Thursday, December 4, 2008

Crossing the Midline, Cross-Lateral Movement & Brain Development

The midline is an imaginary line that runs down the body, separating it in half vertically from head to toe thus dividing the body into right and left halves. "Crossing the midline" refers to the ability to move a part of the body-- such as a hand, foot or eye-- into the space of the other hand, foot or eye. Being able to cross the midline indicates that the child has reached the point in his or her development that the right and left side of the brain are working in tandem. An example of crossing the midline is using your right hand to reach over your body and scratch your left elbow.
Connecting the two sides of the brain is a fiber bridge known as the corpus callosum. When children do cross-lateral movements (arm and leg movements that cross over from one side of the body to the other) the two sides of the brain are forced to communicate and this strengthens the nerve-cell pathways that link both sides of the brain through the corpus callosum.
Crossing the midline is necessary for reading and writing because in order to read and write one must work from one side of the paper to the other fluidly.

To encourage cross-lateral movement:
  • Sing songs and repeat chants using hand motions that cross the midline of the body such as “Pat-a-Cake” and “Hot Cross Buns.”
  • Dance using streamer ribbons or scarves. Play a music CD and ask children follow along as you swish the ribbon or scarf across the front of your body, make figure eights in the air, circle the streamer in front of your body like a Ferris wheel or circle it over your head like a helicopter blade.
  • Play games like Simon Says or Follow the Leader where actions require crossing the midline, such as touching your right knee with your left hand.

In my next post, we’ll look at more playful ways to encourage brain development. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Found Ball = Spontaneous Play

It was the Saturday after Halloween and the unexpectedly warm Pennsylvania weather beckoned us all to go outside. The grandchildren were riding bikes and the adults, walking with the dog, were trying to catch up. Upon nearing the neighborhood lake, complete with geese and grassy knolls, the children called out to us, “Let’s play here!” Nana, Papa and the dog were left with the kids as the other adults headed home to gather the fixings for a picnic lunch.

We removed our shoes and started exploring the terrain barefoot – experiencing the sandy beach of the lake, trying to avoid goose poop between our toes. The lake water cleaned our dirty feet and enticed us to look for fish and skip stones. Looking for a container to fill with water, I found a discarded water bottle and, deeper in the tangled brush, a bright green playground ball.

My grandson and I started playing with it, tossing it back and forth. He proceeded to make up his own game of bounce-catch on top of a nearby picnic table.

“Nana, how many bounces will there be before you catch it?” he asked. Then he announced some rules about the number of points received depending on where the ball bounced on the table.

The green ball became the center of attention after lunch as well as children began kicking it on the grass and said, “Let’s play soccer!” Parents, grandparents and kids aligned across from each other, three against three. Toy sand trucks became goal posts on either end of our “field” and the game commenced. Running and kicking, fetching and throwing; children and adults all laughing and sweating. The best part of our afternoon was the unplanned, spontaneous play initiated by the boys.

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says what children really need for healthy development is time for more old-fashioned play. Free play is essential for healthy physical, emotional, social and intellectual development and helps form the foundation for creative thinking.

The found ball was the provocation for family time, physical activity and FUN! Being involved, active and playful is one of the best gifts grandparents, parents or teachers give our children.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Game: Ghost Dancing

I just asked Grant, my 4-year-old grandson, "What was your favorite game that we played at your preschool’s Halloween party today?" He replied, “Try to keep your ghost up in the air.”

He and his other classmates loved this active play game that required some open space, music and white balloons to make “ghosts.” Teachers/parents can set the tone for this game by explaining that their “ghost” (white balloon) has been stuck in the attic for almost a year and wants to come out and play with them; try not to let the ghosts touch the floor or they might want to stay forever! The kids are exuberant as they jump and dance, keeping their ghosts up in the air. Hoots and howls abound!

Materials needed for this activity:
Balloons, blown up (a 9” or 11” helium-quality balloon works well)
Indoor open play space
Music (Halloween music is fun for this) and Music Player

How to play:
1. Start with children sitting in a circle.
2. Give each child an inflated balloon "ghost." (If you are working with very young children or children who may be tempted to chew on broken balloons, blow up the balloon inside a knee-high stocking. This will keep the balloon pieces contained if the balloon should accidentally pop.)
3. Tell the children that when they hear music they are to stand up and keep their balloon up in the air with their hands. When the music stops they are to catch their balloon and sit down as quickly as they can.
4. The game continues with the starting and stopping of music, usually continuing as long as the length of one song. Make the game more difficult by stopping and starting the music at shorter intervals.

Besides the obvious FUN, children will benefit from this activity by—
  • Getting physical activity, which is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure
  • Getting health-related fitness, defined as components of physical fitness that are related in a positive manner to health and well-being—cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition
  • Building gross motor skills by using the large muscles of the arms, legs and trunk
  • Practicing listening skills by following directions
  • Building space awareness, which means knowing where the body can and should move in relationship to other people in the play space
  • Understanding shared space as all of the designated play space that can be used by everyone
  • Engaging in cooperative play, which are games and activities that the participants play together rather than against one another

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Where Have All the Swing Sets Gone?

