ALL WORK and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’ What we often brush aside as just another clichéd line, has great significance in a child’s school life. According to several studies, including a recent one by the University of British Columbia, regular exercise (especially the aerobic kind) releases chemicals that boost the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain linked with memory and learning. However, play time is the first to be sacrificed in our rush to squeeze in more study time. “Often, once children finish school, they are given something to eat and immediately sent off for tuitions, where they sit for hours. No child can concentrate on anything for more than 45 minutes at a time, so how is this helpful?” asks Dr Gita Mathai, who has addressed topics like new-age parenting and memory boosting in children in her new book, Staying Healthy in Modern India.
Food for thought
In fact, she is against children being forced to sit through four to five hours of tuitions. “To remember and retain information, chemicals are transferred from one synapse to the other. But if you do this continuously, you are not allowing sufficient time for it to regenerate,” says the
Vellore-based paediatrician, who has been practising medicine for over 40 years. This could be why, sometimes, the more children learn, the more they forget. Her suggestion: a minimum of eight to 10 hours of sleep and an hour of physical activity every day. Mathai adds that constant television viewing has the same impact. “Watching rapidly moving images depletes the chemicals. So if you ask a child to study soon after, they can’t. Instead, they should take a break for 15 minutes, maybe go for a run, before hitting their books,” shares the author, who writes columns, runs marathons and is also a black belt in karate.
Mathai also stresses the importance of free play and writing. While the former helps develop cognitive and analytical skills, the latter helps reinforce whatever the child is trying to learn. “Visual, auditory and written stimulation triggers three different areas of the brain, helping to improve memory,” she concludes.
In the lunch box
Diet is key if you want your child to soak up (and retain) information like a sponge. “They must eat six times a day, with a snack (like keerai bonda, a peanut butter sandwich or an egg salad) at 10.30 am and 4 pm,” says Mathai, adding, “Don’t send them off with just a glass of milk.” A balanced meal—with adequate carbs, proteins and vegetables—will ensure there is sustained release of energy.
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— Surya Praphulla Kumar