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Craig Valency

Craig Valency

President/Co-Founder
SPIDERfit Kids 
San Diego, California
 
2017 Blogger Badge

Craig Valency, MA, CSCS, president and co-founder of SPIDERfit, has been a personal trainer for 14 years. Currently working at Fitness Quest 10, Craig specializes in youth fitness programs that promote physical literacy, injury prevention and optimal performance. In addition to Craig's work with elite young athletes, he has done volunteer work implementing the SPIDERfit program of sensory awareness and fundamental movement skills for a low-income school in South San Diego. Craig is a contributing author for the 2017 edition of the Certified Personal Trainer textbook for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Along with Brett Klika, Craig is the co-author of Powerful Play – The Ultimate Guide to the Foundation of Youth Fitness and Physical Literacy. Craig also worked at the YMCA for 5 years for the after school and summer camp programs with Kindergarten through 3rd grade. Craig holds a master's degree in kinesiology from San Diego State University. He is a certified strength & conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength & Conditioning Association.

In this 3-part series we will explore how more play, creative expression, and movement can lead to more cognitive development. The link from body to brain is powerful, so getting kids to move more and study a little less throughout the day may seem counterintuitive, but it may actually lead to better grades and even improve behavior!

In part 2 we will explore the mechanisms behind the power of movement to improve the brain. If you missed Part 1, click here. 

So how is it possible that more time spent moving and less time spent "learning" results in better grades?

You see, movement is never just a physical act; it is a physical expression, or outcome, of cognitive strategies to solve problems. When learning fundamental or complex movements in the context of physical education, sports, recreation, or free play, it "...is an active learning process intricately interrelated with cognition. Movement skill learning cannot occur without the benefit of higher thought processes" (Gallahue, 2003, p. 104).

Learning is a process that involves the integration of both sensory and motor skills (Gallahue, 2003). Children, therefore, learn best when more of their senses are involved. When kids play, explore and solve problems, especially when outdoors in nature, they are forced to use all their senses to navigate this unpredictable and ever changing environment.

Kid on lawn Craig V

In a review of research on the acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills, Rosenbaum et al., (2001) concluded that all knowledge is "performatory" and that the 'skills of mind' and 'skills of eye, ear, and muscle' are fundamentally similar" (p. 454).
A finding Rosenbaum cites to support this fact is that coordination and timing seem to be required for intellectual as well as perceptual-motor skills (p. 464). Rosenbaum also points to the evidence that across animal species, more advanced intellect is associated with a greater facility of motor behaviors such as tool making. This fact has led to the hypothesis that, "...the evolution of brain areas credited with the development of language (e.g. Broca's area) may have paved the way for complex behavioral sequencing" (p. 465)

Current research points to the fact that exercise directly impacts the ability of the brain to process and retain new information (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008). A common concern in schools today, with the emphasis on learning the academic basics and passing standardized tests, is that physical education classes would take away valuable time from the teacher's already limited time to prep their students to pass the tests.

Kid w hands in hair Craig V

Classroom teachers are understandably concerned as they are also judged by how well their students do on these tests. Any time taken from an already tight schedule is therefore, seen as a threat. In a study reported by Graham et al., (2013) it was found that doubling the amount of physical education time allocated in the course of a school week did not interfere with standardized reading or math scores (p. 680).

Tony Schwartz discussed the basic human needs that must be satisfied in order to maximize performance in all realms of life in his book, The Way We're Working isn't Working (2010). He talks about the importance of renewal with the four key factors being, nutrition, fitness, sleep, and rest.

Schwartz asserts that, "Our physical capacity is foundational, because every other source of energy depends on it." (p. 11) He highlights exercise for its importance in increasing work capacity and as a means of calming emotions and quieting the mind, especially in the middle of a workday, and in our case, school day. Schwartz believes therefore, that exercise in the middle of a day, especially after a period of intense work, is a powerful form of rejuvenation.

In part 3 we will discuss how specific forms of exercise effect brain development.

For brekafast we had the same as last time (I hate to sound boring, but in case youm issed it).  We have 2 eggs over medium with salt, pepper, and turmeric, sweet potato hash, 1 slice of bacon, sautéed baby kale, chard, and spinach, sautéed cherry tomatoes & fresh avocado – all drizzled with olive oil. Coffee is mandatory, though not for my son, and we all look forward to our spoon of cod liver oil to finish off our breakfast of champions.

References
Ericsson, I., & Karlsson, M. K. (2012). Motor skills and school performance in children with daily physical education in school - a 9-year intervention study. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 24(2), 273-278. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01458.x

Gallahue, D., & Cleland Donnelly, F. (2003). Developmental Physical education for all children (Fourth ed.). Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.

Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S. A., & Parker, M. (2013). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Musolf, D. (2014, February 19). Does outdoor play make kids smarter? - San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_25181071/does-outdoor-play-make-kids-smarter?source=infinite-up

Ratey, J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (First ed.). New York, New York: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group.

