Think about toddlers, who move constantly. Think about cave dwellers, who moved just to survive. Then think about us. We…sit. For many of us, movement isn’t part of every hour. It’s homework. So there’s a lot that we (think we) ‘can’t do’.
I know this for a fact. At 34 I had no ball skills. I couldn’t reliably catch. I couldn’t accurately throw. I was afraid of the ball, so I closed my eyes when it came. And I was ‘useless on the left side’.
It turns out that, because I’ve only used my right hand all this time, I’ve not actualised some of the brain-and-body-potential that’s inside me. Plus, I’ve been sitting for six hours a day, five days a week, for the last 15 years.
Now, at 35, I’m a lot better, but it’s taken sweaty months of practice.
So, while I’ve come to terms with the fact that my eloquent daughter is unlikely to be an Olympian (her nerdy genes, inherited from both parents, are probably unsuitable for athletic pursuits), that’s not a certainty. So what can I do to give her a fair shot – just in case she turns into the next Caster Semenya?
Building my little one’s brain
Pedro Almeida* – former pro athlete, Physical Education teacher and trainer at Parkmore’s Seven Star Energy Centre – says I can help her to develop and integrate both hemispheres of her brain, via exercises that use both the right and left sides of the body.
Because if, like me, she only kicks with her dominant foot, the other may become ‘lazy’ or “she may develop a false belief that she ‘can’t do’ that task”. (Like me and burpees.)
On the up side, research shows that stimulating both sides of the brain enables children to control and coordinate body and mind. They learn better, become more creative, deal more effectively with challenges and emotions, and build enhanced confidence, self-esteem and understanding of their environment. It’s win-win.
‘Just playing’ vs brain-boosting
Kids are experts at playing. Plus, because motion and movement are fun, kids activate all their senses without realising it – stretching body and mind.
The problem is that we (and grandparents, teachers and friends) impose limitations on play: “Don’t touch… Be careful… You can’t…” And sometimes this shuts down their creativity to the extent that they lose the will to use it.
The answer is brain-boosting exercises. Rooted in play, they’re able to infuse movement and exercise with great enjoyment and great purpose.
3 easy activities to try at home
You don’t need professional input to begin this process. Here are three activities, suggested by Pedro, that you can do with kids at home:
- Together, try to write, draw, paint, kick, and throw using your non-dominant limbs. Don’t judge; just try. Use your imagination, but be realistic in your expectations and kind about the results. And let your little one reinforce their ability with practice, until they can do it a little bit better.
- Ask your child to mimic the unique movements of different animals, like a crab, a bear, a frog, a leopard and a crocodile. Do it with them, from one side of a room to another (a quick way to get in shape, if you do it often).
- Introduce colours, numbers, and shapes to movement, so that you’re integrating what they learn at school and in the environment into your brain-boosting activities. For example, ask your child to crawl to the red ball, throw it into the yellow box, use their toes to pick up four objects, and use the objects to make up a story. If they’re older, give the instructions first and ask them to remember the sequence of what they need to do.
Pedro says that, by stimulating both sides of the body and brain in a fun way, complemented by the encouragement to practice, we’ll lead our kids towards better emotional control and a “repertoire of healthy experiences” in their lives.
When to get your kid started
According to Pedro, this category of brain-boosting activities works best with kids aged five and older, because this is when their bodies and brains are most receptive to instruction and learning.
They can begin to appreciate and eventually master the fundamentals of movement, which will also prepare them to choose the various sports they may want to participate in later on in life.
Maximising your ‘down time’
Most of us spend a lot of time in the car, waiting outside school, or standing in queues – with and without our kids. I’ve realised that these times offer great opportunities to (get off Facebook and) fit in some brain-boosting activities.
No equipment required; just the phone, which is glued to my hand anyway.
I use JAMM (Just a Mindful Minute), a local app, to get ideas (plus photos and how-to explanations) for introducing mobility, balance, strength, play, breath, or movement into our waiting time. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices.
So what’s the bottom line?
Get your kid moving. Let your kid see you moving. Think playfully about exercise and activity. Integrate it into your down time or make it part of your quality time. Whatever you do, don’t just…sit.
The bottom line is that there are two sides to the brain for a reason, so wake up your sleepy side and start to give your littlie the potential to be a complete rock star. Have fun!
* Pedro Almeida is a former professional roller hockey player, a PE teacher (trained at Portugal’s Higher Institute of Education Sciences and the High Sports School of Rio Maior) and a trainer at the Seven Star Energy Centre in Parkmore, where he works with kids and adults to enhance their physical abilities and build healthy lifestyles. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for info.