According to CA Head Start: Higher order thinking skills are crucial to a child’s success in school, and they are a challenge to support in the preschool classroom.
Why? Because brain executive function mode requires physical well-being, emotional safety and embodied engagement. In other words, to use the higher levels of the brain, we must first meet basic survival needs, and feel emotional safety. When stress affects us negatively, we lose access to executive function and the capability to think clearly. We revert back to the Reptilian (survival) Brain, where instinct rules the day. And that is when Ronnie (age 5), who is tired because he went to bed late, ate a donut for breakfast, and now wants to play with his truck, has a complete melt down when it’s time for circle.
The key to “better” behavior at home and optimal learning at preschool is physical well-being, emotional safety and embodied engagement. Bottom-line: physical fitness and self-regulation are key factors for school success. According to the Head Start Health Standards, every child should have 90-120 minutes of supervised active play daily. Motor skill instruction and fun, physical challenges build mastery, which supports fine motor skill and cognitive development. The growth of endurance, speed, and power in our muscles is literally reflected in the weight and density of our brain. Harvard psychiatrist and researcher, Dr. John Ratey, states eloquently, “Exercise is miracle grow for the brain.” A growth factor called Brain Derived Nuerotrophic Growth factor (BDNF) is released in abundance when we exercise. Aas children’s fitness and coordination grow, so does their executive function / higher order thinking.
The ability to self-regulate is also needed for executive function. Without being able to focus, control impulses and manage everyday stresses and emotions, children are disruptive, unhappy, inattentive, emotionally unstable and fall behind academically. They are stuck in the survival, reptilian brain.
The good news is that you can easily support and sustain higher order thinking / executive function and lay a foundation for lifetime well-being simultaneously. Simply schedule more supervised active play and actively teach self-regulation skills. With more fun exercise, children feel and manage themselves better. With use of self-regulation skills, supported by you, they can start to monitor, manage and even change their own emotional state as needed.
Movement and mindfulness resources for home or school: