In the Menu of a Growing Child…
The recipe to a child’s healthy development and successful learning lies in the health and integration of the child’s mental and physical development. This overall fitness plays a prime role in the child’s building blocks, influencing their behaviour, social and cognitive developments. Children naturally and instinctively learn from experiences. Among many valuable life lessons, these experiences teach them to care for themselves and communicate with others.
Early lessons begin in learning about the essentials, such as the daily routine of washing, dressing, and feeding themselves, and proceed to complex activities such as communicating and caring for others. The simple practice of caring for their own body builds their respect, understanding and awareness of how all parts of their body work together intrinsically for daily performances. The realisation of the different functions of the body and how they brilliantly interweave to build a full functioning system is perhaps the most cherished lesson a person can ever have.
As the developing body and mind is integrated and is fit to function, this complete unit never ceases learning. Every movement of the physical body sends a signal to the brain and every experience, big or small, is accounted for. All the experiences are stored in the ‘memory bank’ and are summoned when necessary. In order to support the body system to learn and function effectively, a strong and healthy foundation is important. Let’s look at some of the essentials that support healthy development.
The food that we prepare for our children plays a vital role for the development of their physical and mental health, helping to promote the growth of the brain and the body. Our children will follow healthy eating habits right up to adulthood if developed from young. Apart from building their health, good eating habits and the understanding of proper nutrition will help them to learn, be more aware and feel better about themselves. Some of the food that help improve the health of the body and brain:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Crucial for brain and eye development, and improves cognitive functions. Can be found in flaxseed, walnuts, avocado, almond, and more.
- Choline – A nutrient that is essential for brain development and memory function, and helps the brain communicate with the rest of the body. Can be found in spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, wheat germ, and more.
- Antioxidant – Healthy chemicals that can clean the brain from free radicals that cause cell deterioration. It protects children’s brain from wear and tear. It is also known to enhance memory, restore motor coordination and balance. Can be found in prunes, raisins, blueberries, cranberries, and more.
- Complex carbohydrates – These fibre-rich whole grains are important for the brain’s functions because they fuel the brain and the body. The fibre ensures that the brain gets a steady stream of energy. Can be found in potatoes, lentils, barley, oats, and more.
Other than food, our bodies and brain needs to be properly hydrated to function optimally. Water helps to keep the brain signals going and promotes mental alertness. Dehydration is a factor of mental fatigue and it can impair the recollection of short-term and long-term memory, and decrease other cognitive functions. Water is also important to eliminate toxins from the brain and body.
The body is designed to support autonomy. The skeletal frame holds up the body, the muscles provide mass and support movement, and the joints provide autonomy. Physical movement is an important ingredient for a child’s healthy development. It not only builds motor skills, but also offers opportunities for social and emotional growths, and builds agility, confidence, and brain power! With each movements of the body, signals are being sent to the brain seamlessly, assuring learning. An active body sends messages to the brain that stimulates synaptic growth, further strengthening brain power.
Yoga is a good avenue to support this growth. Children are constantly being exposed to Yoga poses which they playfully see as ‘challenges’ for their bodies to overcome. As the body learns and attempts these poses – be it twisting, balancing, strengthening or lengthening, or inverted, the integration of the body system is activated.
One example is the practice of the Surya Namaskar. The performance of this sequence requires the child to co-ordinate his physical movement with his breath all the while engaging the muscles, joints, and subtly massaging the major internal organs. Bear in mind that inactivity in children may lead to sedentary habits as adults. So, if your child has limited time to practice, it is recommended to at least practice the Surya Namaskar.
Just as food is important to fuel the body, a child’s need for rest is also important. A child’s ability to learn is increased when he has sufficient rest. A proper rest provides opportunities for the body and brain to rejuvenate and process the day’s activities, further re-energising and fuelling the system for the day ahead. We can witness an increase of creativity and learning capacity when the child is most relaxed. Exhausted children tend to have trouble concentrating in class.
Yoga Nidra takes centre stage when it comes to relaxation. When guided by a trained teacher, Yoga Nidra not only provide sufficient rest to children by releasing muscular, emotional and mental tensions, but can also provide subconscious learning, and instil good habits. The Yoga Nidra practice can also restore health and increase memory functions while integrating both hemispheres of the brain.
Deep and proper breathing is closely linked with the performance of the brain. Shallow breathing deprives the body and brain of oxygen. Apart from improving circulation, deep breathing helps relieve stress and regulate moods, giving children an opportunity to calm down. Although our brain only makes up roughly 3% of our total body mass, it consumes more than 20% of the total oxygen used by our body. And during mental activities, it consumes even more! In other words, oxygen is like food for the brain! Children whose brain are not getting enough oxygen display signs such as poor memory, lack of concentration, and impaired sense of balance.
Parents, educators and caregivers are prime contributors to children’s overall healthy development. Engaging children with various activities are valuable especially if they are appropriate and are in line with the child’s interest. Parents who engage children in their decision making and daily activities often see a display of their children’s positive social development. It strengthens the family as a unit by establishing trust, and it builds the child’s confidence. These healthy and homely experiences encourage children to transfer these pleasant experiences to their friends and social circles.
Through our efforts to focus on well-being of the child and the family, children will love the endless experience of learning about being healthy. These pleasant early childhood experiences they have in keeping their body healthy, fit and harmonious will be their building blocks of positive and healthy attitudes that will last a lifetime.
This article was featured in YogaMail July-Sept 2014 issue.