It is hard to know who is the most excited. Students, parents or teachers? Either way as the end of January rolls around it often spells a time of change for families as the school bell is soon to toll. So how can we best prepare our kids for the journey ahead?
At Transitions Chiropractic we are big believers in caring for our entire Newcastle family and as such we love helping to mould beautiful, dynamic children into the flourishing adaptive thriving individuals they were born to be. We believe there is 6 major areas to help provide the right foundation and help your child be their best. Our “6 S’s of excellence are:
- School Bags
Did you know that your child’s nervous system was in its early stages of development even before the heart and lungs? Their nervous system is the number one system of development and its growth and foundation is essential for optimal development and adaptation throughout life.
Their nervous system is housed and supported via their spine and skull. It’s this bony network that as a chiropractor I am principally concerned with. I want to make sure that children’s spines are as mobile as possible with all parts moving freely and equally minimising any interference to their nervous system. This means that getting children checked and adjusted by a chiropractor is for more than just pain. We seek to maximise their nerve pathways and communication throughout their body. This may help with correct organ or lung development and it may help ease them into an optimal stage of rest and digest where true learning and adaption to new stimuli occurs. Chiropractic has also been shown to directly trigger cerebellar activity which stimulates brain growth and development. This would further enhance learning potential throughout schooling.
Virtually all kids can do a perfect squat till about the age of 6. As children beginning school life they often are exposed to well and truly more than 5hrs of sitting/day. Being slumped into a school chair postural changes really start to occur. Seemingly trivial changes can cause a structural change or deformation where ligaments, tendons and muscles will become overstretched, stressed or weakened while others will shorten. Even their bony spine can prematurely change shape and degenerate too. Hunching is a prolonged “flexed” posture meaning it causes a shutting down of their extensor muscles. Additionally the exaggerated “C” shaped hunched spine places significantly more pressure on their sacro iliac & sub occipital joints (the very bottom and very top of their spine respectively) which are the two areas most densely impacting brain development. It has been said that “posture is rapidly devolving at the same speed that technology is evolving.” Hunching also compresses their mid back agitating the sympathetic fight or flight system. This has the potential of triggering their stress state of arousal meaning it is harder for a “hunched child” to switch off into a rest and digest phase. This internally hunched posture also compresses their chest cavity compressing the lungs and diaphragm forcing shallower chest breathing. Chest breathing is less oxygen rich meaning it doesn’t carry the same amount of energy and lack of diaphragm involvement really reduces spinal stability which, in turn makes sitting up right even harder almost assisting in furthering this hunch development.
Like adults children have a finite period of time they can actually focus on something. The more they enjoy the subject the more they can focus and sink their teeth into it. Even before school this is apparent. As a parent I am sure you would have noticed with your own child’s ability to concentrate on drawing or painting, reading or puzzles, surfing or running.
5+ hours of deliberate study time is a lot for a child to handle. Micro breaks whether at home or at school is a great way to change, to re stimulate and to reboot their wanting and ability to learn. Preferably, from a chiropractic perspective micro breaks would involve a simple extension exercise like reaching towards the sky, some sort of complicated movement like skipping or hopping, a sharp explosive activity like jumping or outdoor stimulation. These would help to re-spark their neurons and nervous system which in turn would help to reboot their brain ready for another dose of study. Changing activities even for a few minutes can really help kids to ignite their brains and prevent the eyes glazed over “lights are on but nobody’s home appearance.” Other examples could be as simple as a glass of water, taking a break from one topic, reading a book, playing a short computer game talking or even telling a joke to a friend.
The Pomodoro technique is a deliberate way of creating micro breaks and has been around since the 80’s. It promotes the use of a study or activity timer. 20-25 minutes of focused concentration at a task followed by a 3-5 minute break. After 4 cycles of this an extended 15 minute break is granted.
Standing desks are fantastic. Not many, but some schools have implemented this in the USA and in their early stages are showing signs of improved academic performance, physical health and classroom engagement. To date there has been no downside associated with these standing classrooms and prolonged standing doesn’t seem to impede learning. It may be harder to influence their seating position in the school room, but creating a positive study environment at home could really help to stimulate, their brains, nervous system and creativity. Standing directly activates many of the larger “extensor” muscle groups of the legs, neck and back. These muscles drive directly into cerebellar or thinking area of the brain as such they promote a fertile learning environment.
