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Insights | Small choices, big effects

13 January 2021

We have all heard about the mind-body connection. There is no time in our children's lives when it is more important than in the very early stages of their development. The choices we make for our children in this crucial phase will have a fundamental and lasting impact on their success as learners. Below are three measures that you can take to ensure your child is on the right track before enrolling them in school.

 Encourage physical activity early and often

It is never too soon to encourage physical activity in your child. Even as early as the first day home from the hospital, your infant can engage in 'tummy time'. Simply placing them on their belly while they are awake enables them to develop the muscle groups that will help them to sit up, roll over, crawl and ultimately walk. It is also your infant's entry into motor development as they begin to grow conscious of their bodies and learn how to use their muscles to complete various actions.

Crawling is another activity essential to your child's early development. By crawling, an infant naturally moves their limbs across the mid-line that bisects their body. In effect, the brain receives and processes sensory information from both sides of the body, building strong connections between the brain's hemispheres. This has long-term effects on everything from a child's ability to reach for objects to being able to follow a line of text on a page. That last bit cannot be overstated enough. Studies have shown that infants who shuffle across the floor rather than crawl often encounter greater difficulties when learning to read and write. 

By the time your child can walk, it should be encouraged as much as possible. Rather than picking them up and carrying them everywhere, let them get around on their own whenever they can. Walking builds strength in the legs and feet and benefits posture. Believe it or not, this has a profound impact on a child's ability to learn. Without confidence in their posture and physical abilities, they are less likely to develop the listening and attention skills necessary for learning.

Finally, once your child is thoroughly mobile, encourage physical activity. This can mean regular visits to the local playground or park, walks in the neighbourhood or even active play within the home.

Use digital devices judiciously

Handling eating utensils, using a toothbrush, fastening buttons, turning pages, gripping a pen — all of these actions require well developed fine motor skills. As you might imagine, deficiencies in these areas have far-reaching implications when it comes to socialisation, independence and self-confidence. They all have a direct impact on your child's ability to learn.

Children develop fine motor skills through repeated motions that build the small muscles in their hands and wrists, like gripping, squeezing, pressing and making pincer motions with their fingers. The problem is they barely perform any of these motions when they swipe their fingers across a smooth glass touchscreen. Indeed, digital devices like smartphones and tablets have revolutionised how our children learn. Nevertheless, it is good practice to balance your child's digital diet with other, more tactile activities, such as playing with sand, sculpting plasticine, putting together puzzles or drawing and painting. When they do use digital devices, consider having them use a stylus. This way they can reap the benefits of this digital tool and develop fine motor skills at the same time. 

Allow your child to take risks

It is a natural instinct to shield our children from anything that may do them harm. But it is important to resist the urge to be overly protective. Children must be granted a certain measure of freedom to explore their surroundings, take risks and even make some mistakes. Exploration and experimentation are how children learn about cause and effect.

By being overly protective of our children, we risk stunting their ability to calculate risk and recognise the consequences of their actions. This has a profound impact not only on how children interact with their surroundings but how they learn. Deficiencies in this area can manifest themselves as difficulties with some of the most seemingly simple tasks, like climbing stairs. Suffice it to say, if left unaddressed, the long-term effects can be debilitating. Learning from and improving upon mistakes fuels the engine of self-confidence. So do not be afraid to let your child venture beyond your (and their) comfort zone. They will occasionally fall, but rest assured, they will learn how to get back up meet their challenges head on.