The Importance of Physical Play in Child Development

by Hettie Visser

“Understanding the importance of physical play is vital to your child’s development.”11406799_903968486343765_141431064068443316_n---Copy

“Learning – According to the Child Development Institute, 75 percent of brain development occurs after birth. Physical play helps a child to develop connections between the nerve cells and the brain. As these connections develop, a child’s fine and gross motor skills, socialization, personal awareness, language, creativity and problem solving are improved. Ideal physical play incorporates play with social interactions and problem solving.12004042_904589626281651_7303452694598646353_n

“Health – Physical play provides various health benefits. According to the North Carolina Child Care Health and Safety Resource Center, physical activity promotes early brain development and learning in infants and young children. It also decreases the risk of developing health conditions like coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, obesity and many other chronic health conditions.”

— Kimberly Wonderly

In ancient times everybody had to be physically fit in order to survive. Today we think that physical fitness is for sport professionals, and that the rest of us can watch them on TV.

Schools that must operate on a low budget, often “save” by cutting back on their sporting activities. There is an outdated perception that body and mind can be separated since the brain is in the head and the body is below the head. Many people think that students can still function properly if they are inactive. The truth is that they will learn much better if they include physical activity in their daily schedule.11216583_899820910091856_4336600825639700309_n11214045_899820680091879_5042309194212247138_n

But this is not the only good (or bad?) news. The function of the cerebellum in the brain was always seen as only related to the control of voluntary muscle movements. Neuroscientists have now established that the cerebellum was totally underrated. Apart from movement, this part of the brain also processes learning. (1995: Annual Society of Neuroscience Conference)

Many established beliefs about the cerebellum have been challenged in recent years. It is now realized that its function is of vital importance for our whole existence. Strong links exist between the cerebellum and memory, spatial perception, language, attention, emotion, and even decision-making.

These findings shed new light on the value of physical education, movement, and games in boosting the process of acquiring knowledge. As children move over, under, around, through, beside and near objects, these words take on greater meaning to them. Such spatial orientation is also necessary for letter identification, e.g. the difference between ‘b’ and ‘d’. It indicates that early movement is an essential element of the basic learning process. Knowledge acquisition relates to all aspects of children’s lives and it must actively involve them.

Many researchers have indicated that children who are physically active achieve higher marks than their sedentary friends. Every bit of exercise is beneficial. The American Heart Association recommends that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

There is a perception that sport activities are for a small number of achievers and that the rest of us can be spectators. Some form of sport activity must continue throughout life. Parents should set an example and get involved as far as possible. A weekend is the ideal time for active family fun!

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise which is perfect for our climate. Mozza Yamaguchi, one of the top swimming coaches in Tokyo, writes in an article for the magazine Tokyo families (14.11.2011): “The benefits of swimming are unique, uplifting, and contribute to the positive development of the child. Researchers have documented that the stimulating effect of child-paced swimming lessons has the potential to increase intelligence, concentration, alertness, and perceptual abilities; as well as an improvement in social, emotional, and physical development”.

Hettie Visser is a teacher at Mooltripakdee International School.

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