Active play can be so rewarding for the whole family, especially at this time where we need it more than ever. Many studies have revealed that exercise is beneficial not only for our physical health but also for our mental health. Indeed, during physical activity, good chemicals are released while stress chemicals are reduced at the same time.
We have asked Conscious Parenting Coach, Maguelonne Rousseau to take you through what happens to a child that is active and why being active as a family is so important!
What happens in the brain during active play?
The brain is stimulated in different ways (sensorily, cognitively, socially), which boosts brain cells growth. This phenomenon is called neurogenesis and is particularly essential in children’s development.
Enjoyable active play for children triggers “brain growth fertilizers” which make the brain function better with more brain connections. They positively affect higher brain functions resulting in higher IQ according to studies.
The mind and body naturally relax: active play lowers levels of stress chemicals (cortisol, adrenaline) making the brain ready for the next learning opportunity.
The brain receives more oxygen during exercise, so children and adults feel more alert and have a sharper mind after serious action. This explains why having high-intensity activity before bedtime might disrupt melatonin production and prevent quickly falling asleep.
Physical activity provides an outlet for primitive motoric impulses (urge to run, jump, climb…), that young children can’t control yet due to the immaturity of their frontal lobes. They NEED to move!
Practice makes perfect
Children use all their senses when playing actively: they have to interpret every piece of information received through all their senses (touch, vision, hearing…) to keep a good balance, run faster, catch a ball, aim at something… This is a great way to fine-tune their senses so the more they assess numerous external information while playing, the more their brain can develop an accurate comprehension of the actions to perform. For instance, a child has more chances to aim correctly when kicking a ball if she tried many times before because her eyes will be better at assessing the correct distance, giving the information to her muscles on how to kick the ball and using the adequate strength and angle.
Knowing your body better and having greater control of your muscles (fine and gross motor skills) is essential for safety reasons: active play is a rehearsal of situations where the outcome is usually not critical, teaching a child how to protect herself. If you know how to balance while walking on a 15-cm high edge, because you failed many times without injuring seriously yourself, your chances of balancing safely on something is much higher.
Get out before homework
Being active is also relaxing for the mind! A day at school can be stressful, homeschooling more so.… Often the temptation for parents is to first do homework and then let their kids play. But the best way for children to bring down the stress chemicals accumulated during the day (and especially if there isn’t a lot of recess time at school) is to go out and play freely. Their concentration potential will be greater after some meaningful playtime. Hyperactive children will be able to focus better, and anxious children will become less anxious if they have the opportunity to be active every day.
Being active as a family indoors and outdoors
Moments of physical–social play strengthen the bond between people, releasing good chemicals (such as opioids) in the brain and providing the amazing feeling of being loved and worthy to be with. Enjoying sports together, or simply rough-and-tumble (or gentle-and-tumble) play will make children and parents feel better! A mutual tickling session with your child is a lovely way to connect and distress right after school and work, making weeknight routine more enjoyable for everybody!
When kids are active and learn new gross-motor skills, they also develop resilience: it takes many – failing – attempts to learn to ride a bicycle and not give up, even after a really bad fall! It is also a great opportunity for parents to reinforce a growth mindset.
Being active for families also means often being outside, which is excellent for mental health: connection with nature is a must for children and adults. Time spent surrounded by simple natural elements shouldn’t be minimized to the profit of fancy-looking indoor playgrounds (those become handy in rainy season though).
Why it’s essential for your child to be active
Physical-social play sessions are essential for healthy brain development: it not only provides an outlet for primitive motoric impulses but also enhances higher brain functions.
To become physically and mentally healthy adults, physical activity is essential for children. The earlier parents let their children move freely, the earlier children will develop the ability to know their strengths and limits, the stronger their body-mind connection will be, the connection that is too often missing in adults in our modern society. We should stop opposing body and mind, and understand that for children to develop their brain and intelligence, they profoundly need to move!