In the same way that birds fly, fish swim and animals move, toddlers are designed to toddle. The joy on their faces, from the first steps a child takes, shows that they are indulging in the potential of their freedom of movement (albeit stumbling and tumbling at first). The abilities of biomechanical self-propulsion are a vital component of the human body and a key indicator of healthy development in a child. It is the reason that parents all over the world celebrate ‘baby’s first step’ as one of the major landmarks of them growing up.
The early years development stage of a child’s growth is vital to its future. With a whole lifetime ahead of them, it is important to give children the best start as soon as possible and this period of their life is key. The latest neurological research shows a very clear link between physical activity and mental capacity. The early years stage (from 2-5 years old) is particularly prone to this sort of influence because young children are developing so rapidly throughout their bodies.
Studies have shown that when a young child is engaged in physical activity, their brains begin to function at a higher level, both in the short and the long term.
Physical exercise is brain exercise
While this is an observable benefit in children under five years old, it has also been noted in children of all ages – right up to ninety-five. The cumulative, lifelong effect is probably greater in the very young, however, because they have more years ahead of them. Here is some of the science in a bit more detail:
- Within even a child’s brain, there are trillions of nerve cells. These are where information is stored, accumulated and distributed. When these individual cells bind together, they become stronger and increase the brains abilities to both learn and retain new information. This ‘binding’ process has been shown to increase in efficiency and speed as a result of physical activity with the body.
- Despite the myth that we only lose brain cells as we get older, the latest science shows that exercise will cause the brain to grow new nerve cells – whatever your age. In very young children, however, whose bodies are already in ‘growth mode’ the act of taking physical exercise can significantly add to the number of nerve cells that are growing each day.
- Other side-effects of exercise within a young body include: increased levels of blood flow to the brain, and natural chemicals and stimulants being released. Go back to that look of pure joy that a child in active play exudes, and you’ll understand why this happens. It is not just the excitement of seeing more things as they move along, it is the rush of cognitive enhancement.
This instinct to run around is not just a child being naughty and indulging in the ‘terrible twos and threes’ or the ‘feisty fours and fives.’ It is them answering the call of their brains to get more development power.
The best thing to do is to channel this positive energy into organised sports events and physical activity routines. That way they use up more of their get-up-and-go while actively using their brains to follow instructions, try and achieve a goal, win a race or simply compete. The body and the brain working to enhance each other’s development.
And in this extra organised physical activity has been proven to help children learn and concentrate (long after the running around has stopped) while they are focused on more academic (and peaceful) tasks.