No one can deny the importance of learning, but Lightbridge Academy also focuses on another major aspect of a child’s growth and development: physical activity. According to the Child Development Institute, 75 percent of brain development occurs after birth. Physical activity helps a child to develop connections between the nerve cells and the brain.
Studies show that children who have higher levels of physical activity during their childhood are likely to be more active as they mature. Physical activities promotes healthy growth and development building healthier bodies, stronger bones and muscles.
The value of physical activity for young children is not a new concept, said President and Chief Operating Officer Gigi Schweikert. The franchise brand provides a variety of physical activities for children, and this includes yoga, stretching and balance, which all help with focus.
“We recognized 20 years ago when we started the company that children are whole-body, hands-on learners,” she said. “The design of our centers fosters a child’s innate desire to continually move.”
“It starts with having the space for children to move, even as infants,” Schweikert said. “We like our rooms to be bigger than what the state requires.”
Space in centers is also devoted to what the Lightbridge Academy team refers to as “multi-purpose rooms.” These are rooms that can be used for large or small group physical activity during inclement weather.
“This provides the space for the children run around and have fun,” Schweikert said. “When we host extracurricular vendor partners to provide services for our children and even parents, we use the multipurpose room to accommodate them.”
And physical activity is not limited to children who can walk. Lightbridge Academy also creates spaces in which infants can explore movement.
“We have padded synthetic grass on our entire outdoor learning environment,” Schweikert said. “Even the youngest babies explore the outdoors the sounds, sights and free something that sets us apart from a lot of our competitors. We make sure it's clean, safe and allows children the ability to explore and get physical exercise in. In order to support movement, you have to invest in the space for young children to do so.”
Physical activity is also an integral part of the daily curriculum at Lightbridge Academy.
“When we're working with older children on handwriting, which is a motor skill, we do that with whole body movement,” Schweikert said. “Certain types of movement help children master more detailed and specific motor skills. These activities helps them to properly hold and manipulate a pencil or scissors. If we're working on coding, we may have a student do it as a ‘real life’ idea - showing how movements up and down stairs mimic the way that coding works. We may have children march out to the playground or jump up before they wash their hands. We are always looking for creative ways large and small to get them moving, and foster it.”
It can be tough to encourage physical activity when playing on screen devices can be so much more tempting, but creating time to address body movement is crucial for healthy development.
“Our society and technology is causing children to limit their movement,” Schweikert said. “There are very few children who aren’t naturally very physically active. What are careful about balancing the screen time with encouraging children to be active. Our programs are set-up to utilize screen time in ways that are beneficial, but not limit their movement.”
Lightbridge Academy also makes sure to stay tuned in to children who are not necessarily innate athletes. Schweikert noted that some kids, for example, might be more introspective and inclined to activities such as the arts.
“It's not good or bad to be one or the other - but we want all children to be healthy, safe and develop healthy eating habits and good movement skills that are going to benefit them through life,” she said. Activities as simple as going for a walk or to the local park or even going out in your backyard can be hugely beneficial.
“We need to set a good example for your children,” Schweikert said. “Role modeling is the greatest form of teaching. If you're inside all of the time and you aren't running, walking, going outside, playing sports, etc. then your children will develop those habits.”
Safety will understandably be a concern for parents as their kids are on the move, but parents should remember that the possibility of getting hurt comes with the territory.
“You need to recognize that childhood comes with bumps and bruises,” Schweikert said. “Today we are much too cautious. We need to balance safety with the ability for children to challenge themselves in a physical way.”
Parents should be vigilant about making sure that physical-related activities such as gym class and recess remain a valued part of their child’s school curriculum, and while organized sports are also valuable, they often have a long waitlist. Plus, organized sports shouldn’t be seen as the only opportunity for physical activity, Schweikert said.
“When you usually ask parents what the best memories are with your kids, it's not going to be the movies you watched or a fancy vacation, it's usually the ones that are tied to motion - walking to get an ice cream together, going on a bike ride to the park, playing together on a playground,” she said.