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Swimming, Sitting Up Helps Young Children Learn, Studies Find

Babies who can sit up (either on their own or with assistance) and preschoolers who participate in swimming have developmental advantages over those who can't, according to two separate studies.

My colleague Julie Rasicot recently covered both studies in detail over on our Early Years blog, but I'll give you a quick rundown here.

In one study, researchers at North Dakota State and Texas A&M universities found that babies who can sit up on their own have an advantage over those who can't, as they're free to use their hands to explore objects around them. The study found that 6½-month-old babies, when given the chance to play with objects beforehand, can be "primed to attend pattern differences" between the objects.

Even babies as young as 5½ months can use pattern differences to distinguish between objects when they're given "full postural support," according to the study. The 5½-month-old babies struggled to support themselves sitting up on their own, however.

"If babies don't have to focus on balancing, their attention can be on exploring the object," said study co-author Rebecca Woods, an assistant professor of human development and family science at North Dakota State University, in a statement.

Meanwhile, researchers from Australia's Griffith University found that preschool-aged children (younger than 5) who participate in swimming reach a range of developmental milestones quicker than children who stay away from the water.

"Swimming children score significantly better than the normal population on a number of measures that are really important for their transition to school: their cognitive development, their language development, and their physical development," said lead researcher Robyn Jorgensen in a YouTube video about the study.

Based on survey data from more than 7,000 children ages 3 to 5, the Griffith University researchers found that swimming children may be reaching a host of physical, social, cognitive, and linguistic milestones at an earlier age than expected. While speaking about the results of the study, Jorgensen specifically highlighted fine motor skills as an area in which swimming children outpace their nonswimming peers at an early age.

One other early-childhood study worth noting: Julie reported earlier this week on the Early Years blog that attending day care could dramatically increase a child's chance of becoming obese later in childhood, according to a study from researchers at the University of Montreal in Canada.

Children who regularly attended day care or who had an extended family member looking after them were 50 percent more likely to become obese between the ages of 4 and 10 compared with children who stayed home with their parents, the researchers found after studying more than 1,600 families with children born in Quebec between 1997 and 1998. The researchers weren't able to determine the reasons behind the higher risk of obesity, however.

"This difference cannot be explained by known risk factors such as socioeconomic status of the parents, breastfeeding,the body mass index of the mother, or employment status of the mother," said lead researcher Dr. Marie-Claude Geoffroy in a statement.

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