There are two processes responsible for your child’s brain growth and development throughout their life time. The first is Neurogenesis which refers to the generation of brain cells. This process is mostly active during the pre-natal life of your child. The second is neuroplasticity which refers to the connections and neural pathways in the brain.
The traditional assumption has always been that a child’s brain structure is pretty much ‘fixed’ by age 5 to 6 years. As such, the critical phase of brain development focused by many child development practitioners and educators have revolved around the first few years of a child’s life. After these critical years, children who show advancement in certain areas beyond their age are said to be ‘gifted’ while those who present challenges tend to be labelled and placed in ‘pigeon holes’ to be “managed”.
In the past decade, research is showing that brain growth and development goes well into teenage years and adulthood. If so, does it mean that your child has more room to improve his or her current ability levels and be possibly gifted? Or can the weaknesses presented or challenges experienced by your child be overcome?
Evidence has shown that brain growth and its circuitry ‘wiring’ is a somewhat continuous process throughout a person’s lifetime. This would suggest that it may well be possible to engage in specific activities that can positively alter brain activity to enhance cognitive, physical, social, behavioral and emotional improvements.
Scientists in recent years have discovered that physical activity or exercise may be more beneficial than just improving a child’s physical health. They have evidence to suggest that exercise seems to promote brain growth and enhance cognitive function and performance. In situations where the cognitive demands require continual concentration and attention, fitter children performed with greater accuracy and faster reaction times compared to their unfit peers.
Numerous studies have discovered that aerobic exercise improved the executive function of the brain responsible for planning, maintaining focus, organization, working memory, etc. Does this mean that every single child improve in their cognitive function just because they exercise? Possibly not.
Researchers are recommending that physical activities or exercises to be fun and creative for a sustained duration of time while academic learning should be playful in nature. The most effective gains on cognitive function, attention, language skills, academic performance are through fun, creative, playful learning. Although structure team sports or dance lessons are good, children do not always reap the benefits.