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In my previous post “What are Gross Motor Skills and Why are They Important?”, I talked about the importance of motor skills, especially in those early years when your child’s brain is developing at warp speed.
But, what exactly is the link between motor skills development, your child’s learning and their ability to read and write? I’m going to introduce you to a part of the brain that is pretty essential in this. Read on to find out more…..
You’ve probably heard about left and right sides (hemispheres) of the brain and how the left side is responsible for more logical and analytical thinking whereas the right side is the more creative and artistic side.
It’s obviously far more complex than that though. As Dr. Sarah Mckay, a Oxford University trained Neurologist points out in her article The Myth of the Creative-right vs Analytical-left brain:debunked.
“…this simplistic right-brained vs left-brained view of how the brain works is not grounded in evidence!
…Speech and language, for example, are found in the left hemisphere, but not ALL aspects of speech are left-sided. Intonation, for example, is found on the right.
..believing that you are ‘creative but not analytical’, or ‘logical and unintuitive’ and that is hard-wired into your brain, is a rather limiting belief and probably becomes self-fulfilling after a while.”
It is now widely accepted that both sides of the brain are necessary to perform most tasks, they just handle them a bit differently.
There is no debate however that the left side of the brain controls the movement of the right side of the body and the right side of the brain controls the movement of the left side of the body.
And the part of the brain that links the two sides is called the Corpus Callosum. Check out this DTI image of the structure below, it’s highlighted in orange. It’s a massive bundle of nerve cells and acts a bit like a major highway of ‘communication’ between the left and right sides of the brain. It starts to develop around the 12 weeks stage of human gestation and continues to develop after birth.
This connection between the two sides of the brain is essential for all functions that require integration between the two sides of the body. That list of functions is pretty huge if you think about it!!! Right from getting out of bed at the start of the day, both sides of the body are involved in most movements we do.
From a school learning perspective, reading a book where your child’s eyes scan from left to right across a page or writing words across a page. Using scissors to hold the paper and cut with the other hand, playing a musical instrument or playing sports. They all require both left and right sides of the brain to be communicating in a coordinated way.
As each side of the brain has sensory and motor control of the opposite side of the body. Moving both sides of the body at the same time in a rhythmical fashion will fire up the Corpus Callosum and boost connections between the two sides of the brain.
And the more you do these activities, the more effective and long lasting the nerve connections will be. Have you ever noticed that when you go for a walk, you have much more clarity of thought? I know I do!
The change in habits of our children today are resulting in this connection between left and right brain being under developed. This is causing problems for children entering the school system.
It’s not all doom and gloom though.
There are certain movements that you can do to supercharge development of the Corpus Callosum and the earlier these are done in a child’s life, the better!
A baby’s crawling movements activate both hemispheres in a balanced way and is a great example of bi-lateral coordination. That’s why the crawling stage is so important in brain development, don’t rush for your child to be on their feet too early. Both sides of the body move at the same time completing alternating patterns of movement with arms and legs. Riding a bike, walking, running, climbing are all other examples.
When children are sitting on a seat playing with an electronic device, they don’t do this and the brain connections between the two hemispheres aren’t stimulated anywhere near as much.
Crossing the mid line is the movement of one side of the body across the body’s centre line to the other side. Activities like swinging a bat, kicking a ball, hand clapping games, touching elbow to alternate knee are all examples of this. Again, during these activities the brain sends signals backward and forwards from one side of the brain to the other repeatedly, strengthening the link between them.
That’s why I’m so keen to promote ride-on vehicles such as Trikes and Balance Bikes that allow young children from the age of 1 year and up to repeatedly practice bi-lateral coordination and get those Corpus Callosum nerves firing from an early age!
Other ride-on vehicles like Wishbone Flip and Mini Flips encourage exactly the same development.
What activities do you do to get the Corpus Callosum firing?
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Until next time, keep active,
My store focuses on toys that develop Gross Motor Skills but what exactly are gross motor skills and why are they important for your child?
I’ve been visiting kindergardens and pre-school centres to give presentations about this topic.
The take home message is that developing gross motor skills not only helps your child in building the skills for any physical task such as walking, running, sitting upright, throwing, jumping, skipping etc. that they might encounter in their lives.
BUT, by developing these skills, your child will develop sections of the brain that will have a positive impact on their ability to read and write at school.
Gross Motor Skills are defined as all the processes in the body that are involved in the movement of large muscle groups. So this starts with the sensory system detecting the stimulus. Involves the nerve cells through out the body. Then, processing by the nerve cells in the brain. Finally the muscles bring about the action.
The traditional 5 senses are involved: Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smell and Touch
But also proprioception, a sense that measures the relative position of parts of your body and strength of effort applied (this involves muscles, tendons and joints). And the Vestibular system, located in the inner ear, which is involved in balance and spatial orientation. These two further senses are sometimes linked together to be called the movement sense.
We are less active than ever before for a variety of reasons and this reduction in activity is having some quite significant consequences for our youngsters. Some of these are mentioned below:
This last bullet point is a key one for me. There are many research articles that are highlighting this developing problem such as this one from The Independent Education News section.
Without appropriate development of gross and fine motor skills, children have a reduced ability to grip a pen or pencil or sit upright at the desk for learning. They don’t have the endurance to last a whole day at school. Some can’t track with their eyes across the page to read or move their hands across a page to write in a coordinated way. Many children haven’t built nerve connections between left (speech and language processing) and right brain hemispheres (visual spatial and face recognition) effectively to co-ordinate learning. It’s a worrying trend!
initial map for brain development.
At birth, your child’s brain is
the size of your child’s adult brain.
By 3 years old, it’s at 80%!
It’s not just about the quantity of nerve cells though, it’s all about the connections!
Significant connections or synapses get made between nerve cells (neurons) during the first years of a child’s life. This effectively programs child development.
A 3 year old will have around 1000 trillion brain connections or synapses which are selectively pruned later on in life.
Nerve cell connections are built by:
So, it’s vital that they are exposed to a range of age appropriate experiences that help build these connections in a positive way.
Not only that, the more often nerve cells pathways fire, the stronger the connections will become so repeated practice at the same activity will help stabilize these connections.
“Neurons that fire together wire together” said Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb
As these brain pathways stabilize, it makes them much harder to change later on. It’s vital to get it right early on in a child’s life.
The foundation of brain development is so important too as higher level pathways are built on lower level ones. You need a strong foundation to gain the more complex and higher order brain processing that will happen later on in their lives.
Invest in your child’s physical development early on and you will be helping to develop an active, well connected brain that will allow your child to flourish at school.
Check out my post Did you know poor Motor Skills Development can impact your Child’s Learning? to find out more on the link between motor skills and a well connected brain ready for learning.
In future posts, I’ll review a range of active toys and show you how each type of toy will stimulate the sensory systems and can benefit your child’s motor skill and brain development
Until then, keep active,