Building Blocks for School Readiness: How Physical Activity Shapes Success

Feb 05, 2024

In a recent webinar for my course members, I delved into the crucial aspect of enhancing school readiness through the power of physical activity and movement. We explored essential skills for school, the pivotal needs of children during this period, and strategies to prepare them through movement and movement therapy.


Exploring Essential Skills for School

So what skills are crucial for a smooth transition for school and what can we be focussing on during this transition? Well here are the top 4 things I believe is crucial during this time.


  1. Core strength

  2. Social-Emotional skills

  3. Sensory Processing

  4. Language skills


Let's look at why these are important and what exercise opportunities we have to help with each area!


  1. Core strength


Core strength is a fundamental pillar in holistic development, serving as the bedrock for overall development. Not only does it lay the groundwork for gross and fine motor skill refinement, but it also enables children to sit comfortably, focus, and progress in their developmental milestones and more intricate skills.


Have you ever had a sore back or sat on the floor and been uncomfortable? Well, when kids lack core strength this is exactly how they feel. I bet that you couldn't sit still, couldn't focus and were super distracted. Well, that is exactly what happens when kids don't have core endurance. They start to get uncomfortable, fidget and definitely struggle to focus. Bye-bye behaviour.


So this is exactly where I start when it comes to working with kids and it is what we need to be focussing on, particularly for the transition to school and throughout school. Let's look at what we can be doing to help kids with their core strength.


Opportunities for Core Strength in exercise sessions:

  1. Core-specific exercises - plank, dead bug, half kneeling, 4-point kneeling exercises

  2. Balancing activities - single leg, unstable surface, balance beam

  3. Incorporating core exercises into common games - sitting on a balance disc/cushion and playing cards

  4. Pilates exercise - have you seen you can get my entire database?


2. Social Emotional Skills

Social-emotional skills are crucial for children during this transition. They underpin the foundations of relationships and confidence. Research supports that when children feels socially connected with their peers they thrive. When they have solid connections they feel comfortable taking risks, moving out of their comfort zone - all skills necessary in a learning environment. Cultivating an environment where children feel socially supported and confident to explore new experiences became a key focus.


Opportunities for Social-Emotional Skills during exercise:

  1. Start with 1:1 exercise sessions so we can learn more about kids and provide appropriate support.

  2. Small group exercise opportunities are amazing for fostering sharing, turn-taking, and collaboration

  3. Crafting challenges through obstacle courses or exercise goals to boost motivation and confidence

  4. Exercise is a fabulous opportunity to praise effort, problem-solving, and demonstrate progress.


Navigating Sensory Processing and Integration

School is an intense sensory experience for children, particularly for those with any sensory differences. It is loud and busy visually and there is a lot going on for children. Throw any complex needs in and it can become a very challenging environment to manage stimulation. And managing stimulation is how we put children in the right state to learn. First we need to recognise that school can be overwhelming for children with sensory differences and next we need to do our best to identify the sensory needs of the children we are with and create an environment that aligns with those needs.


Opportunities for Sensory Processing through exercise :

  1. The amazing thing we can do is take children outside into nature to move, this can be a sensory wonderland with softer noises, a breeze, and nature to interact with.

  2. We can use exercise to help with stimulation. If a child is overstimulated keep them on one level and do some exercises rather than changing positions frequently. For example, try a few seated exercises to manage their stimulation. If they need more input to manage stimulation and regulation things like spinning, swinging and dancing are fabulous.

  3. Use this as an opportunity to talk with kids about their sensory needs and things they can do to help them feel better.


Language and Cognitive Skills

Language, communication and cognitive skills are all crucial in the transition to school. The use of expressive and receptive language is a vital component for independent functioning which of course is one of the big stepping stones for children in the transition to school. They must manage themselves on a higher level with less adult support. So building skills becomes very important during this stage of life. Fortunately, language and movement go hand in hand.


Opportunities for Language and Cognitive Skills during exercise

  1. When we are getting kids to move we are asking them to follow multiple-step instructions. We can modify the number of steps based on the child's skill level and gradually build as they develop, what better way to do than when we are having fun playing and moving!

  2. We have a lovely opportunity to get kids to share their thoughts and feelings during exercise. We can go on an imaginary trip to the zoo and move like their favourite animal we can ride our bike to the beach, and we can be lead by the child's imagination and preference.

  3. Lastly, it is so simple to layer language and cognitive skills into exercise. We can call on memory, counting, crossing the midline, storytime all language and cognitive skills. There really is just so much opportunity through movement to bolster holistic child development.


Most importantly, children need to feel safe and connected during this time of change and vulnerability. Being a healthy role model, creating routines with things that they enjoy and can look forward to, fostering social connections and praising them for their effort and development will go a long way. Then we can layer in challenges and goals, help them take risks and move out of their comfort zone. It is a time of big change, more independence and the development of so many new skills so move forward tenderly.