Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together
A newborn’s brain comes into this world with very few neural connections. During childhood, however, connections are made easily and quickly. It is why “play” is so important! Positive feelings like curiosity, confidence, and enjoyment only make these connections stronger. So we have our kids squat (which they already do beautifully at this age)- squat to a box, squat in a game, jump and then squat…. With each repetition they are strengthening the motor pathways for a great squat.
Neurons that fire together, wire together. Connections that are used are strengthened and your brain labels them “imperative”. As kids get closer to adolescence, however, their brain starts “pruning” connections that it no longer “uses”. As children grow, sit in chairs more often, play more video games, and don’t “squat” in their daily life, the connection weakens. If that connection weakens enough, it’s in jeopardy of pruning. The stronger the pathway becomes wired, the more difficult it is to change- both for helpful and detrimental connections.
Just think where YOU would be if you’d kept your tot squat. Clearly it’s not quite that simple as changes in our anatomy occur through childhood and adolescence, but it’s evident to anyone over the age of 20 that relearning something as an adult is a completely different game than learning it at 5 and keeping it- for both brain and body.
As we move, our brain becomes primed for memory- or learning. Back when we had to hunt for food this was a VERY important mechanism for survival. Once we found the food, we had to remember how to get back home or tell someone else how to find the same food source again. It’s a phenomenal mechanism- if you move. And since this age is when motor, language, and social/behavioral development is at its height, our classes can literally prime kids’ brains to be learning and training, not just for fitness, but for LIFE.
13-Year study in Denmark
Scientists in Denmark are currently studying the proposed thesis that motor development in “pre-school age children” has untold affects on, not only more complex motor development, but language, memory, learning and making connections, intellectual capacity, and even the reversal of some birth defects!
I gotta be honest- the list goes on and on. It’s a compelling study! And to best prove/disprove their idea, these scientists (and honestly, nearly every scientist with similar studies) have specifically chosen children ages 3-6. Why? Because the speed and volume of neurological development in this age group creates a greater density of developmental markers- and for this study these parameters mean the results of any changes are seen quickly and clearly. For US, it means that the scientific community is proving what we have long suspected in our classrooms- and what CrossFit Kids already has the statistics to support:
Children who move within a playful paradigm at this age will experience positive effects: physically, intellectually, and socially.
Life habits begin establishing as early as 18 months and, once established, remain consistent for the first 7 years (another great study in Norway). At 7, there is a transition period before more established life-long habits settle in. So, yet again, the typical age groups of a youth CrossFit class, stand in a VERY important transition gap.
For all of the kiddos that have fallen into the typical sedentary lifestyle of our time, the 3-6 year range is the perfect time for an intervention that gets them moving, developing a positive paradigm toward exercise, and sets these children up for success as they embark on the development of life habits that will stick with them for much longer than 7 years. As childhood obesity promises to steal years of life and wellness from the growing children of this generation- these classes are an impressive defense against what scientist believe to be inevitable.
Playfulness, Curiosity and the Vestibular System
At this age children still find great joy out of the simple things our bodies and brains need to function properly. The curiosity and play of our Washington level class, for example, naturally works to strengthen the Vestibular System. This sensory system is the prime contributor to coordinating movement through the maintenance of balance and spatial orientation.
The Vestibular system becomes “stronger” as a child rolls, and somersaults, spins, and jumps- the very movements we teach (and they LOVE) at this age. Forward rolls, for example, are usually something I have to TEACH my kids class how to do, but at the tots age they roll all over the place given the space and opportunity (and have a blast doing so- my NMS class enjoys “rolling” a little less) As sedentary lifestyles become more common, the results of an underdeveloped vestibular system are obvious. Every human has to develop this system, and if it’s not done at age 3-6, your options become:
1. Work on it later (when it’s NOT fun) or,
2. Become nauseous and dizzy a lot.
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The tots are in a perfect place and mindset to explore, to use “play” to learn about movement, and with guidance to quickly learn and maintain the movement patterns they need for life.