Learning is Not All in Your Head
Kathleen Purdy, Alexander Society for Inclusive Arts
It is gratifying to see the media devote more time to the importance of children playing outside, which recognizes the value of movement itself as a major learning modality.
In the last 25 years a lot has been learned about the brain and the interrelationships between physical movement, human development, and cognitive learning. Among neurologists there is a growing understanding of brain plasticity. According to Dr. Norman Doidge, “neuro-plasticity is the property of the brain that enables it to change its own structure and functioning in response to activity and mental experience.” (The Brain’s Way of Healing, 2015).
In my educational support work, this principal is key. I work with children who are struggling academically. I begin with a neuro-developmental assessment, after which I set up a program of movement exercises using bean bags, balls, and skipping rope, as well as drawing and painting. These specific activities help develop new neural pathways which then help the child achieve developmental milestones and the underlying capacities needed for the academic work.
There are certain developmental milestones that need to be achieved before a child is ready for academic work. Some children are not developmentally ready at 5 or 6 years old to tackle formal reading, writing, and math. An example of a developmental milestone that is key to learning is the integration of the vertical and horizontal midlines. The retention of these midlines beyond a certain age can interfere with the ability to read in a smooth and pleasant way.
Behaviours that could be indicators of incomplete early child development stages include poor co-ordination, lack of spatial awareness, difficulty copying from the board, legs wrapped around chair legs, sitting on the floor with legs in a W formation, frequently falling off chairs, holding the head up with a hand while sitting at a desk, turning paper when writing and drawing so that the child is writing from bottom to top rather than side to side, and difficulty with reading, writing, or math after age 6. The child who struggles just to sit up straight or to keep his balance, cannot put his mind to the academic task at hand.
Academic struggles often go hand in hand with behavioural and emotional challenges. When a child experiences failure, or sees him/herself as a problem, it could be the beginning of a life-long stigma.
A major outcome of this developmental approach to understanding and ameliorating learning challenges is the building of self-esteem. When children are given the opportunity to succeed in a non-competitive way, they thrive. And when we look at children holistically, and consider their overall well-being, we must meet them where they are developmentally.
For twenty years I have been facilitating creative arts programs for people with disabilities through the Alexander Society for Inclusive Arts, and for the last ten years I have branched out to work with children of all abilities through educational support programs. For more information on any of these programs, please go to our website: alexandersociety.org.