Exploring the Windows of Opportunity

Early movement experiences shape brain development in young children. Discover the latest research and practical strategies to support optimal neural growth through enriching physical activity during the critical early years.Blog post description.


4/10/20241 min read

Windows of Opportunity

Recent research has shed new light on the importance of early experiences and stimulation for brain development. This has led to increased support for programs that provide positive experiences for young children. One key area identified as critical for optimal development is movement and physical activity.

The article first provides an overview of new perspectives on brain development. While the major neural circuits are genetically pre-wired, the trillions of finer connections are shaped by environmental stimulation and experiences after birth. Studies on animals and humans show that enriched environments and sensory stimulation, including physical activity, promote increased neural connectivity and brain growth.

A key concept discussed is the idea of "windows of opportunity" - critical periods during development when the brain is most receptive to certain types of experiences. For motor development, this window appears to be from the prenatal period to around age 5. During this time, movement experiences are vital for building the brain circuits that control posture, reflexes, and general movement. Fine motor control and timing have a slightly longer window, up to around age 9.

Guidelines for movement activities to maximize benefits during these critical periods:

1) Begin basic gross motor activities (climbing, walking, running, throwing, etc.) early, before age 2. This stimulates the wiring of these behaviors and increases blood flow to feed the developing brain.

2) Provide a variety of sensory-motor experiences that integrate visual, tactile, and kinesthetic awareness, such as eye-hand/foot coordination activities, manipulatives, and obstacle courses.

The physical educator is identified as playing a key role in sharing this information with parents and classroom teachers, since many schools lack regular quality physical education for young children. By working collaboratively, they can ensure children receive the movement experiences crucial for optimal brain development during the critical early years.

In summary, the article highlights how new research on brain development underscores the importance of early movement experiences. By understanding the "windows of opportunity" and providing a range of sensory-motor activities, educators can support children's neural development and maximize their potential during this crucial period.