Two Ways to Improve Your Child's Academic Performance
Research on exercise and learning shows us fascinating information about the brain. One of my favorite studies is the Naperville Study, which is well outlined in the book, Spark by John Ratey. In this study, the students in the Naperville school system had taken the International test for Math and Science and scored 17th (math) and 18th (science) in the country. When the students were placed in the study and exercised for 10 minutes at 85% of aerobic threshold, they retook the same test. Interestingly, exercise pushed their scores on the international test for math and science to number one in the world!
Exercise can help spawn new brain cells at any age. In fact, exercise is kind of like Miracle Gro for the brain because it helps promote the release of BDNF. The Naperville study showed us that exercising at 80-85% of maximum aerobic threshold for 10 minutes can spawn new brain cells. Learning new information immediately following aerobic exercise fills the new cells with information. Practicing the new information with repetition “seals” the new neural tracks in the brain. Think of the new neural pathways formed during exercise like new railroad tracks in our brains along which new information (the train) travels. These newly laid tracks can hold new information and foster further learning, so the benefits are exponential.
Music memorization works similarly to exercise with regards to learning. Memorizing and playing songs form new neural pathways within the brain that can hold any information. Learning how to play a new instrument, memorizing the song, and repeating those songs over and over again is a wonderful way to support your child's ability to learn in school. The more new neural tracks formed through exercise and music, the more easily your child will be able to learn and retain new information!
Let's apply the information to PE in school. Kids need to be exercising each day to brain power and learning. Ideally, our kids would exercise at higher intensity for at least 10 minutes at 80-85% of their aerobic threshold prior to class time. The probably won't be the scenario for most kids, so focus on getting in 10 minute spurts of activity with your child when you can. Play chase in the yard before tutoring sessions, jump on a mini trampoline (even inside) before study time, or even go for a run together before homework. Any movement is better than being sedentary.
Students should always have access to good music programs where they memorize music on an instrument or in choir. Playing or singing a song from memory is a sure fire way to build extra neural circuits in the brain. Both exercise and music memorization are empirically valid approaches to improving your child's academic performance in school! If you happen to live in a school district where PE and music are being cut from the curriculum, you can bring this article to a board meeting to persuade them otherwise. Removing either of these classes from school curriculum is detrimental to learning.
The take home message is this-move when you can, learn music, and do both everyday! We were built to move. Just remember that stagnant bodies of water become overgrown with bacteria, algae, and nasty organisms. Fresh, flowing water stays clear and clean! A sedentary, stagnant lifestyle leads to an unhealthy body and brain, which makes it almost impossible to learn quickly and easily. Help your child stay active an enjoy music, and you'll notice the difference in the classroom.