Written by: Natalie Fuertes
As a former teacher and current mom of two kids of my own, I have seen an increased focus on reading and math in school curriculum's over the past few years. In a typical school setting, it isn’t unusual for children to sit through 90 minutes of math and close to 120 minutes of reading/writing. This often happens without a break in between to give students a chance to get up and get the wiggles out.
Try to put yourselves in their tiny shoes for a second: imagine yourself, sitting at your desk all day, in back-to-back meetings, without a chance to even get up and stretch your legs or go for a quick walk to grab a cup of coffee. We’ve all been there, suffering through the work day, staring at the clock, your focus slowly deteriorating, and your ability to come up with effective solutions and groundbreaking ideas quickly evaporating. You need a break, a chance to re-energize your body, refocus your mind, and reinvigorate your resolve.
Kids are “whole body learners” which, as you can infer, simply means they learn with every part of their being. Studies show that physical activity enhances the learning process for children (Moving With the Brain in Mind, Jensen E.) and has positive impacts on cognition, mood, and attention. The World Health Organization currently recommends that children ages 5 - 17 should accumulate at least 60-minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity on a daily basis in order to see the benefits. While I’ve noticed that some of my kids’ teachers have been implementing more movement breaks into their lessons with the use of Smartboards and programs such as GoNoodle, it certainly isn’t enough.
Thankfully, my children are getting the majority of their physical activity after school, during their gymnastics practices. Nevertheless, if you don’t have your child enrolled in after school classes and you know they aren’t getting enough physical activity at school, here are some activities you can do with them (either at home or on the playground) that will help build reading and math skills:
Obstacle Courses - We use these at LIC Kids all of the time. They help reinforce sequencing and predictability through the instructions provided to the child. For example, “First, climb up the stairs, then crawl through the tunnel, last go down the slide”.
Skipping - Did you know that the majority of low-level readers can’t skip? This is because the act of skipping requires you to use both the right and left hemispheres of your brain - the right brain controls the left foot while the left brain controls the right foot. Skipping helps to build the connections between the two hemispheres. Similar to skipping, reading requires the same connection between the two hemispheres in our brains. When you start reading text on the left, your right brain is in control. When you get to the middle of the sentence, the right brain hands it off to the left brain to finish reading the sentence. So encourage your child to skip to strengthen those connections!
Play Tag - Reinforce shapes and colors at the playground while playing tag. Instead of saying, “The pole is base”, switch it up and say, “Base is anything that’s the color red!” or “Find something in the shape of a triangle! That’s base!” instead.
Once you’ve exercised both their brains and their bodies, here are some fun gymnastics-themed books for your budding athlete to keep the fun going:
Jake at Gymnastics by Rachel Isadora
The Greatest Gymnast of All by Stuart J. Murphy
I Will Try by Marilyn Janovitz
Tina Tumbles by Danielle Soucy Mills
Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still by Karlin Gray
Curious George Gymnastics Fun by H. A. Rey
Cartwheel Katie (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin
Gymnastics Jitters by Jake Maddox
She's Got This by Laurie Hernandez
I've Got This (Perfect Balance Series) by Melisa Torres
Go-for-Gold Gymnasts by Dominique Moceanu
Balancing Act: The Gymnastics Series by April Adams