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How Movement and Exercise Help Children

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Movement and Children

Children love to move. Take them to the playground and just watch. They run, jump, climb, swing, hop, twirl, roll and fling their bodies around in any way they can think of. They always seem to be creating fun ways to exercise their bodies. Anyone who has any experience working with children knows that they rarely take the simplest path between point A and point B. A straight line seems to be out of the question.

If you ask a child to perform a simple task, even as basic as “come here for a moment, please,” they tend to take the most indirect route possible. At home, a child will crawl over the back of the couch, hop behind a chair, and then slide along the wall before finally making it to the desired location. In school, a child might do something similar. They’ll skip down one aisle of desks and back up another. Then they’ll take a little dance break at the pencil sharpener before finally ending up at the teacher’s desk.

Why do kids move so much? Why do they always seem to be exercising in new and unique ways?

Though kids don’t always know what’s best for them, in this case, the scientific research says that where movement is concerned, they do. Movement and exercise have a positive effect on both the bodies and brains of children.

At this point, you may wonder why we’re posting an article about movement activities for children on a blog geared toward adolescents. That’s a valid question. The answer: the more you think about it, the more you’ll realize that almost everything here applies not only to young children, but adolescents and adults, too.

Benefits of Movement Activities

It’s long been known that unstructured play has a positive effect on the individual development of motor skills in children, and it’s also well documented that unstructured play with peers both at school and public playgrounds is crucial in developing social skills like conflict resolution, cooperation, and communication. In reaction to the recent epidemic of obesity gripping the U.S., scientists have gone to great lengths to prove the positive correlation between exercise and general children’s health. It’s now considered common knowledge that kids need to stay active for at least an hour a day.

What many parents, teachers, and childcare workers don’t know, however, is that movement activities have two more significant benefits: 1) They can improve cognitive performance and overall academic performance, and 2) They can facilitate development for children with special needs or delayed physical skills.

Activities for School Children

Teachers and childcare workers can incorporate any manner of movement activities into their school day. In the classroom, activities like dance, yoga, musical chairs and creative movement are all effective tools. These activities can function on many levels. They can:

  • Serve as a transition between one academic activity and another
  • Relieve classroom tension if it exists
  • Help kids get focused
  • Add an element of fun to the classroom

When outdoors at P.E. or during recess, teachers should not be shy about organizing kids into structured movement-based activities that include everyone. Teachers can initiate games as simple as tag or hopscotch, or as complex as soccer or basketball. They can ensure the participation of children with special needs by setting up adaptive rules that make the games fun for everyone. Shortening the duration of games or reducing the playing area helps children not typically included in sports activities. Setting up an obstacle course is another great idea for turning unstructured outside time into productive learning activities.

For creative and inspired teachers, the possibilities are endless. Teachers and school staff can let their imaginations run free. They can rest assured that the latest research in developmental science proves that movement helps children learn and grow on multiple levels – all while having loads of fun.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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