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I really want to give my little one a head start on learning, but I don’t have money for educational toys or fancy DVDs. Suggestions?

Great question! Bouncing. Catching. Balancing. How do these activities help a youngster prepare for academic learning? These simple activities help improve a child’s sensory integration, the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Learning how to look, listen, stay balanced, and move are then transferred to academics.

When little ones use their bodies in the learning process, it can have a big effect, even if it seems silly or unconnected to the learning goal at hand. Researchers have found that when children use their bodies while doing mathematical storytelling, it helps to arrive at a correct answer. (Think about counting on a toddler’s fingers and toes, or the both of you nodding, “one, two, three …”)

According to one professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, “We understand language in a richer, fuller way if we can connect it to the actions we perform. ”

A very strong predictor of academic achievement can be how early kids are moving, exploring their world. When little ones begin exploring their surroundings, all of a sudden, things change. Once kids are on the move, the adults in their lives use directives and other more complicated language forms. As kids are coached by their parents, they begin to understand the directions and change behaviors. And once a child can do something on her own, she’s more likely to internalize what’s happening with others.

Other research shows that moving helps a child to get focused. From tracing a figure-eight with one’s eyes to using a song with movement to transition between activities in class, the movement and rhythms help a child to be able to focus on words and re-focus on the new activity at hand.

It just makes us wonder if more research is needed. Is it a coincidence that as video game play increased, so did deficits when it came to attention spans? And, as old-fashioned games like jacks, marbles, hopscotch and hand-clapping games became less and less popular, didn’t children’s ability to focus also decrease?

Don’t worry about fancy toys or videos, just clap, hop, turn your head, patty-cake, point, and reach while counting or singing to integrate learning and fire up more of your child’s synapses! (This, by the way, is why reading to child sitting on your lap is so important; a blog post for another time!)

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