The word “cerebellum” means “little brain”. The cerebellum actually makes up only 10% of the total brain. But in the adult brain, it contains over half of the neurons (which transmit signals in brain). Most of the neural connections take information away from the cerebellum to many other different parts of the brain. So the rest of the brain is not telling the cerebellum what to do. The cerebellum is giving out information.
Over the years, scientists have found that the cerebellum is definitely related to movement. It is involved in the timing of movements and balance. But scientists have also linked the cerebellum to tasks that involve imagery, attention and language. In one study, scientists measured blood flow in different parts of the brain while people drew pictures. They had independent judges rate the level of creativity in each picture. When people drew pictures that were higher in creativity, they tended to have more activity in their cerebellums and less activity in the frontal part of their brains.
There is evidence that gesturing (like using your hands when you talk) is linked to being able to solve complex cognitive tasks more quickly. Three and four-year-old children were given a sorting task that involved a switch in rules in the middle of the game (making it difficult for most children this age). The children who used their hands to demonstrate how they were doing the task were better at it.
Researchers also believe that the cerebellum helps in social and communication skills. These skills are often affected in people with Austism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). And a recent study from researchers at Oregon State University added more evidence for this connection. They found that children with ASD who had better motor skills were better at socializing and communicating.
So what can parents and teachers make of all of this? Well, the size of the cerebellum seems to be linked to some of these skills. The larger and more developed the cerebellum, the better the skills. The interesting thing about the cerebellum is that its size can change. For example, if someone has had to restrict their movement, like being on bed rest, they can lose up to 25% of the volume of their cerebellum. But regular activity may increase the size and connectivity of the cerebellum.
So if you want to help a child grow her cerebellum, teaching her to engage in regular physical activity and creating lots of opportunities to do this are two key things to do. Also, engaging in a number of different types of physical activity could increase the chances to build different types of skills. It will also help children to find the activities that they like most. At the same time that children increase their physical activity, we want them decrease the time that they spend sitting, such as time in front of screens.
And the neat thing about these suggestions is that they don’t only work for children. They work for adults, too! So get out there and enjoy some physical activity along with your child! Bike, do yoga, play sports. And above all, have fun!!!
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Image: © Woodooart | Dreamstime.com | Cerebellum brain part
Text: © Kids in Transition to School