Fitness and focus for kids

By: Michelle Drake

Author: Canadian Living


Fitness and focus for kids

By: Michelle Drake

There is a window of opportunity in a child's forming nervous system to enhance athletic capability. A byproduct of specific movement practices is that they will also increase mental potential. This means that by encouraging a routine of certain simple exercises, your child not only has a better chance of getting picked for the team, but their schoolwork will be enhanced as well.

When we are born and our growth journey begins, each system forms daily. Our bodies are laying down a foundation -- let's refer to it as our electrical system. It is the stimulation of movement that generates a natural maturity of our nervous system. It is our nervous system that determines factors such as:

• how we learn to deal with stress and stressors
• focus/concentration
• listening
• thinking
• remembering

Physical athletic abilities:
• balance/equilibrium
• agility
• read and react skills
• hand-eye co-ordination
• gross motor co-ordination

This is a condensed list -- there are many others.

A very important milestone for your child is crawling. The act of right arm, left leg and then switching facilitates the right and left side of the brain to co-ordinate efforts. The action of crawling is a stage to encourage. There are many cases of children that exemplify lack of co-ordination at a later age, if they neglected to crawl. An example is during a BLAST Sport & Fitness session with teams of 'seemingly' athletic children enhancing secondary fitness components such as balance, agility and co-ordination. Often during the straightforward co-ordination hurdle drill, those that failed to crawl as a baby now exhibit confusion, discomfort and frustration. I often look for the origin of a problem and when I ask, 90 per cent of the time the parents' response is that the child started walking and never crawled.

Don't worry if your child skipped this stage -- we will give you some routines that will help enhance these abilities. It's helpful if you are able to work with your children earlier, before the age of 12, before the nervous system is fully developed.

I consulted a Brain Gym practitioner, Linda S. Clark from Peterborough, Ont., who has been instructing classes and facilitating workshops and lectures through Canada and the U.S. since 1990. The program's formal name is Educational Kinesiology and its effects are outstanding. These physical activities are specifically chosen to integrate and enhance the nervous system. Even though they are incredibly easy, just a few seconds can provide great outcomes for your child. Clark has worked successfully with a wide range of clients ranging from ADD/ADHD children to recovering stroke victims. She explains the actions as "resetting our circuit breakers."

Here are three tools to put into your toolbox. It would be wonderful to set a timer during homework time and perform the first two exercises for just a few seconds every 40 minutes.

The first two are courtesy of Linda Clark and Brain Gym International.

1. Thinking Cap
Gently uncurl or massage your ears, from top to bottom 3 times. This helps with listening, thinking, remembering, equilibrium, and attentive focus. It will even warm you up if you are feeling chilly.

2. Cross Crawl
Move one arm towards the opposite leg, and then reverse. You can do this standing, sitting, or lying down. Fast or super slow. Eyes open or closed. Also try connecting behind your body as well. This action stimulates co-ordination of the left and right brain hemispheres, thus enhancing practically every skill!

The third exercise drill is courtesy of BLAST Sport & Fitness Inc.

3. Coordination hurdle
You will need some markers (tennis balls, etc.), a stopwatch and some sticks or sidewalk chalk. Either lay the sticks about a foot and a half apart or draw a ladder using the same distances on the sidewalk. Place the markers (tennis balls) randomly at the right or left or none down the length of the ladder. If the marker is to the right the participant must land on the right foot. If it is to the left, land on the left foot. If there are none, land on both feet. Start the timer as they begin and add a second for every mistake. Practice to improve your score.

Enjoy sharing these exercises with your children and remember: Brain Gym can be just as helpful to "reset parents' frazzled circuit breakers" as it is for their kids!

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Fitness and focus for kids