Why play is vital for your child’s school success
Why play is vital

Some time ago I discovered something about myself. When I exercised before work, I was more productive at work. Not only did I get more done, but my thinking was clearer. I was also happier.

This seemed strange to me. Because I was exercising it meant that I had less time for other things. I should have been more stressed, and my productivity should have been lower. I should have been more tired. But instead, I would finish my exercise and dive into work with a clear mind and enormous enthusiasm. My to-do list was less of an obstacle than ever before.

It seems that physical activity is extremely important for our capacity to be effective with our mental activity. This may be particularly true for boys – and physical activity may be even more important when our children experience ADHD.

Physical activity and learning

A recently published study showed that as our children exercise more, they do better academically during the first three school years – particularly boys. The study looked at how different types of physical activity and different types of sedentary behaviour affected reading and maths skills for children in Year One to Three.

The study found that boys who were highly active at recess, who were involved in organised sports, and who walked or rode their bikes to school were better readers compared with less active boys.

This research is consistent with several other studies that have provided similar results. Children were found to have improved brain function and better maths and reading skills when they participated in physical activity. It’s also consistent with what school-teachers often tell me: kids do better in class when they’ve had an energy release in the playground – especially the boys.

What about girls and physical activity?

The story with girls was more complicated than that for boys. In girls, higher levels of physical activity were associated with poorer maths scores. Girls whose parents had a tertiary degree performed better at reading when they were physically active, but if their parents were not as well educated, they didn’t read as well as others if they were physically active. Like I said – complicated.

Physical activity and ADHD

The findings may be even more important for children (most often boys) who experience ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These children usually struggle to pay attention at school, and find concentrating on academic work challenging.

In a just-published study involving about 200 children aged six to eight, students were randomly selected to participate in a group that completed moderate to vigorous physical activity each day before school, or a group that completed more sedentary classroom-type activities. The researchers found, in harmony with the study I described above, that children who exercised did better across a range of outcomes compared with those in the sedentary activities. But the improvements were particularly notable for those children with ADHD.

What we don’t know

We don’t know how often children need to exercise and participate in physical activity to reduce the impact of ADHD, or to improve their school outcomes. We don’t know how long or how vigorously they need to exercise, either. I suspect it would differ for each child and be dependent on a range of factors.

We also don’t know why there seemed to be a gender difference, with boys seeming to enjoy more benefit from physical activity compared to girls. But we do know this – our kids need more, not less, opportunities to play, be active and get physical. It helps with ADHD, it helps with school outcomes, and it helps with overall health. Parents and teachers should be looking for more ways to get kids moving. Play really is the work of childhood.

This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson for Kidpsot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz

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