February 22, 2016

Get 'em Moving. Keep 'em Learning.

Ever noticed how it seems sensory integration and attention deficit disorders have increased as we've cut back on recess and the amount children play outside? I'm not saying a lack of physical activity causes these problems, but it certainly doesn't help the symptoms. Childhood is a time of intense physical as well as mental development, and the body not only needs but demands all types of movement and sensations in order to facilitate these developments. These demands can present as many of the symptoms listed for ADD, ADHD, various sensory disorders, and more.

So what is a parent to do?

As simple and even stupid as it might sound, make sure your children, or students, have time and opportunity to run around and play. Not only that, but give them opportunities to test their limits and experience new challenges. Children need to run, jump, climb, track moving objects, dodge, and twirl to develop strong muscles and bones, build endurance and balance, and improve hand/eye coordination. When they don't have the opportunity, or inclination, to get out and play, they're bodies will begin demanding they do. This is why some children begin squirming, fidgeting, and searching for stimuli during lessons.

I've seen it often enough in my girls, especially during the winter or prolonged periods of rain. After days or even weeks stuck inside, it becomes almost impossible to keep them focused on their work. Even when they do, their work isn't up to their usual standard, and it's because not all of their physical needs are being met. Holding "dance parties," having them see who can do the most jumping jacks in a minute, going through a "ninja" or "spy" course where they test their balance and flexibility, or play Twister even help some. Yet it doesn't seem to be enough.

Consistent time outside to play, explore, climb, and test themselves - within reason - makes a huge difference. Their schoolwork improves. Their sleep improves. Their temperament improves, and the number of conflicts between them drops.

It's one of the reasons we decided to homeschool year round, along with how quickly their reading fluency and math skills can revert when not in practice at this age. Summer weather is more conducive to frequent time to play. Plus schooling year round reduces the amount of material we need to cover on any given weekday to the point where it can be completed by lunch, so it gives them time to reinforce what they've learned through play all year long.

As a country, our push to remove recess, gym, and arts classes in an effort to shore up academic performance seems like its backfiring. Why are we following a centuries old model of teaching more rigidly and at younger and younger ages as if time drilling information is what is necessary when the research doesn't back it up? We have methods of studying brain activity and development beyond just the behavioral results today. Science has backed up the necessity of play in the early development not only of the body but the mind, yet we act as if mind and body are separate entities when writing educational policy. How does that make sense?

No matter if you homeschool or if your children attend charter, private, or public schools, remember that play is a natural part of childhood, not just because it's fun, but because it's needed. Trips to the park, playground, or just out in the yard to play as often as possible can help any child. It makes for a healthier body and mind, and it's just fun. They only get one childhood. Shouldn't they get to enjoy it before having to start the daily grind?

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