April 6-12 is the Week of the Young Child, sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and Nebraska AEYC. “Early Years Are Learning Years” is the focus this year.
An important, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of learning is the role early childhood fitness, or movement, impacts learning. Increasing emphasis on educational assessment and accountability has led to reduced recess time or even elimination of recess in schools, and active physical playtime in centers for younger children. Yet play—including physical movement—has a positive impact on thinking and learning. One of the most important intellectual accomplishments of the first two years of life is learning about “cause and effect.” But how does this occur?
One way young children learn cause and effect is through physical activity. Children experiment with toys and other objects, discovering how their own movements influence something else. These “experiments” occur in everyday activities such as spinning a top or pushing a toy car across the floor. These movements lead to development of motor skills, but they also teach children how to use objects to achieve desired results—like getting that ball to bounce just right.
The physical activity that aids development of motor skills in infants sets up more complex movements during the preschool years, which contributes to development of information processing and memory. Researchers believe that physical activity helps develop the frontal lobe of the brain. This part of the brain helps children focus and ignore impulses, which in turn allows the brain to store information more efficiently. This means that a little running, skipping and jumping throughout the day facilitates learning.
So what can you do to celebrate the Week of the Young Child this year? We suggest you get out there with that special young child in your life AND MOVE!
(Trawick-Smith, Jeffrey (2010). From playpen to playground—the importance of physical play for the motor development of young children. Reston, VA: National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play.)