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Timing, Rhythm and the Brain: Why Timing Affects Learning
This article discusses the importance timing and rhythm has on learning and the brain. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
I love watching little kids dance. It’s wonderful whether they’re dancing to the beat of their own drum, taking the time to listen to the beat, or imitating the moves of others. Even from the time kids are only a couple of months old, the rhythm and beat of music draws out a response. It’s cute, it’s fun and most definitely fascinating. The bouncing to music that comes so naturally, their love of nursery rhymes, patty cake, and even story time stem from a natural rhythm or internal time keeper that runs our brains. That time keeper helps the athlete keep control of the ball, the dancer keep in time with the beat, and the gamer coordinate their controller with the events on the screen.
But it’s more than just physical coordination. This timing system coordinates social and learning cues as well. This sense of time is at work while your child is trying to listen to directions, when they process and respond to those directions, while they converse with friends, read, solve math problems and much more. All of these things are about timing attention spans, responses, and working memory (the information your brain retains as it comes in and before it’s converted to long-term storage).
Studies are beginning to show that children with learning delays, ADHD, autism and other similar conditions have differences in the structure and functionality with the portions of their brains responsible for timing and rhythm. If the timing in their brain can’t keep up with the speed of the room or their timer has moved on to other things before the lesson is over, the lesson goes on without them. Now when you hear the words structurally and functionally different, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that nothing can be done. But here is the beauty of the human brain: it’s trainable. And training the brain to have better rhythm and timing comes in the form of movement therapy which looks a lot like playing.
To improve the brain’s timing system we have to engage our children in activities that synchronize their bodies with a beat whether it’s with the beat their bodies are making or an outside source like music. So here are a few activities to stimulate the timing regions of the brain.
Like we discussed before, dancing promotes synchronizing the body with a beat. To dance to the beat your child has to time out the beat to the music and then time their body with it. This comes naturally to some, but to children with timing issues, getting their bodies to time the movements properly is a real challenge. Getting your kids to dance doesn’t have to come via formal dance training. Just fun practice and encouragement can go a long way. Another fun addition to dancing is to play freeze dance. Freeze dance not only gets them dancing, but it helps them to focus in their attention and stop when the music stops. You can also let your child dance with ribbon sticks like you see here.
This is an activity where they sync to their own beat. Their feet and movements create the beat, but the more unified and rhythmic their movements are, the easier time they have to continue down the hopscotch squares or continue along with their skipping. For an indoor hopscotch pad, click here.
Playing With a Ball
Playing with any variety of ball helps timing. Dribbling a basketball, like the one you see here, creates a beat that they can tune into. The more in tune to that beat, the better they will dribble. Dribbling a soccer ball between feet requires timing communication between the feet to keep moving. If you’ve ever watched two people throw a football back and forth, it’s easy to tune into the back and forth beat that many people fall into. Catching a ball also requires timing to be in the right place at the right time to catch the ball.
Jump ropes are a great way to improve timing. They can jump alone to their own timing. But they can also work as a group. In this case, the two people spinning the rope time their movements together to make the rope swing in sync. Then the jumper has to time when to run and jump in and keep time with the rope. Some jump rope games also incorporate songs that just take it one step further for encouraging timing and coordination. For your own jumprope, click here.
Shocking as it sounds, there are some video games out there that are good for something besides sucking in your child’s attention (when used in moderation). Some are great for improving timing skills. Rock Band or Guitar hero are both good because the child has to time their guitar strum or drum strike to the image on the screen and the beat of the music. There are also dancing video games that get them up off the couch while they’re at it. Most games have some element of timing, but some have more than others. Just make sure to use this one in moderation.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs