The Brain Body Connection
I wrote the following article for a moms and toddlers group newsletter. Over my years in the professional world, I have gotten scores of referrals for kids with motor delays only to discover that the skills they are lacking are simply ones they haven't been exposed to. If a child is never allowed to color, how will he ever be able to hold a crayon? Read on:
The Brain Body Connection
By Tracey L. Davis, MOT, OTR/L
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
Abilities Developmental Consulting Services
In this information age, we as parents are better equipped than ever to engage out children in activities that stimulate their mental development. What books should we be reading? What music should we play? When should we start teaching alphabet letters? Any of these questions can be answered with a quick search on the internet. Schools are introducing academic tasks earlier and earlier, and children are starting school younger and younger. And yet we keep asking the question: what more can I do?
Many times, in our quest to help our children develop their brains, we forget about their bodies. We let play time be play time, and learning time be learning time. But motor development is not only important, it is essential. Research shows a direct link between motor skills and cognitive development. Vestibular stimulation (movement) increases expressive language (speech). Typical development begins with gross motor, then fine motor, and finally speech and language development. This is because the connections that need to be made in the brain to develop mental skills are activated through motor and sensory play.
We know this to be true, and yet we choose one in favor of the other. We overstimulate their brains and overprotect their bodies. We push information into their heads and hold back their legs.
How can we encourage development of both the body and mind? We must let them do. We must let them be. We must let them try. Climbing, jumping, sliding, and yes, even falling. They all provide information. Information that makes neuron connections in the brain. Coordinating arms and legs to climb a ladder provides instant feedback to joints, muscles, and nerves. What a child does with this information is called a motor response. Motor responses originate in the brain. Motor play time is learning time, and it starts in infancy. But it doesn't end there. School aged children need this same kind of motor feedback just as much as toddlers, for knowing how gently to place a block on a tower without toppling it over is the same skill that keeps a child safe when climbing the monkey bars or navigating through a crowded classroom.
Obviously, we must keep our children safe. But there is a difference between helping them be safe and keeping them from trying a new skill. Our small children might not yet be ready to do, but they are always ready to try.