Guest Post by Dr Shalom Drimer – Swimming for optimal brain development in infants
During one of Bubba G’s recent swimming lessons I had an exciting insight. I realised that she was not just learning water safety, she was also attending a fantastic brain gym class!
Swimming is part of the Australian national psyche. We love hanging out at the beach and surf lifesaving, and we love our national swimming champions such as Ian Thorpe and Dawn Fraser. Australia has plenty of public swimming pools and many private houses also have a pool in the back yard. With accidental drowning being a leading cause of death in children under 5, the benefits of swimming lessons are obvious.
I grew up on a Kibbutz in Israel. On the Kibbutz, it is the norm to take babies swimming as newborns. This allows the baby (who was immersed in water in the womb) to maintain their innate affinity for the water, and it helps to prevent them from developing a fear of the water as they get older.
We chose to take Bubba G to swimming lessons from the age of 4 months. She goes to the renowned swim school at the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre. Participating in the swimming lessons with Bubba G (who is now 23 months old) has always been a great joy for us. We love our 30 minutes of singing and water activities each week. These activities are both fun and educational (it has been well established that children learn best from play). One day it dawned on me that the activities are also important in helping to develop Bubba G’s brain and nervous system.
The early lessons focus on ensuring the child is familiar with water. Activities include basic water familiarisation, submersions, and early safety drills (such as turning underwater to find and grab the edge of the pool). All of these activities are performed as games that incorporate songs and a variety of physical challenges. Activities include picking up colourful balls and putting them back into the teacher’s basket, walking on a wobbly mat on the water, and crawling through tunnels.
As a chiropractor, I have an in-depth understanding of the nervous system (the master control system of the body). The nervous system comprises the brain, spinal cord and the nerves that control every cell of the body. It is an amazing communication super highway, which gives and receives information in the body.
Right now it is your brain that is reading, comprehending and integrating the words on the screen. To understand why swimming is so great for your baby’s brain development, I would like to give you a small introduction to an important structure in our brain called the Cerebellum (the little brain).
The cerebellum is located at the back of the head and is responsible for motor control in the body. It does not initiate movement, rather it coordinates it and helps with precision and accurate timing. What is cool is that the cerebellum is stimulated from input that comes from the sensory systems of the spinal cord and from other parts of the brain. So, as your baby (and toddler) is learning to swim, as they kick and move their hands, attempt to balance on a wobbly mat, and grab balls to place in a basket, their cerebellum is being developed.
And here is the grand revelation (I am excitable kind of guy)….. The cerebellum also has a role in language, attention, memory and emotions. It facilitates the fluent articulation of speech, and it is crucial for control of eye movements during reading. Therefore, the cerebellum also has a role in making literacy skills (such as reading and writing) automatic. So, one way to improve your child’s reading and writing skills is to take them to swimming lessons.
A study that was published by Griffith University in November 2012 has confirmed my observations. The authors found that children who participated in swimming lessons from an early age achieved many milestones earlier then the normal population (across areas of physical, cognitive and language development) regardless of social background or gender. Many of these skills have value in schooling and other areas of learning.
So swimming lessons for babies are great fun, a wonderful way to bond with your baby, a fantastic way to teach them water safety and an exciting way to help them to develop their brains.
Check out The Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre for classes.
By Dr Shalom Drimer