As I visit preschools and observe children playing outside I am continually reminded that the swing set that was once a staple on every playground is now absent. Swing sets seem to be disappearing like dinosaurs of an era long gone—they are becoming extinct!

I’ve heard the reasons. Children can pinch their fingers while grasping the chain; other children can run in front of a child swinging and get hurt; swings present a safety hazard on the playground. Strict federal guidelines, state licensing and the insurance costs make it impossible to keep swings where they once were. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Handbook for Public Playground Safety requires that swings be set apart from any other structure, with a clearance both in front and back equal to twice the height of the swings, and six feet of clearance on either side. That’s sometimes most of the space in a typical preschool playground! And the standards also call for costly new playground surfacing beneath swings to cushion falls. There are certainly unsafe swing sets out there but to totally eliminate them has created some unexpected developmental delays for many children. Swing sets are being torn down but nothing is being erected in their place that offers the same contributions to a child’s physical, cognitive and social development.

When a child is swinging, both the vestibular system and proprioceptive system are being activated. The vestibular system is comprised of several structures in the inner ear. When the head tilts in any direction fluid moves small hairs within the structures and their movement lets us know our position in relation to the earth’s gravity. This is how we know when we are in motion. The proprioceptive system gathers information from the muscles and joints to tell us our body position and posture. Swinging naturally helps children to develop balance and coordination. The visual connection between vestibular and proprioceptive systems is also developed through swinging, as swingers use visual cues to adjust their balance and movement. The influence of these systems plays a major role in the developmental milestones of sensory processing and gross motor skills for children. And let’s not forget the relationship between swinging and social development. Whoever thinks that swings don’t promote cooperation never heard best friends say, “I’ll push you, if you push me.”

Do the benefits of swings outweigh the risks?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity (MVPA)

Physical activity simply means movement of the body that uses energy. For health benefits, physical activity should be moderate or vigorous and add up to at least 30 minutes a day.

Moderate physical activity means you are exercising but not pushing or exerting yourself. Your heart is beating, breathing increases, but you won’t break a sweat. Brisk walking, hiking, riding a bike on level terrain and shooting a few baskets are examples of moderate physical activity.

Vigorous physical activity means your heart is beating fast, there is a large increase in breathing (conversation is difficult or broken) and you sweat. Jogging or running, riding your bike uphill and playing a high speed game of basketball are examples of vigorous physical activity.

In future discussions on this blog, I will share materials and equipment as well as give you many ideas of how to include moderate to vigorous physical activity on a daily basis in your program.

Recent studies conclude that children who attend school with more resources and better-educated teachers have significantly higher levels of MVPA. Do you incorporate MVPA in your classroom?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why Should We Get Our Kids Moving?

There is a new epidemic targeting our young children and it’s called childhood obesity. Children are less active and consuming more junk food. The amount of “screen time” from TV, computers, Internet and video games contributes to the lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating choices. Diseases once thought to affect only adults—heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol—are now common in children. If this trend continues, children of this generation are not likely to live as long as their parents. Research shows that by influencing children early in their lives to adopt active and fit lifestyles and make healthy nutrition choices, childhood obesity can be prevented and even reversed. Childhood obesity also lowers self esteem, affects relationships with peers and contributes to poor self image. These social and psychological consequences impact children’s ability to feel accepted and learn.

One of the biggest reasons to get kids moving is because of the growing evidence that shows physical activity enhances brain function and academic performance. Physical activity fuels the brain with key nutrients, like oxygen and glucose. A lack of oxygen to the brain results in disorientation, confusion, fatigue, sluggishness, and concentration and memory problems. Moderate to vigorous physical activity gives the brain its needed nutrients. It improves short-term memory, creativity and reaction time. It not only increases blood flow to the brain, but also speeds recall and reasoning skills. Mental focus and concentration levels in young children improve significantly after engaging in structured physical activity. All things being equal, a physically active child will have an advantage in learning versus an inactive child. Fit kids are smart kids!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Movement, Play & Physical Activity for Children

Children need to, want to and, in fact, are innately programmed to move. They are constantly communicating through their actions and words-- as you well know, actions do speak louder than words-- "MOVE ME!" We as educators need to help our young children move and be active. We teachers need to intentionally plan and facilitate daily the time, space and opportunities for movement and physical activity. This format/discussion will help me share with you my experiences, observations, and knowledge that I have learned over the past 30 years of the importance of movement and the crucial role it plays in the overall development—physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively—of young children! Join me on our journey to understand, implement, and embrace the importance of movement, play, and physical activity!

Please send me your ideas and suggestions of how you incorporate movement and physical activity in your program and curriculum. The more educated we are, the better teachers we will be!
Sharing is caring,
Sharin’ with Sharron