Chapter 3: Body Basics

The mind-body connection

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Many different things affect how our children learn to read — whether or not they’re learning a second language, for instance, how many other kids are in their classrooms, or how early they were introduced to the whole idea of reading. One of the most basic of things that affects a child’s ability to learn is her body. When a child is overtired, for example, it can be hard for her to concentrate. If she hasn’t eaten well that day, her brain may not have the energy it needs to work well.

Let’s look at some of the ways that “body basics” may be affecting your child’s struggle to learn to read. A few simple changes in her routine or diet can help put her back on the right track toward learning.

The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is important to all kinds of learning — including learning how to read. It helps us focus, and it can help our brains lock in something we’re trying to commit to memory. For this reason, a child of school age needs to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Here are some facts about kids and sleep:

  • Screen time can keep them up. The bright lights of computers, televisions and even smartphones can tell the brain it’s daytime. Using these devices in the hour before bedtime can make it hard to fall asleep.
  • Teenagers need more sleep not less than younger kids. Most of us know that infants and toddlers need lots of sleep. But teens are going through tremendous changes — physically and emotionally. They need, according to the National Sleep Foundation, a full eight to 10 hours of sleep every night.
  • A regular bedtime is important. A regular bedtime makes it easier for kids to fall asleep quickly and easier for them to get up in the morning. Kids should also get up about the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Stick to a routine. A bedtime routine tells your child’s brain and body that it is time to get ready for sleep. Bedtime routines can be as simple as a snack and a story or bath time followed by a back rub.

The Importance of Exercise

Numerous studies have proved the link between exercise and learning. Exercise increases endorphins — the feel-good hormones in our brains. This can aid both memory and learning. Exercise also increases blood flow to all the organs in our bodies. The brain, like all other organs, does better when it gets a healthy flow of blood.

Make sure your child gets some exercise every day. If possible, schedule an exercise break right after school or in the middle of homework time. It can be as simple as dancing through a popular tune on YouTube or a quick bike ride around the block. Whatever gets your child up and moving will make learning a little easier for her when she’s done.

The Importance of Snack Time!

Our brains are made of cells, and those cells need food to function well. Snacks not only make homework time more fun, they also prime your child’s brain for learning by providing the energy it needs to work well. Some studies even suggest that eating while studying actually improves memory.

Healthy snacks have high-quality protein and are low in processed sugar. Some healthy snack foods that most kids like include string cheese, applesauce, pretzels, dried fruit, carrot sticks and low-fat yogurt. Avoid sugary drinks. They may make a child feel better briefly, but that rush of energy is usually followed by a crash. Drinks with caffeine can keep your child awake, even many hours later.

Below are a few simple snacks you can offer your child when she’s doing her reading homework. Better still, have her read the steps out loud, and the two of you can work on the recipe together!

Ants on a log

Carefully wash four celery stalks. Have an adult cut each stalk into four-inch segments. Fill each celery “log” with peanut butter. Top the peanut butter with a row of raisins — these are your ants! Yum!

Fruit kabobs

Choose several different types of fruit. Bananas, apples, grapes and strawberries work well. Firm canned fruit can be used, too, such as pears or pineapple. Wash the fresh fruit well. Peel the bananas. Have an adult cut the fruit into 1-inch cubes. Now, thread the fruit cubes onto wooden shish-kabob skewers. Voila! Fruit kabobs! Now, you can dip them in low-fat yogurt or fruit juice.

Trail Mix

Fill several small bowls with a variety of your child’s favorite healthy, dry snack foods. These could include low-sugar cereals, raisins, peanuts, popcorn or sunflower seeds. Add a few sweet treats for flavor, like miniature marshmallows, chocolate chips or candy-coated peanut butter tidbits. Now, pour all of your ingredients into a large, zippered bag. Here’s the fun part: Zip the bag and shake it until everything is thoroughly mixed. When snacking is done for the day, zip the bag closed to keep your trail mix fresh-tasting and dry.

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National Sleep Foundation, “Teens and Sleep,”