My gymnastics and swimming coaching careers spanned 25 years. I quickly learned that our students perform better when they are actively engaged in the learning process. More importantly, Dr. Walkley’s research at the most basic level of activity possible, highlighted the importance of core muscles. Today’s neuro-scientifically based research shows not only that it is important to ensure children have high levels of aerobic activity to speed the growth of new brain cells, but that very simple exercises which develop students core strength are beneficial to their academic performance.
Parents often have questions about why their child can’t read, comprehend, remember math facts, follow instructions and why they aren’t excelling in the classroom. Their intuition tells them something is missing, but don’t know what.
Teachers know how to address the academic side of the issue. However, questioning should also address sensitivities to light, texture or sound; if they fidget in their chair or if they appear to be unable to follow discussion or academic tasks, perhaps asking, “What?” when the teacher asks them to work on an assignment. At Gymnastrix we talk about how athletic a child is and if they can skip, bounce, run and cross the monkey bars. We also ask about the child’s birth and if they crawled as a baby and reached all of their developmental milestones.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, there is a lot more pressure on our children to excel at higher academic levels than what their brain and body is prepared for in the classroom. Children are now expected at younger ages to be experts at subjects and topics that even just 10 years ago wasn’t required. Schools now limit recess or have removed recess altogether from their curriculum and kids are now expected to sit still in their chairs, listen to the teacher and rote-learn at a faster pace.
Do You Remember Play-based Movement?
Why has this become a bad thing? “We have so much curriculum content, there just isn’t time for play,” many teachers say. At the same time, learning challenges like Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD), ADHD, Autism, Dysgraphia and Dyslexia are on the rise because we are taking away play-based movement from our classrooms. More and more kids now have poor posture, deprived vestibular systems (balance and coordination), sensory overload. Worse still, no core muscle strength. Sitting inactivates these muscles and sees their strength decrease because of atrophy. It sometimes leads to developmental delays. Research in US mainstream schools shows children have immature motor skills, which is directly related to educational achievement.
Poor Core Muscle Development
While many exercises can be used to help children’s brain and body work together, such as gymnastics, dance, swimming, playground equipment games or ball sports it is important to build strong core muscles in their neck, tummy, legs, eyes, arms and fingers. Each body part plays a key role in triggering the brain for higher learning concepts. We see children who can barely do a sit-up or collapse when I ask them to lie on their back and lift their head to look at their toes; making it hard for them to look at a whiteboard or focus on their teacher.
Children who play online games or have excessive screen time sees them sitting for hours at a time, with core muscles becoming weak. These children are at risk of under-achieving in school, not because they aren’t bright, but because they don’t have the physical skills and core muscle strength needed to support their intelligence in the classroom. Simply their motor skills are under-developed.
Another issue we see with children who have poor core muscle strength that affects learning is retained primitive reflexes that stem from birth, which could cause toe walking or children sitting in the W-position or bed wetting.
Miracle Grow for the Brain < Harvard’s Dr. John Ratey >
Gymnastrix Active Academics Program provides teachers with activities so students are moving in the classroom with play-based activities to build their core muscle while working their brains.
About the Author
Wally Salinger has 30 years experience as an Australian Physical Educator. He has taught 2 million children Australia-wide and in the 3rd World. His passion for movement education is lived every day as a physically active, mentally challenging Mindset Coach. The Alpha Potential. He believes every child should participate in high quality physical education within their education curriculum on a daily basis.
He loves gymnastics, swimming, yoga and travel, currently based in Sri Lanka. SalrWWalal