It is always a joy to witness babies, toddlers and children explore and master new motor skills with their bodies. But what we often don’t see is how this movement impacts our child’s brain development.
It is widely acknowledged that early movement experiences such as crawling, rolling and tummy time contribute significantly to a child’s learning readiness. As such, the brain’s structure is connected to the child’s inner body mechanisms, driving movements that ultimately restructure the architecture of the brain. These deceptively simple movement patterns support the development of skills such as visual tracking, motor control, speech and language, emotional regulation and accessing academics.
As a pediatric Occupational Therapist, I observe the risk of our focus being exclusively on our children’s academic progress without recognizing the subtle but powerful influence that our bodies exert on every aspect of functioning. Movement is the foundation of our brain development and must be nurtured and practiced in order to support cognitive growth and academic success.
Activities of daily life such as dressing, feeding, washing and playing require a strong understanding of praxis – the ability to interact successfully with the physical environment through our ability to plan, organise and carry out a sequence of actions. Simply put, it is the ability by which we figure out how to use our body and hands in skilled tasks.
When considering a child’s motor-planning development, there are three specific components we must support;
Ideation: The ability to grasp the idea to allow purposeful interaction with the environment. It involves knowing what to do with an object and being able to anticipate a plan of action.
Planning: The ability to plan and sequence a purposeful response involving the motor and sensory systems. It also involves knowing how to move and being able to send the right messages from the brain to the relevant muscles and areas of the sensory system to carry out the movements.
Execution: Carrying out the movement and putting the plan into action.
So how do we support our children to access such skills?
Practice, Practice, Practice along with modelling the skills alongside your child.
Repetition of movement-based skills builds, strengthens, and solidifies brain development. Quite simply encourage your children to be as independent as possible with activities of daily life. Create time to practice and repeat movements or games that you notice your child finds challenging and create opportunities for movement-based learning in your everyday.
“It is impossible to educate the mind without involving the body. Learning is thinking and movement integrated.”