The connection between movement and learning is one of the central topics among brain researchers and educators. Maria Montessori has discovered this connection many years ago. She stated in “The Secret Of Childhood”:
“Movement, or physical activity, is thus an essential factor in intellectual growth, which depends upon the impressions received from outside. Through movement we come in contact with external reality, and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas.”
She pointed out to the connection between kinesthetic learning and physical interaction with the environment when children learn using “hands-on” materials and tools. There is constant movement within a Montessori environment.
On of the researches shows that “The more the learners used learning activities with movement, the higher their academic achievements, especially with the following activities: sustained movement-assisted learning activities; physical contact with the learned environment; use of visual and movement modeling; and socio-kinesthetic interaction” (Shoval, 2011).
The connection between learning and movement can be explained from the historical perspective. Our ancestors’ survival completely depended on their ability to travel long distances – move from one area to another in search of food and living supplies. In order to survive, they had to move A LOT. This explains why to walk, for example, is extremely beneficial for health and brain function.
Another study suggests that:
“regular physical activity supports healthy child development by improving memory, concentration and positive outlook. For example, researchers found that children who had an opportunity to run 15-45 minutes before class were less distracted and more attentive to schoolwork. These positive effects lasted two to four hours after their workouts”. (source)
In my classroom, I used to run a short 10-15 minute session with kids right before emerging into Montessori work. We referred to it as “Brain Gym”. Brain gym helped three and four -year -old children to work on building “cross midline” skills. It assisted in developing a bilateral skill: “the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organized manner. Being able to coordinate both sides of the body is an indication that both sides of the brain are communicating and sharing information with each other”. Source Cross midline exercises help develop the connection between the left and right side of the brain. The concept is to facilitate child develop the ability to move left arm/hand or leg/foot to the space of the right side of the body and visa versa.
Here are a couple Brain gym exercises that help develop cross midline skill:
- star jumps which also require the child to cross his or her legs
- feet shoulder-width apart, stretch arms on the side parallel to the ground. Children touch left toes with tips of right-hand fingers keeping hands and legs straight and visa versa.
- “scissors” exercise with straight arms
- close eye, stretch arms parallel to the ground and take turn touching nose with the tip of the fingers of one hand at a time
- feet shoulder-width apart, stretch arms on the side parallel to the ground. Children reach for an invisible object with one arm at a time from the opposite side of the body.
I also incorporated simple math tasks by involving math games, for example: “what is one more than 8”. One child came out to write the answer on the board and we all counted out loud as we performed the exercise.
Every session was completed with 2 minutes run on the spot.
Needless to say, children absolutely loved it. Even though many Montessori activities greatly support the development of cross midline skills, some extra work on it is going to benefit 3-5-year-old children a lot. At the moment we incorporate this into our homeschooling routine.
Do you do cross midline exercises with your children regularly?