During this time of year, all of that “hot fun in the summertime” is but a pleasant memory. The weather is getting cooler, the leaves are turning, football is on TV and the kids are back in school. Whether the little ones look forward to those days in the classroom or dread getting up each morning depends on many things, the most important of which is their ability to learn.
As a kid, nothing is more miserable than sitting in a classroom and being unable to grasp academic concepts – especially if every other kid in the room seems to be getting them! Whether it is mastering elementary or middle school arithmetic, reading, science, a second language, literature or any other subject, learning is a process and one that does not come easy for every child.
Recent research from many educators and cognitive scientists suggests that adding an exercise component to the academic training of youngsters can help them expand their ability to learn. Dr. John Ratey, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of several books on childhood brain development, including “Spark: The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain,” describes the brain as a flexible muscle (“use it or lose it”) and describes how exercise can help kids with ADHD focus and improve in academics.
Given this research, it is no surprise that physical education is becoming more important in schools. It is also no surprise that supervised CrossFit training for kids is being incorporated in this PE curriculum. Why? It can serve as an academic enhancer for kids who might otherwise be frustrated by school and especially traditional PE. This training can help those developing brains grow. Here’s how.
CrossFit Training vs. Traditional PE
According to Phil Eich, who has published several scholarly papers on CrossFit training as a component of physical education classes in schools, this individualized training is superior to the traditional, sports-based PE curriculum.
“The CrossFit Kids curriculum is effective because it creates a physical learning environment that builds on the idea that all children have differing abilities and need to be challenged at their individual point of development in order for effective learning to take place. This differentiated instruction allows a child to continually and efficiently progress, minimizing the risk of frustration or stagnation.
“Every skill, every movement, every workout and every game can be scaled to a child’s ability (made easier or harder) so he or she is challenged by something difficult but not discouraged by something impossible. This not only allows for efficient and effective teaching and learning but also increases students’ desire to participate and challenge themselves.
“CrossFit Kids uses the natural process of motor development to increase learning effectiveness and efficiency. Instead of confining a child’s development with rules and movement limitations of sports while running the risk of contributing to the detrimental effects of overspecialization, CrossFit Kids uses a child’s natural propensity for constantly varied movement by using constantly varied movement.”
The Amazing Benefits of Neuroplasticity
The great thing about the human brain is its plasticity. It is constantly re-wiring itself based on new experiences and repetitive actions. The scientific term for this is “neuroplasticity” and it explains why rehabilitation from an injury such as a stroke can sometimes lead to regaining bodily functions – such as the use or an arm or leg – lost by brain damage. Basically, the neurons in the brain “work around” the injury.
This plasticity of the brain is particularly evident in children and this explains why they have the capacity to learn new things much quicker than adults. When deployed correctly, a physical fitness program based on the functional training of CrossFit will super-charge the child’s cognitive and physical growth.
According to Cyndi Rodi, in an article written for the CrossFit Journal, “At CrossFit Kids HQ, we have identified four types of experiences/input which appear to enable the brain to more effectively record and recall information, thereby maximizing learning. Armed with this knowledge, we carefully craft CrossFit Kids programming in order to create lasting learning experiences for children and teens.”
Rodi notes four tools that “make learning stick.”
Stimulus #1 – Novel Experiences
These prime the brain cells for new experiences. She notes, “CrossFit ensures kids will be exposed to novel experiences by prescribing constantly varied movements. This gives a different spin to the term “teachable moments.” Every time our children and teens participate in a WOD, their brains are being primed for learning through new visual, auditory, and tactile cues. As our kids work out, they are changing the “combinations” of their brain cells. These changes mean that permanent learning is just another experience away.”
Stimulus #2 – Repetition
As with any “learning” or rehabilitation from injuries, repetition makes it permanent. “Having been primed at first exposure (novel experience), the brain is now ready to make the pathway permanent. The more times that specific neural pathway is stimulated, the stronger the attraction between its participating neurons becomes.”
Stimulus #3 – Complexity
As Dr. Ratey and others have noted, one learns better when moving. Rodi notes: “Complexity causes the brain to become more active since more areas of the brain are stimulated. The brain functions as a whole unit, each part reliant on the proper functioning of the other. In learning a new skill or idea, the more areas of the brain you actively engage in any particular activity, the more likely the brain is to remember it. This is particularly potent when you simultaneously engage both the motor and cognitive areas of the brain.”
Stimulus #4 – The Hebb Rule
Named after Dr. Donald Hebb, a pioneer in neuropsychology, this final piece of the puzzle encourages the association of learning with other positive stimuli. “Those stimuli which are continually paired or grouped together are more likely to become permanently recorded in the brain.”
Get Those Kids Moving!
CrossFit training is a great way for elementary, middle and high school kids to overcome the challenges of the high-tech and largely sedentary world they live in. Childhood obesity, psychological insecurities and poor self-image can all be ameliorated by this function and fun fitness program. The fact that cognitive growth is also enhanced by this process is a wonderful lagniappe (an extra benefit.)Have you had experience with kids growing from CrossFit training? Contact us and we’ll share with our readers.