If your little one is the type who’s always bouncing around and loves nothing more than hitting the playground (hands up over here!), keep those tiny bods moving. Let them explore and play. Because it’s official: children need to move to learn. Did you know that a healthy diet of play – including sensory and motor activity – is crucial for physical and cognitive development in the early years? As part of its school curriculum, Stamford American International School includes a specialist, fun physical education program for little ones that provides just that.
SMART Steps is an activity-based program all about combining numeracy, literacy and language with play – and the children love it. It develops coordination, strength and balance, and builds confidence and independence. What do we love? It takes learning outside of the classroom: a move Stamford American International School has made to support children who learn differently. We spoke to Gill Connell, founder of the program, about why physical play is so important for school readiness and how you can help if you spot some learning or behavioural challenges in your child…
It’s much more than just letting kids burn off energy
Encouraging kids to burn off energy might help them sleep well, but it’s more complex than this. “Physical play not only contributes to health and wellbeing, it also plays a big role in developing the growing brain, acquiring language and also coping physically in the classroom,” says Gill. At Stamford American, kids from 18 months to six years old will enjoy weekly sessions of active play at their new state-of-the-art Early Learning Village: crawling through tunnels, jumping across ladders and mastering obstacle courses are all part of school life. Can we join in?
Play is a great problem-solver
The truth about urban living is that many kids have relatively sedentary lifestyles. Without backyard trees to climb, or playtime spent hanging from monkey bars in the playground, and swinging to build upper body muscle and normal physical control over their bodies, children can struggle to master a pencil grip, develop the coordination to write, or stay focused in class. “The best way to help children to learn, is when they discover and problem-solve thorough play,” says Gill. “This means providing learning where the whole body is involved – sitting passively isn’t necessary the best pathway.”
Have you spotted any of these traits in your child?
If your child fidgets, slumps or can’t stay still in class, it isn’t necessarily a disinterest in learning – or ‘naughty’ behaviour. Gill explains: “Children who present themselves as ‘challenging’ when it comes to learning and behaviour alert me to underlying problems or simply a message from the child that ‘I may learn best in an unconventional way!’
If your child fidgets, or has trouble staying still…
Help your child along by hitting the swings at the park regularly, or try spinning like a top. Try ‘roll over reading’: have your child lie on the floor and roll over every time you turn the page!
If children have poor control of their core, they often tire easily in class. ‘Animal walking’ works on upper body and core strength. When it’s time to brush teeth, pretend to be a different animal and move to the bathroom that way. For instance, move sideways like a crab, leap like a monkey or pull yourself along like a seal.
Or crashes into things, breaks pencils when writing, or hugs friends very tightly
Pour sand, stones, water or feathers from one cup to another. This helps a child adjust how much strength is needed. To help children learn to change the amount of strength they need to use, try beating drums loudly and softly.
Build their confidence: let kids to it for themselves !
“The most rewarding change I see in children is their confidence to try things,” says Gill. “It’s also so important that we allow children to try to do things for themselves. Step back, even if at first they have some trouble. For instance, allow them to pour their own milk into a glass. They may spill it, but next time they will adjust their muscle strength and in time succeed. Everything children do in play is learning and preparation for life at school and beyond. The more we do for our children, the less physically ready they will be.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO AT HOME
From 18 months and up:
Encourage rolling to develop balance and concentration, and crawling, which helps the two hemispheres of the brain to process information and communicate – essential for the development and emergence of a child’s preferred hand for writing.
* Next bath time, lie your little one down on the towel and roll them up (with their head outside the towel) and unwind them.
* To encourage crawling, place a tunnel or large box in a doorway. Crawl through it together to get to the next room.
For older toddlers:
Allow toddlers to explore putting their body in different positions and encourage them to learn about space.
* It’s okay to go down the slide headfirst (with supervision) as doing things upside down helps them learn about orientation (up/down/ top/bottom/ left/right), balance and concentration.
* Set up obstacles where your child has to crawl through things, fit themselves under and over objects and learn about where their body begins and ends.
For your preschooler:
Activities that involve one side of the body moving in a different way to the other help kids develop good writing posture. Try these simple activities with streamers or scarves. Put on some music and have fun!
1. Hold two streamers out in front and wave one while holding the other still.
2. Move one up and down.
3. Wave one over the front of the body and the other behind the body.
SMART Steps is just one of the brilliant specialist programs for Early Learners at Stamford American International School. Other outstanding programs includes Suzuki violin from age three, moving to cello at age five, foreign language lessons in Mandarin or Spanish with daily or bilingual options, and learn about healthy eating habits through family-style eating – it’s all part of their regular school week. What’s more, we heard that the new Early Learning Village has purpose-built facilities such as six dedicated discovery play areas with 75% UV covering, a 22m swimming pool with heights catering to the proficiency of the swimmers, and a flexible school week! Talk to the friendly Admissions team at Stamford American International School and come in for a tour of the amazing new classroom display pod for the Early Learning Village. Enquire here.
This post is sponsored by Stamford American International School.