My older kid started school this year. And what used to be a quiet and patient little girl until recently, now hops up and down around the house, cannot sit still through a meal, let alone concentrate easily on homework.
So, what do I do when she has a heap of worksheet to hand in the next day? I let her make breaks to roll around, do cartwheels and jumping jacks, or play her favourite songs to dance.
Why? Because fidgeting is not a sign of bad manners but a clear indicator of lack of physical activity.
We use our heads to move
Physical exercises are known not only to improve overall health but to boost brain activity, too. There has been numerous research on positive impact of exercise, showing it promotes creation of new brain cells, stimulates their growth and helps build neural pathways.
Children reap multiple benefits from physical activity, namely enhanced information processing capacity, executive function (ability to think ahead, concentrate, memorize and multitask) and better performance on a variety of school tests.
Starting from a very early age, exercises are what makes the brain engage its different functions and, in order to move the body, all these functions have to adjust and collaborate, improving cerebral efficiency.
Take crawling, for instance. Moving both sides of the body (arms, legs and eyes) and keeping them synchronized enables communication between the two hemispheres and builds the neural pathway (corpus callosum) connecting them. Activating all four lobes ensures proper growth, enhanced executive function and academic performance.
Fidgeting and other nuisances
Underdeveloped corpus callosum results in uncoordinated movement and difficulties in learning, most notably poor fine motor skills and core stability.
Lack of exercise leads to serious sensory issues, too. Children with a deficient proprioceptive system (spatial body awareness) keep bumping into things, break crayons while colouring, give very hard handshakes and high-fives.
Vestibular (balance) sense also craves physical activity for proper development, otherwise movement coordination suffers, and children feel insecure and unbalanced, suffer from clumsiness and experience difficulty walking and sitting upright. Furthermore, vision may be impaired in terms of eyes not being able to move left to right (reading) or up and down (copying from a whiteboard).
Children with underdeveloped vestibular system tend to seek ways of strengthening their sense of balance by moving their bodies in all directions. But, since they are not allowed to roll and spin and jump and run or climb trees for several hours a day that is necessary for proper development, they do it in the class, while sitting. And that is call fidgeting, something the teachers seldom look positively upon, as for them it strongly indicates a lack of attention. Ironically, it is actually the kids’ vain attempt to stay focused that keeps them moving.
Exercise, exercise and more exercise
To help kids gain better balance, coordination, focus, learning and motor skills, let them exercise as much as possible. At least a couple of hours a day. Every day. Because everything else can wait, except for the growing brain which needs opportunity to properly develop right now.
Weather allowing, our favourite outdoor choice is the park, be it with a playground or simple nature-made obstacles and challenges.
When playing outside is not possible, whatever the reason, we make use of different videos that you can easily find online. There is a selection of activities, from funny animal mimicry to easy yoga for kids. We recently discovered a great series of yoga exercises that come with a story and got really excited about the Star Wars video. Amazing, right?
In any case, make your baby roll and lie often on his tummy, encourage her to crawl a lot, take your kid to the park and play on a swing or a see-saw, let her climb up the slide, use monkey bars, play ball. Get your child moving, as often as possible, because all his academic and after-school performance, as well as pretty much any personal success in life, depend badly on it.