We all want our kids to learn faster and better, right? Well, a new study found that preschoolers who run, jump, skip, hop or engage in any active movement learn more effectively, and they showed it with the help of a children's book.
The study used the bestselling children's book The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. It's a story about a mouse walking in the woods, trying to avoid being eaten by other predatory animals (a fox, owl, and snake). The mouse tells each animal that he's meeting his friend, a buffalo-grizzly bear hybrid, to scare them away.
Reseachers from the Coventry University had the children take a series of assessment tests before and after a daily 30-minute structured learning sessions for six weeks, and also eight weeks after. They looked into the kids' language and motor skills to see how young kids can learn better and faster.
One group of preschoolers engaged in a series of movement activities while telling the The Gruffalo story. The activities involved were based on the book's different characters: jumping, leaping, hopping, sliding, galloping, skipping, throwing and catching. They also had discussions about the story after. The other group of kids concentrated on just telling the story and discussing it, while another focused on movement activities without reference to the story.
The results? The kids who took part in movement activities showed a significant improvement in their motor skills such as running, jumping, catching. After six weeks, their motor skills scores jumped up 10 points compared to just between three and six points for the other groups. It was the same story for their language ability scores; they increased to 13 points as opposed to just between four and five points for the other groups.
"We think this is a novel approach and gives an innovative and useful way of improving physical and cognitive performance in young children, which is practical for preschools and nurseries to carry out," Mike Duncan, professor in Applied Sport and Exercise Science at Coventry University and co-author of the study, said in a press release. The study, which was presented at the European Congress of Sport Sciences, is the first one that looked into benefits of movement and storytelling combined
Duncan tells Fatherly, "the increases were very striking so we think the combination of the two together is synergistic and complementary,” Duncan says. He speculates that the reason for the huge improvement in the kids who engaged in movement is that physical activity increases the amount of oxygen that circulates in the part of the brain, which enhances cognition. It’s also possible that "embodied cognition," a process where sensorimotor experiences strengthen cognition also contribute to the overall efffect.
While the study is small -- it only involves 74 preschoolers -- it’s convincing proof that incorporating movement when teaching young kids or even before they start school has huge benefits. Plus, this isn’t the only study linking physical activity to better brain functions. Keep this in mind whenever you want to teach your kids to a new skill or concept -- or when you set screen time rules.