The Link Between Mind and Movement

Imagine the reaction of a parent who asks: “Is my child ready for first grade?” What would they say to the seemingly simple inquiry, “Can he skip down the street?”

Adults don’t skip. Other than while holding the hand of a young child, we would all be hard pressed to say we have seen an adult skipping down the street. Clearly, it is not a motor skill that children will use later in life, but for a young child skipping is imperative.

This playful method of movement is actually a great predictor for a child’s later comfort with fine motor and visual motor skills. Bob Sornson, founder of the Early Learning Foundation, identifies fluid skipping as one of four necessary movement goals for all students by the end of kindergarten. His list of goals that indicate early learning success follow:

  • Impeccable balance – Ask the child to stand for six seconds on one foot with his/her eyes closed.
  • Throwing and catching – Ask the child to throw and catch a small object, like a bean bag, to another person who stands 10 feet away.
  • Comfortable visual motor skills, which includes craft work such as cutting, coloring, clay work, stringing beads etc.
  • Fluid skipping – Ask a child to skip for at least 10 yards.

In some ways, we all agree with him, perhaps without realizing it. For example, we can agree that the body was designed to move. Anyone who has young children will tell you how much they need to move. Parents, just think of every time you have ever said “sit still.”

The bottom line is that movement, from the crawling of a baby to the skipping of a 5 year old, is an important predecessor to a child’s brain growth and development. Most parents understand that crawling is an important cross lateral movement that improves communication between the two sides of the brain. Likewise, physical activity in early childhood develops brain-body coordination that lays the foundation for cognitive brain wiring yet to come. Indeed, such motor skills serve as catalysts for the development of listening, speaking, attention, emotional control, and visual motor and visual thinking skills.

In the progression and the development of sensory motor skills, optimal readiness for school is built on balance and gross motor skills. Those fundamental skills need to be obtained for later skills to develop – skills such as visual memory that help young students remember sight words, or skills such as visualization that allows us to comprehend abstract concepts.

All of this is to say that learning and movement are intrinsically tied together.

For young children, movement is the key to joyful learning. Movement increases blood flow and brings more oxygen to the brain. Indeed, a student before second grade can only pay attention for 10 minutes before needing to move in some way. The child who is fidgeting is sending a clear message that (s)he needs to move. Being asked to sit still at a desk might make it impossible to concentrate when the body needs to move.

Research agrees, young children need to move. Even the NFL has adopted a campaign to encourage physical activity in children for at least 60 minutes every day. Daily physical education classes meet this goal. It allows children the exercise and cardiovascular fitness to keep the blood moving and oxygen pumping in the brain. It is a different way to think about the whole child when we think about early childhood education.

What is a parent to do? Consider if you will that to sit still and be productive, your child might need to have an opportunity to move first. If you want your 6-year-old to sit for an hour, physical exercise ahead of time will help and the opportunity to move even in small ways every 10 minutes will make a world of difference.

Linda Krulock graduated from West Liberty State College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and early childhood. She teaches senior kindergarten at Wheeling Country Day School. Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education.