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Academic development? Ask the Ancient Greeks

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“A sound mind in a sound body.” You’ll no doubt have heard that before – it’s the sort of thing every parent says to their child at some point. What you may not realise is that this simplest of sayings dates back thousands of years, yet is backed by some very hard, very current science.

It was Greek Philosopher Thales who first suggested that physical exercise is an important (and possibly essential) part of mental and psychological wellbeing. I know what you’re thinking: you probably prefer your science to come from a little more recently than 600BC, but the fascinating thing about Thales’ theory is that, after lots of research carried out over the past couple of decades, it has basically been proved entirely accurate.

Movement, Sally Blythe notes in The Well-Balanced Child, “is part of the dance of development.” Repeated movements, she says, “help to strengthen the neural pathways that run between the brain and the body.”

As children grow, their ability to control their environment through movement and manipulation affects their cognitive development. In 2012, a study found that “fine motor skills… contribute to kindergarten achievement” while a 2016 report observed “significant correlations… between motor coordination and… cognitive function.”

Rewarding as it is to have the scientific community back the work we do at The Little Gym, we don’t need a scientific study to tell us the difference movement and motor skills can make to a child, because we see it all the time. If you think about it, the effect of physical development on academic achievement is almost inevitable.

Take a pre-toddling child, for example. The sooner they develop their core muscles, the sooner they’ll be able to walk, and the sooner they’ll be able to turn those first, wobbly, tentative steps into confident movement.

In later life we see the same effect when we’re learning to drive. When your hands and feet (and head) are a whirl of gearstick, steering wheel, clutch, accelerator, you have little mental space left for processing the world around you. During my earliest driving experiences I remember focusing about 2 feet beyond the end of the car bonnet. Only when I’d got the hang of the basic controls did my focus lengthen. That’s when I really started to learn to drive.

A toddler is mastering their own vehicle – their body. The sooner they can do it, the more they can focus on the discovery rather than how to get to the discovery.

Freeing up that cognitive resource is something that continues to be a big advantage as a child develops. If your child starts school unable to hold a pencil correctly, then they can’t devote all their mental energy to understanding how to form letters and numbers because they’re still trying to grasp (literally) the basic tools.

The sort of movement and fine motor skills developed at The Little Gym aren’t merely a ‘nice to have’. They’re essential for a good start in life – and just as important to cognitive development as they are to physical development.

Even the Ancient Greeks knew that.