Ever tried a strenuous workout without warming up? Put a cake in to bake and realized the oven had not been preheated? Tried to put together a bicycle or a piece of furniture without instructions and found several stray parts which should have been inserted much earlier in the process?
We can endure cramping muscles; we can take the extra time to heat the oven, hoping the cake won’t fall; we can take the bike or furniture apart and start over, but time has been lost and energy wasted, and perhaps injury was sustained because the proper sequence wasn’t followed.
Doing things in a certain order is necessary for numerous activities and in many professions, whether it be a game, a building process, a recipe, or an organized meeting.
The same is true in regard to the human mind. There is a sequence, an order in which development takes place. Understanding this order encourages and enhances mental and cognitive development. Making exceptions, trying to skip necessary steps to get to more advanced ones, can cause confusion, frustration, and even some learning disorders.
Parents who understand the order or sequence of brain development give their children an advantage in learning. Physical activities advance the child’s physical, intellectual, and emotional growth.
Sequence of Development
Development begins in the lower regions of the brain which house sensory systems and motor programs. Movement and sensory experiences help the lower levels of the brain to connect with the higher levels. Physical activity and sensory stimulation are vital to healthy brain development.
The sequence of movement begins with gross motor skills (GMS). These skills involve the whole body and use the arms and legs together on both sides of the body. GMS develop large muscle groups. This type of activity integrates the hands, eyes, and muscles.
Progression of Gross Motor Skills
We have enjoyed watching the progression of GMS and other skills in our new baby grandson. At three weeks of age, he was trying to hold up his head. It was wobbly, and he wasn’t very successful at first. But with each try, he grew stronger. I was amazed at how quickly it happened. We watched as he learned to move his arms, but couldn’t yet control where they went. He would get frustrated when he hit himself in the face, not knowing he did it to himself.
Now he is positioning himself for the army crawl during tummy time, and he brings his hands to his mouth frequently. You know how he will progress: army crawl on his belly, crawling, pulling up on the furniture, Frankenstein walking, normal walking, running, hopping, skipping, jumping jacks, spinning, somersaults. His balance will improve daily with all the activity, as will his muscle strength and skill.
More About Gross Motor Skills
He will be developing core muscles, as well as muscles in his arms, legs, shoulders, and back. AND he will be developing his brain. The movement helps the lower regions of his brain to connect with the thinking regions. He will progress from lower to upper brain development. Activities involving balance, spinning, or somersaults exercise the brain regions which also contribute to academic learning later. You are contributing to your child’s intelligence when you allow him to be active!
Bilateral Coordination (Learn this term.)
As your child increases in skill and ability, his GMS will promote bilateral coordination. Bilateral coordination involves balance. It refers to the ability to use both sides of the body in the following ways:
- at the same time, such as using a rolling pin, both arms moving back and forth together
- in alternating movements, such as crawling, learning to walk, and later climbing stairs and skipping
- with each side performing a different action, such as holding a stamp-pad with one hand and using the stamp with the other.
A special note about crawling and skipping: be sure your child is using the opposite arm while advancing his leg, left arm with right leg and right arm with left leg. Get down on the floor and try it to understand the difference. The same is true when skipping. If necessary, help your child lead with the arm opposite the leading leg.
Bilateral coordination is important for building intellectual skills based on connections within and between the two sides of the brain; the right and left sides are connecting and working together.
You may be thinking, “Skipping, climbing, jumping are the things children do naturally as they grow.” And you are correct. Every child needs time to practice these skills as he plays. He needs hours and hours of play time where he can run, jump, skip, and climb on a daily basis. It is during his play time that he will increase in muscle skill and strength. And as his muscles grow, his brain will develop. A thirty-minute recess or play time is not sufficient to accomplish this vital development.
Crossing the Midline (Another must-know term)
Another advantage GMS give your children is enhancing their ability to cross their midline. The midline refers to the vertical line running down the middle of the body, dividing it into right and left sides. To cross the midline means to use part of one side of the body in the space of the part on the other side. For example, give your child a large piece of paper, a good-sized paintbrush, and water or paints. Watch as he brushes back and forth, crossing the middle of his body, crossing the midline. Provide ample opportunities for your child to cross his midline during play.
I have watched my grandsons playing with match-box cars on a large mat on the floor. They cross their midline several times as they move the cars along the path painted on the mat. More activities that encourage your child to cross his midline include:
- side-walk chalk
- working puzzles on the floor
- cleaning up spills
- helping to wash the car
Crossing the midline is critical for the development of pre-reading skills. If a child cannot cross the midline with his body, it is very likely he cannot cross it with his eyes. In order for a child to follow a line of print while reading, his eyes must cross his midline. And each time his eyes move from the end of one line of print to the beginning of the next line, he is crossing his midline with his eyes. Crossing the midline also helps develop important connections between the two sides of the brain.
What About Today?
When will you take your child out to play today? Encourage the development of GMS by providing hours of outdoor play. You will benefit from being outdoors as well. Childhood is short. Make the most of it now.
Gross motor skills are the first in the sequence of developing your child’s brain and body for academic learning. Begin here. Don’t overlook these developmental imperatives. Give your child the advantage of proper brain development.
For additional ideas of activities that develop GMS, and for a way to keep track of your child’s brain development, check out The Anchor: Recording Your Child’s Pre-Academic Development for Preschool – Primary Grades.
Coming soon, Necessary Skills for Reading Readiness.