We established in a few previous posts just how important the first years of life are to good brain development and the critical role parents play in that process. Now let’s take a look at how you can make the most of that amazing brain that came as standard equipment with your child. Through this blog we’ll take you through very practical, easy to implement steps that will make a huge difference in your child’s development. The result will be better physical, intellectual, and social function. You can count on it!
We are often asked, “What is the most important thing that I can do for my child’s brain?” The answer is very simple – put your child on the floor! This is true for children who are developing well and it is doubly true for children who are having developmental problems. Why? Because it is on the floor that mobility happens. Babies learn to move on the floor and they perfect movement on the floor.
We define mobility as that function we use to transport ourselves from point A to point B. The key word is transportation. Developing good mobility is not complicated, but it is extremely important. Why?
Mobility is key for four reasons.
- Increased brain organization
- Increased production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor)
- Improved cardiovascular function
- Improved breathing
[callout title=The Mobility Process]It is essential to understand that the process is extremely important, not just the result.[/callout]
Mobility is key to brain organization because the brain works as a holistic system. Everything affects everything else. Primitive brain structures are connected to higher level brain structures. As in any system, it is important that each component of the system functions well for the entire system to function well.
This concept is important to mobility’s role in brain organization because the only time that human beings use all functions simultaneously is when we are moving. Every time we use an ability, we are using and developing our brain. When we move, we use vision to see where we are going. We use hearing and receive information about our position in space by way of the inner ear. We feel our arms and legs moving through our tactile sense. We use our hands when we crawl and creep. So movement is in a very real sense the glue that holds all other functions together.
Another reason for the importance of mobility is the production of a family of proteins in the brain called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF, first discovered in 1990, acts like a fertilizer in the brain causing neurons to sprout new dendrites. In his superb book, SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John J. Ratey refers to BDNF as Miracle-Gro for the brain. The important point is that studies demonstrate that exercise significantly increases the production of BDNF! This clearly indicates that movement plays an important role in maintaining neuroplasticity.
The road from no mobility at birth to walking at about a year of age is a gradual process. The steps in the process are movement of arms and legs without mobility, crawling (on the tummy), creeping (hands and knees), walking, running and then higher level skills like jumping and hopping. Along the way, as children move from one stage to the next, they gradually develop better coordination, better balance, and increased strength and endurance. The eventual ability to undertake physical endeavors like sports and dance depends on how well mobility is developed.
It is essential to understand that the process is extremely important, not just the result. Quite naturally, every parent looks forward to the day when their child starts walking. There are many devices designed to place children in a standing position and allow them to “walk”. They are all a very bad idea! There is no developmental advantage to walking early! Indeed, if a child walks early without going through the process that leads to walking, there are many disadvantages and often many problems. When children skip these stages they usually pay a price later in higher level cognitive functions like understanding, speech, reading and writing.
In future posts we will go through each stage of the mobility process and talk about exactly what to do to ensure success. For now, get down on the floor with your little one, stay focused on the process and have some fun!