Parents are always asking themselves, each other and experts what they can do to help their young children be happy and healthy. The current research on the brain is helping me navigate my own parenting journey. The best books I’ve read lately are Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Baby. They’re easy to read and give very clear information about how to work smarter not harder as a parent.
“The human brain appears to have been designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable, outdoor environment and to do so in near constant motion.” Dr. John Medina
Dr. Medina explains that optimal learning occurs when three things are happening: We are outdoors. We are moving. We are experiencing new things which are important to us. How does that help parents? Well, these three things stick out for me.
The human brain was designed to survive first. Any “extra” learning only happens if the child feels totally safe and cared for. So before we try to “teach” our children, we need to attend to their survival needs. This can be a need for food, sleep or emotional connection to other important humans. That emotional connection to others is often called attachment. Attachment is a complex idea yet very empowering for parents. Dr. Gordon Neufeld‘s book, Hold on to your Kids, is a place to start if you are interested in learning about attachment.
2. Physical activity
We learn if we are moving. Participation Canada states that 93% of Canadian kids do NOT get enough activity in a day. Scary, right. Studies show that we are fooling ourselves by thinking our kids get more exercise than they do. In fact, Canadian children spend almost 8 hours/day sitting in front of screens. That can be phones, Ipads, TV, computers, or gaming devices. If you want to know how much activity is recommended for toddlers and young children, click here.
Dr. John Ratey recommends we think of exercise as medicine: one part Ritalin and one part Prozac. And it’s FREE. It primes the brain for learning and keeps us all young.
3. Time in Nature
We know we should reduce screen time but what do we replace it with? Nature. If you want to raise healthy, active, calmer children, get them outside. Many pediatricians warn us that this generation of children will be the first to die at an earlier age than their parents. Inactivity is the key factor in this health decline. Playing outside means being active, which in the modern world, equals improved health.
Nature is also a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a person’s life. Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, describes how the natural world helps us regulate our emotions and feel calmer.
Nature also encourages PLAY which may be the panacea to raising children in the modern world. Our kids need unstructured, creative, active PLAY in natural environments.