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Exercise and Your Child’s Brain

Exercise makes the brain work smarter

March usually marks the middle of the third term of the school year. For some children the winter months are the most challenging. With shorter days and cold, sometimes snowy weather, they are less able to get outside and burn off their extra energy. This makes it difficult for them to “settle down” and get working on their homework.

There is actually a neurobiological reason for this and it has to do with the neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. I won’t get technical here, but there are three main chemicals in the brain that influence learning. They are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals work together to focus, motivate and improve learning in the brain. In his book, Spark, John Ratey, says that exercise improves learning in three ways. I’m paraphrasing but it helps to improve alertness, attention and motivation, helps the cells hold onto new learning and spurs the development of new brain cells. All of which are necessary for new learning and of course for homework.

Here’s how you can help. If you notice that your child is struggling to settle down to do their homework don’t force them. That tends to shut down the brain making it harder to work. Instead, encourage some activity for 15 to 30 minutes. Set a clear time frame so that your child is not surprised that they have to get back to their homework. Provide a five minute and a two minute audio and visual reminder to help with their transition back to homework.

Most middle school students can focus for 30-40 minutes and for elementary age children it is about 15-20 minutes. It’s important to break up your child’s homework time with 5-10 minute activity breaks after a period of focused work. Also providing a snack of lean protein can increase your child’s level of dopamine. Dopamine helps the brain carry the messages from one side to the other. (For children with ADHD, medication helps to increase the level of dopamine allowing the brain to feel “comfortable” and to process the information more efficiently.)

So get your kids active and watch their ability to focus increase and the amount of time they spend on their homework may decrease.

This was originally seen in our Laine’s Logic Newsletter last month. To sign up, go here: Newsletter sign up

Parents of Children with ADHD Support Group Meeting April 5, 2012 at Hingham Public Library at 7pm. All are welcome.

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