“Look at me!”
“Watch me do a handstand!”
“Look at me jump!”
Young children love to show off their physical prowess. What parents may not realize is that the antics kids use to get attention are often building blocks for developing attention!
I had a momentous birthday last week so I don’t do a lot of handstands anymore, but when I was a kid, this would have been me!
All that running, jumping, climbing, doing handstands, and rolling downs hills that kids love to do when they have the time and space to do it, plays a tremendously important role in the development of self-control and attention.
Believe it or not, free, unstructured, physical playtime is a big contributor to school success.
John Ratey, M.D., author of A User’s Guide to the Brain says, “Mounting evidence shows that movement is crucial to every other brain function, including memory, emotion, language and learning. Our ‘higher’ brain functions have evolved from movement and still depend on it.”
Learning begins with movement. Babies begin to learn about themselves and their environment through movement. Visual skills are developed through movement. Understanding of left and right is developed first through movement. Sense of balance and control is developed first through movement. Movement helps energize and organize the brain.
Physical balance is the foundation for attention and mental control. The body must be relaxed and centered to be truly balanced, and we learn about balance through movement.
When we do Attention Focus Training at Stowell Learning Center, we start with physical activities – such as walking slowly forward and backward on a line or low balance beam – that require the student to be balanced and centered. Going slowly and maintaining control can be very difficult for students at first. At each step of increasing control, we have students stop and recognize or feel the change from distracted, speedy, and off balance to calm and focused.
We work with students on anchoring the calm, focused feeling by taking a slow, deep breath and thinking about an X (an integrated symbol that engages both hemispheres of the brain). Then when they start to get distracted and unfocused while doing school-type activities and homework, they can take a deep breath, think about the X, and remember what it felt like to be balanced and in control. This helps them access that feeling of calm, centered, focus so they can bring more attention to the task.
Applications for parents:
- Less screen time and more unstructured outdoor time, especially for young children
- Activities that require balance, such as gymnastics and martial arts, will also train attention focus
- Short movement breaks during homework is time well spent
- Try having kids balance on two feet, one foot, while walking on a line or curb forward and backward, or maybe even while doing hand stands for a few minutes when distracted. As they fight for balance, they are also fighting for attention, learning to center their body and mind.
Learning gets its jump-start through the involuntary movements caused by the primitive survival reflexes babies are born with. There is a normal progression of movement activity that helps a child understand himself and accurately perceive and navigate his world. Interference, for whatever reason, to this normal development through movement can impact a child’s attention, learning, interaction, and comfort in the world.
Does your child struggle with learning or attention? These challenges can be changed. While there are no simple, overnight solutions, most learning and attention challenges can be dramatically improved or completely corrected through targeted physical and cognitive training. For more information:
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