Having worked in both remediation and gifted education Pre-K through college for over six years, I am often asked by family and friends for tips and tricks of how their children can get a running start on the path to success. This is especially true for my loved ones who have a child just entering preschool—and even younger. For these very young ones (and all other ages), my advice is always this: PLAY, PLAY, PLAY!According to the study "Fitness Improves Thinking in Kids," children who exercise regularly with play activities actually experience increased brain activity during non-exercise tasks (Bruzek, 2014). This means that exercising through play, even if it has nothing to do with "traditional learning," strengthens your child's ability to learn and puts him or her on the path to success at school and beyond.
For those of us with children old enough to participate in team sports or non-facilitated collaborative play like neighborhood tag, the solution is easy. However, if your children are too young for independent play you may be struggling to think of ideas. Check out the list below for some suggestions for exercise play that promotes brain activity!
Baby: up to 12 months
- Provide toys that promote reaching and grabbing.
- Engage your baby's sense of touch by providing safe household items like clothing of different textures (always supervised and age appropriate, of course). Finally, a use for your long retired velour tracksuit!
- Visually engage your baby with toys and objects of different colors and sizes, while saying aloud the names of the objects.
- Ease the transition to tummy time by accompanying the gentle maneuver with songs and play peak-a-boo at her eye level.
Toddler: 1 to 3 years
- Dance and sing! Find a song that you both enjoy and incorporate movements that use the whole body.
- Play roll or catch with a ball made of soft material.
- Play follow the leader or ring around the rosie.
- Work on exhibiting toddler-modified healthy exercises like jumping jacks and stretching. (My cousin Jennie, a fitness guru, loves this one because it teaches healthy habits early on. First grader Ella already runs faster than I can, and baby George is on his way!)
- Begin introductions to team sports like basketball or soccer. If he's not ready to participate on a team, try playing in short bursts at home. (A tip from Guru Jennie: If your child is not on a team, create your own family team!)
- Work on bicycle skills, or try a tumbling or swimming class.
- Ask your preschool what exercise play activities are incorporated in the school day. Make sure that there is enough safe outdoor and indoor space for your child to learn, play, explore, and be active.
Remember to keep exercise play activities engaging and fun! Exercise play should not feel like an adult trudge to the gym. When your child engages in healthy exercise play on a regular basis, she is off to a great start in brain development and working toward a successful academic future!
Bruzek, A. (2014). More active play equals better thinking skills for kids. Shots: Health News from NPR. NPR website.