Time in nature is another a great way to improve a child’s ability to learn. Without even knowing it they are surrounded by maths equations, symmetry, colour schemes, balance, shapes, biology, physics, history, geography and chemistry. An added bonus is sunlight, which can help to directly stimulate the pineal gland which can be considered and important hormonal secreting region & memory stimulator deep within the brain.
Hopefully you’ve seen our little video when it comes to school bags.
The absolute pick for us is a well supported backpack- ideally with a chest strap. Given everything that has to go into backpacks from laptops, lunches and drink bottles the double compartment backpacks can really make kids hunch like little turtles (this is especially the case if they wear them too low). When fitting a backpack try to help your child wearing it as high as possible- so instead of them hunching forward it almost works like a chord on a wind-up toy- pulling them back and promoting them to be upright, chest out and proud, almost “superhero” styled posture. (amy cuddy link)
- Keep the weight in the bag as close to your childs back as possible to minimise the drag and make load bearing much easier.
- The chest strap really comes into its own as a 3rd anchor of support, it makes pressure a little more uniform, distributes weight easier and as a result is absolutely best for the longer commute or walk.
- Look for the shoulder paddling can really assist in providing comfort, the more comfortable the bag, the more likely the child to wear it in the correct fashion.
- Back padding and possibly even the netting. This can really adds nice support without being rigid. Netting provides a cooling effect too as there is a mesh layer between the bag and your child’s spine.
- Really solid almost metal reinforced packs might provide the bag with support but they won’t allow for the flexibility that your kid will need. Mobility matters and between the laptop, lunch etc I don’t believe that your child needs any extra weight in their backpack.
If you can get away with the single compartment backpacks great however, you can’t stuff as much weight in them. It is a great way to minimise the load placed on your kids back however, you need to take into consideration is it practical for your child’s school needs. Look for one with a drink bottle holder on the side & maybe even a small little lunch bag which they could potentially carry separate to their backpack.
Sling bags are a very legitimate option here too. Even though the weight is going across, as the weight is at your hips it doesn’t promote a slouch and especially for the shorter commute it could provide a lot of versatility.
Lets face it, learning is an endurance sport. Get up fuel the engine, learn, break, refuel, learn, break, refuel, learn, break, refuel, rest then go again. This can be a pretty monotonous cycle and without rest burnout is inevitable.
Many of us still unfortunately prescribe to the “who needs sleep” approach and unfortunately it becomes too easy to try to “Do” more in a 24 hour window. However, for many people that means “Doing more” average or below-par work. Arianna Huffington (ted talk), the woman behind the Huffington Post and the book Thrive firmly believes that doing less, and adequate rest and recovery is the key to bringing out the best in people. This goes the same for enhancing their ability to study and learn. Studies by Dr Matthew Walker (podcast), author of Why We Sleep illustrate that about 90% of adults need 7.5- 9hrs of sleep every night. This number is actually higher for children too where 9-11 hours is recommended.
Additionally, pre midnight sleep is worth almost 2:1 compared to post midnight hours when it comes to body recovery. This can be very tough to implement with late evening sport commitments, homework especially that which is computer based and staring into artificial light, social media, Netflix and teenage children’s natural shift in circadian rhythms. This final part, the shift in circadian rhythms has been illustrated by Dr Walker meaning they’ll naturally shift to staying up later. This is hard for us as parents to influence however, the use of “Blue light” technology to block the light effects from devices, creating a “no phone in bedroom” policy and restricting additional non study screen time can really help children rest and sleep.
Rest is vital and in reality, it is here in the deeper stages of sleep where the real learning occurs. It is in the deeper stages of sleep where conscious knowledge in transferred into subconscious and learned information.
In this modern day, being barefoot is almost shunned (especially at school or in the workplace). The problem with this is that wearing shoes all day switches off our feet. Like our hands – feet are incredibly rich with nerve endings. These nerve endings are proprioceptive meaning they feed a truck load of information into the brain regarding balance, movement etc.
For those bound to school one of the biggest things parents seem to want with school shoes is something that will last- so they don’t grow out of them or go through them….. Legitimate leather shoes will certainly last well but for growing feet they might need more than one pair in a year. As many parents have pointed out, the number of PE and sports classes the child has could really determine if joggers or the traditional formal shoe is the best investment. Getting the right fit from a shoe specialist like the team at Pure Performance could really be a crucial factor.