Rosenbaum, D. A., Carlson, R. A., & Gilmore, R. O. (2001). Acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 453-470. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.453

Schwartz, T., Gomes, J., & McCarthy, C. (2010). The way we're working isn't working: The four forgotten needs that energize great performance. New York, NY: Free Press.

In this 3-part series we will explore how more play, creative expression, and movement can lead to more cognitive development. The link from body to brain is powerful, so getting kids to move more and study a little less throughout the day may seem counterintuitive, but it may actually lead to better grades and even improve behavior!

Today in part 1 we'll showcase some surprising studies and real world examples of how this focus on movement has created dramatic results in learning and behavior.

"Let's move!"

Craig V 1

 

For the last few years we have been imploring kids to put down the gadgets, get active, move more, and eat less. Rising childhood obesity rates and plummeting youth fitness levels have raised the alarm. The solution seems simple enough.

But there's a dilemma...

Schools are so focused on standardized testing and academic success that physical education and recess have been put on the back burner.

The irony, however, is that more time spent moving, playing, and exercising has actually been shown to improve attention, behavior, and the ability to learn and retain knowledge – not to mention the side benefit of improved fitness and health!

Finland is a great example of the success of this counter-intuitive strategy. Finland mandates 15 minutes of outdoor play for every 45 minutes of classroom time, with students getting at least 75 minutes of outdoor play per day. Additionally, the amount of academic testing and homework has been greatly reduced.

Craig V 2

 

Many US schools, on the other hand, mandate 100 minutes of physical education... per week! Homework, classroom time, and academic testing have been increased in an effort to help close the achievement gap and make our kids more competitive in the information age.

The result: In 2014 the US ranked 26th out of 34 countries in math, 17th in reading and 21st in science. During this same time period, Finland was ranked #1 in science, and #2 in both Math & reading (Musolf, 2014).

Graham, Holt/Hale, and Parker authors of Children Moving: A Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education (2013) discuss numerous studies showing the connection between physical activity and increased academic performance. A few prominent examples include:

  •  A study on third graders, which concludes that integrating physical activity within the school day led to increases in academic achievement (p. 679).
  •  A study where after just 20 minutes of moderate treadmill walking versus no exercise for 20 minutes, preadolescents scored a grade level higher in a reading comprehension test (p. 680).
  •  And finally, a study where children who increased physical activity four-fold with a 14-week physical education program demonstrated improvements in fitness, academic performance, and behavior (p. 680).

A 9-year prospective intervention study from Sweden showed that daily physical education in school improved both motor skills and school academic performance (Ericsson & Karlsson, 2012). This longitudinal study compared two groups of children from the time they were 7 years old until 16 years old when they left compulsory school.

The control group of 91 students engaged in the normal amount of physical education in school, which was comparable to U.S. standards, of 2 days per week for 45 minutes per session. The intervention group of 129 students participated in PE class 5 days per week for 45 minutes per session, and for those students with motor skill deficits one hour per week of adapted motor skill training was added. The students were all assessed based on a validated motor skills test as well as on their grades in Swedish, English, math, PE, and the proportion of students who qualified for upper secondary school.

At the end of 9 years there were no motor skill deficits in 93% of students in the intervention group compared to 53% in the control group! The average acceptance rate for Swedish students to secondary schools is 88% and decreasing each year. The control group achieved a similar rate of acceptance at 89%. The intervention group, however, had a 96% rate of acceptance, despite the fact that the control group had better reading ability scores at the start of the study.

 

Craig V 3

In part 2 we will explore the mechanisms behind the power of movement to improve the brain. Look out for part 2 on April 4th! 

For Breakfast I cooked for my wife and very hungry 3 year old, we have 2 eggs over medium with salt, pepper, and turmeric, sweet potato hash, 1 slice of bacon, sautéed baby kale, chard, and spinach, sautéed cherry tomatoes & fresh avocado – all drizzled with olive oil. Coffee is mandatory, though not for my son, and we all look forward to our spoon of cod liver oil to finish off our breakfast of champions.

References
Ericsson, I., & Karlsson, M. K. (2012). Motor skills and school performance in children with daily physical education in school - a 9-year intervention study. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 24(2), 273-278. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01458.x

Gallahue, D., & Cleland Donnelly, F. (2003). Developmental Physical education for all children (Fourth ed.). Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.

Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S. A., & Parker, M. (2013). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Musolf, D. (2014, February 19). Does outdoor play make kids smarter? - San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_25181071/does-outdoor-play-make-kids-smarter?source=infinite-up

Ratey, J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (First ed.). New York, New York: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group.

Rosenbaum, D. A., Carlson, R. A., & Gilmore, R. O. (2001). Acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 453-470. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.453

Schwartz, T., Gomes, J., & McCarthy, C. (2010). The way we're working isn't working: The four forgotten needs that energize great performance. New York, NY: Free Press.

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