Physical Literacy and Children: Making your kids smarter and happier!

As school begins and we all are thinking about the skills our kids need as the approach adulthood I wanted to take time out of the ‘biking only’ blog. For this blog, I wanted to focus on one aspect of helping your children’s brain development and future that we don’t always focus on. This skill can help long-term brain health and overall well-being.

We all know the term literacy. It is the ability to read for knowledge, apply critical thinking to written word and write coherently. This is a skill adults deem as very helpful to surviving in the world. We expect children to learn these skills in school and believe teaching the essential building blocks for literacy at home as very important.

Most of us read to our children at night, encourage them to write and develop their ‘story telling’ ability with short hand written books, and eventually develop the ability to tell us all about the books they read and what they have learned.

As adults, we know the importance of ‘working out’ and physical exercise. Sometimes it is our doctor or spouse that encourages more of it or a lack of energy that drives us to ‘change something’. We, however, assume it is an innate skill and everyone should be ‘able to’ work out. But does everyone really embrace it or have the skill set that we assume? Probably not. Even as adults.

We also, for the most part, as either a working parent or ‘working to stay sane at home’ one, assume our children are ‘getting’ the ‘play 60 minutes a day’ recommended as the kids always seem to have unlimited energy. This, however, is not always the case.

This being said, a very important skill for children to develop, but often overlooked in a time of physical education cuts and less time spent outdoors playing before and after school, is physical literacy– the development of fundamental movement and sports skills. These skills empower children to engage in a lifetime of physical activity.

Learning Tennis! And having fun!
Learning Tennis! And having fun!

Like most adults, kids needs skills and confidence to participate in activity settings. In order to gain these skills as an adult, I am pretty sure a novice adult cyclist does NOT hit the road with any confidence for a century ride without a little assistance and coaching from experienced cyclist and a lot of miles in the saddle.

THIS development and building on skills and strength is the fundamental part of developing physical literacy for children. They need to build movement and sports skills as they do their reading skills from first learning the alphabet or math skills from first counting to 10. This enables them to acquire the confidence needed to feel comfortable and enjoy physical activities.

Physical Literary enables a child to read their surroundings and make the best decision as they move confidently and in control in a wide variety of physical situations. It enables a lifetime participation in physical activities to the best of their abilities.

Tired kiddos after running sprints at the park!
Tired kiddos after running sprints at the park!

Swimming lessons, teaching tennis, learning to breathe correctly running long distance and sprints, jumping, biking, climbing, and so many more skills are just a few areas of physical literacy. One site to help parents with activity ideas, informative articles and games to play is Every kid has a different personality and their journey to physical literacy will be different but by encouraging a wide variety of activity can help them pick their ideal activities for enjoyment.

We all know that being active can help a child keep a healthy body weight, improve movement skills, increase fitness, build healthy heart, lungs and brain as well a develop self-confidence and improve learning and attention.

One of the biggest and most unique benefits of being active occurs in the brain. Increased blood flow during exercise to the brain immediately enables the brain cells to function at a higher level. This is why you feel more alert and awake during exercise and more focused after. All this benefits children as well.

Brain Activity: Benefits of Physical Activity!
Brain Activity: Benefits of Physical Activity! (Source: Dr Chuck Hillman, U of Ill)

In addition, by being physically active regularly your brain gets ‘used to’ this surge of blood and adapts by turning certain genes off boosting brain cell function and protecting the brain from a variety of diseases (Alzheimer’s, stroke, and age-related decline). Also, our ‘runner’s high’ we achieve through exercise triggered by a surge of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters may not make your children ‘happy’ but may greatly improve a bad day at school. Everything we benefit through cycling our children can start at a young age by just beginning to be physically active daily.

And lastly, in discussing the brain’s enhancement through exercise let’s talk about the hippocampus. This section of the brain is heavily involved in learning and memory. It is one of the ONLY sections that can make new brain cells. Since during exercise you get all that oxygen boost in the brain your hippocampus benefits from this and creates new brain cells that survive after physical activity. So, physical exercise does make your kid smarter after all!!! AND YOU TOO!

For more information on exercise and the brain WebMD has a good article with additional studies and benefits.

Most of you are probably reading this with either a love or interest in cycling and a desire to engage the family in this activity. I encourage you immensely to do so for the above benefits and the connection you make with your child while they experience these brain ‘enhancements’. Now you know why after playing hard outside sprinting, climbing, biking your child is happier than after a short ‘Peppa the Pig’ show on the TV. By encouraging physical literacy through mastering riding a bike and engaging in this activity with confidence you will see how you can help lead your child to a physical confidence that is absolutely essential to a child’s well-being long term.

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