Help!! My child isn’t learning

More time spent in the car, less walking around, and infant props such as exersaucers and jolly jumpers all mean less floor time and less movement.

Physical awareness and body control are vital skills to acquire. Could a child’s more sedentary lifestyle be impacting on their future learning?

There seems to be an increase in the number of children who are experiencing difficulty learning in the classroom situation.

Many of those have no specific diagnosis of a problem (such as dyslexia or dyspraxia, for example), but the child is having difficulty learning despite having above average intelligence and appearing normal in all other respects. So, what could be the problem?

It could be due to the fact that some children are not physically ready for the formal learning process. It is important to realise that your child’s physical development is closely linked to their intellectual development.

Education today seems to be focused on developing intellectual skills at the expense of physical skills. There is great emphasis on computer literacy and higher level thinking skills, but it is a huge mistake to think the mind and body are separate entities.

In order to utilise the intellectual skills that a child possesses, it is necessary that they have a body that is coordinated and integrated.

It is very important for all children to move and develop their bodies as well as their minds. The brain and the body work together through the central nervous system, but both are dependent on the senses for all information about the outer world. In order to develop sensory integration, the child needs to go through the various stages of development in a sequential order and each stage is a necessary part of normal development.

Sequence of Development of various Motor Skills Age & Skill

3-5 months- Rolling
6 months- Sitting unsupported
8 – 12 months- Crawling
12 – 18 months- Walking
18 months – 2 years- Jumping – two feet together
3 – 31/2 years- Hopping
4 – 41/2 years- Skipping

Each of the skills in the chart is a necessary part of preparing the body for future learning.

tummy time: Tummy time helps to develop upper body strength and allows the child to learn to lift their head off the ground, push up on hands and opens the fingers so they are able to take their weight when crawling begins.
rolling: This is one of the early stages that helps with the development of the vestibular (balance) system. It is a necessary part of developing muscle tone. Rolling on to the tummy is preparation for getting into a position where movement can start. A baby should roll from front to back and back to front, as well as from side to side, in order for equal muscle development to take place.

sitting unsupported: A baby is meant to spend the first few months of their life lying down. Nature did not intend a baby to be in an upright position until their muscle tone was sufficiently developed. Until then, they should be encouraged to crawl and move, rather than propped into an upright position with cushions etc. Children who sit for long periods of time are prone to become “bottom shufflers” and thus miss out the important stage of crawling. Items such as walkers, jolly jumpers or exersaucers can be okay if used in moderation, but often the child is missing out on valuable time that would be better spent on the floor exploring the world around them.

crawling: This is a very important stage of development. It is at this stage that cross patterning in the brain takes place and the communication pathways are developed between the two hemispheres of the brain. The more pathways there are, the greater the efficiency of brain function. Crawling helps develop laterality (the awareness that I have two sides to my body and that they can work independently or together); eye development (changing focal length); hands and fingers are strengthened in preparation for later development of the “pincer grip” and handwriting skills; upper body muscle tone is developed; and the child is able to explore and experience their world.

jumping – two feet together: When the child jumps, the two feet need to leave the ground at the same time. Jumping encourages the development of laterality. develop sensory integration, the child needs to go through the various stages of development in a sequential order, and each stage is a necessary part of normal development.

Children who have a good command of laterality will have developed a preferred hand and will be able to do things like pedal a bike and use their arms when swimming. Many of the skills the child needs at school to develop handwriting and reading requires the child to have developed a preferred side (i.e., right eye, right ear, right foot and right hand). Some children may prefer the left side. It is better to have a preferred or dominant side rather than have what is referred to as mixed dominance. That is, for example, where the left eye may be dominant, but the child is right-handed.

Mixed dominance causes problems with auditory and visual processing, particularly when too much information is given at one time.

These stages of development are an integral part of learning. Each stage needs to be practiced over and over again for the skill to become automatic. A child is only able to focus on one cognitive (thinking) task at a time, so only when these skills involving the body become automatic that the child can then focus on higher thinking skills.

Language and behaviour, as well as learning, are all linked in some way to the function of the motor system and the control of movement. A child who has gained control of their body is then able to exercise self-control. Most academic learning is dependent on basic skills becoming automatic at the physical level. Therefore, if a child does not develop automatic control over balance and co-ordination, many other aspects of learning may be affected, even if the child is of average or above average intelligence (Goddard, 2002).

Rowe (1995) noted that the most advanced level of movement is the ability to stay completely still. Therefore, in order for a child to be able to function in a classroom where they are expected to stand still or sit still, they need to have complete control over movement. If this is not the case, then the child does not have the necessary basic equipment for learning in the classroom.

When a child experiences difficulty learning, it causes distress to not only the child but also the parents and teachers. In the absence of any other diagnosis, it could be that physical factors underlie the learning difficulty. Each child deserves to develop to their full potential, and difficulty with learning should not stand in the way of that happening.

It could be that some children are not physically ready for the formal learning process. Your child's physical development is closely linked to their intellectual development. It is important to determine whether there are any physical factors underlying their difficulty in learning.

Glynis Brummer
B.Ed; PGDip Ed (Special Ed); M.Ed (Special Ed) is a Movement and Learning Specialist who runs Smart Learning Solutions.

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