Over the last few weeks, many eyes have been glued to their television screens across the world as we observe the Tokyo Olympic Games from the comfort of our living rooms. It’s likely that the Olympics has been a highlight for many in Australia right now with multiple states currently in lockdown.
As we live through what seems like ‘Groundhog Day’ each day, we’re moved by the highs and lows of the Games. We hold our breaths as world-leading gymnasts dismount from high beams no average person would dare to mount in the first place. We cheer as our country’s swim team take the gold after being seen as the underdogs. We sigh in frustration as our favourite athlete narrowly misses placing for a medal.
Our children are much the same. The Olympics can be an exciting time for them as they get to watch the extravagance of the opening ceremony and experience the thrill of cheering for their country’s athletes competing on the world stage. It can also be an inspiring time for children, witnessing the fittest people on the planet demonstrate extraordinary skills.
Though the Olympics is almost over, that doesn’t mean the fun and games in our homes must be over as well. Use this as an opportunity to encourage more physical activity, particularly as families are currently cooped up at home. This is especially important as at-home learning continues and children are unable to participate in their usual physical education provided at school.
Why is physical activity so important for learning?
There is growing evidence of the positive correlation between physical activity and academic performance, both immediate and long-term.
According to research, soon after being physically active, children have higher concentration levels when completing classroom tasks. Over the longer term, regular participation in physical activity encourages higher fitness levels which can be linked to improved academic performance. In fact, studies show that as children engage in appropriate physical activity, this has a positive impact on their performance in mathematics, reading, and writing.
How? Based on research by Dr John J Ratey (an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School), there is strong evidence that aerobic exercise physically remodels the brain for peak performance, particularly attention and memory. Dr. Ratey writes that exercise improves learning on multiple levels, including optimising your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation and preparing and encouraging nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information.
So, exercise can be seen as a form of fuel to prepare the brain for learning and retaining information. This can be said of not only regular exercise, but also single sessions of physical activity. Even just one session of physical activity can translate to better academic test results, improved concentration and more efficient transfer of information from the working memory to long-term memory. When children engage in physical activity, they tend to be more focused on the task at hand. As parents and teachers, we know that focus and concentration are two key brain functions required for an optimal learning experience.
Now that we know the importance of keeping physically active while learning from home, the question is, how do we make this happen? Many of us are physically restricted to our homes, may not have spacious backyards or a local park to visit.
This is where creativity comes in. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
1. Use the Olympic Games to your advantage – encourage chats about the Olympics; what is their favourite sport? Who is their favourite athlete? Use these questions to lead into deeper conversations about what these athletes do to get to the Olympics Games through training and staying active. Then lead into the fun ways they like to stay active and jump on the opportunity to engage in one of those activities in the moment! This spontaneous approach will help them feel as though they don’t have to do it but that they get to do it.
2. Try Olympic Games activities – if you can, host your own Olympic Games at home with your family. You can participate in sports like “archery” using dart boards, “cycling” by taking the bikes out, and “athletics” through any running, jumping or throwing activities. You can even make it official with an Olympic Medal Count poster to tally the points and declare a winner at the end.
3. Play active video games – if there just isn’t enough room to engage in Olympic Game style activities, try active video games (like Dance, Dance, Revolution) to still encourage physical activity in your limited space. Yes, this still counts as exercise! In fact, one study performed over one school year showed that children who played active video games during recess experienced more improvements in both physical fitness and academic performance in mathematics than students who participated in traditional recess.
How do you keep your family active while at home? Try these ideas today to help support your child on their learning journey.
Contact one of our educational specialists today.