Regardless of the school hours, try to provide some sensory feet stimulation. This could include anything from swapping the school shoes for bare feet on grass, time in the sand or even playing through Glenrock. Short little sprints like playing tag, chasing a ball etc are a great way to stimulate a lot of the feet muscles and change the heavy pattern of rigid shoes. An additional bonus here is changing their foot stimulation can help to strengthen ankles, knees, hips and even their spine.
To this day I deliberately wear different shoes both at work and when I run. This is my attempt to maximise foot stimulation and muscle development through my own feet.
The brain is an energy zapping beast. The brain literally uses about 20% of the body’s total energy so if we want our children to learn, to be as cognitively flexible as possible it makes sense that we want to keep the brain and the child fully fuelled, ready to flex the mental muscle every day.
Although we aren’t the nutrition expert (thankfully Newcastle has amazing people like Compeat Nutrition for that) we do have a fair bit of experience and have done our fair share of research on “healthy food choices” and fuelling alternatives. The biggest ingredient we focus on for both our children’s and our own lunch is protein. If the brain is a muscle then it needs protein for development and functioning. From there we try to pair the appropriate amounts of quality fats as fat is 2:1 times more energy dense that carbohydrate. This means quality fats in the form of fish, nuts, eggs, avocados, butter, olive oils or coconut oils are all classified as lower glycaemic index foods meaning a much slower and steady state release of energy throughout the day. Once we have the protein and fat source figured out, then we look for the carbs.
Do we avoid carbs completely? Absolutely not and in reality for children, their rapid metabolism is much more flexible to carbohydrates than many adults. So we do include sandwiches however, we try to limit them every day. The big carbohydrate load of bread in the middle of the day can promote a sugar spike and crash (this is perfect in pre-school where they have naps but not really as appropriate in big school). For us, rice cakes, wraps and even a ploughman’s styled lunch of meat/sausages & veggies can work beautifully for us and our kids.
Unfortunately, the risk and rise of allergies is happening at an unprecedented rate. In the USA there has been a 20% increase in nut allergies since 2010 alone. Depending on the school and your child, a lot of what we said above may not be possible. Even our day care and preschool is a Nut Free Zone but healthy snacks are absolutely possible. I’ve included one of our favourite homemade brownie recipes and I love experimenting in the kitchen and seeing what snacks I can create for my little monsters. It could be an idea to check with the school canteen. Some school canteens are very health conscious and these “healthy canteens” can sometimes be completely devoid of “good fats.” Brains love fats and if you want your child to flex and build their mental muscle fats are vital for these little super computers to keep charging throughout the day.
Putting it all together
There are two great studies I came across recently trying to wrap this all together. The first titled “Associations between 24 hour movement behaviours and global cognition in US children.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352464218302785?via%3Dihub
Was comparing children who met the Canadian 24 hour movement guidelines for Children. This includes
- 60 minutes of physical activity per day
- 2 hours or less recreational screen time per day
- 9–11 h sleep per night in children aged 8–11 years.
Out of 4500 participants there was a 95% improvement for those who hit all 3 behaviours- activity, screen time & sleep versus those who did not hit any of the three benchmarks.
The second study entitled “Associations between screen time and lower psychological well being amongst children and adolescents” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335518301827 found 3 major results:
- More hours of screen time are associated with lower well-being in ages 2 to 17.
- High users show less curiosity, self-control, and emotional stability.
- Twice as many high (vs. low) users of screens had an anxiety or depression diagnosis.
There’s a lot of pressure placed parents, students, teachers and on the school system alike. I believe that it takes a tribe to raise a community and as such it takes a tribe to raise a child. We as parents are the number one teachers of our children. The habits and the actions they see us repeat each and every day are the ones they are going to learn. Children will be our little mirrors even before they have the chance to get influenced by the school system. As the old Jesuits saying goes “give me a child until he is 7 and I’ll give you a man”. We as parents have most of these critical, formative years. It’s us who teach them manners, to enjoy the moment, to persevere to learn to socialise, etc. I know that every parent out there wants the best possible life for their child. I believe that is we can take care of their 6 S’s of Spine, Study, School Bags, Sleep, Shoes and Snacks together we can help create, shape and mould the most amazing lil superhero’s our tribe has ever seen. Good luck to you, your tribe and the teachers throughout the school year. If you are ever looking for a way to enhance your child’s potential to thrive this school year, please consider chiropractic as a way of unlocking their inner potential and helping them flourish throughout life.