure they have free time. Whether it is short breaks between activity or long stretches of time, kids tend to naturally gravitate towards movement activities during these times. Sure, they may sometimes pull out a board game, but there are plenty of times where they head outside to play with the dogs, jump on the swing, or chase each other.
It is more about creating a lifestyle that favors movement than it is about assigning your kids a task to move.
How Much Movement Do Kids Need?
How much exercise do your kids need a day? The CDC recommends at least 60 minutes a day. I treat this as a bare minimum.
Honestly, I don’t think that’s enough. My kids learn faster, function better, and are happier when they are moving for two or more hours per day. One of them even needs more than that, if you have ever heard that exercise helps kids with ADD just remember that they are usually going to need much more than an average child for it to reach a therapeutic level. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different amounts and find out what is best for your kids.