When the crucial PROCESS of child development is better understood, it becomes easier to understand HOW and WHY this requires great focus. Does the child feel emotionally secure at home and at school? The role of emotions in the learning process is greatly underestimated. The body metabolises every emotion experienced and only in a calm state can learning and new thinking patterns occur.
So how does a child learn? ALL information comes from our senses – from birth to age 2, the three senses predominantly used are Tactile, Vestibular and Proprioceptive senses, the latter two in essence, are movement. In other words, these touch and movement senses need to be used enough for proper brain development.
TOUCH creates emotional stability i.e. physical connection to his/her mother, who am I and what do I feel like?
Skin sensations in order to tell the difference and tolerate: touch, light/deep pressure, pain and temperature.
Awareness of body parts and spatially, what does it feel like with what is around me (eg what it feels like to sit under a table)? MOVEMENT creates balance in order to stabilise one part of the body while another is working and is necessary for all functioning.
Muscle tone is the resistance to movement in the muscles. Muscle strength enables a child to sit up straight at the desk and be able to concentrate so learning can happen. All finer skills can’t develop sufficiently without core body strength, resulting in how work is set out. Moving creates awareness of the body in order to plan the next motor (muscle) response. Movement enables the child to cross over to the opposite side of the body, this is known as midline crossing and is essential for both sides of the brain to work together in order to read with ease without pausing and/or losing place. This also impacts the formation and spacing of letters/pictures on the page. Judging space around the body and how the body moves in different directions (to or from something) needs to be understood before letters and numbers can be formed correctly and where they are written on paper.
Children need to explore in order to understand space, position of body parts, direction and distance. Laterality is the awareness of 2 sides of the body that can move separately but can also unconsciously help each other (bilateral integration) in a coordinated way to hold paper and write. Dominance of hand, eye and foot can then develop which is important to coordinate tasks and movement to be planned (motor planning). Development of speech and eye tracking can also be affected if a child lacks core strength.It is therefore evident and cannot be emphasized enough, how important the use of touch and movement are, for proper development. From two years old what a child hears, sees, smells and tastes becomes as important as touch and movement.
Language that a child hears begins to develop faster and is the result of what a child has perceived and experienced. The brain will start to give meaning/form a perception of the world from the messages received through what he hears, sees, touches, tastes, smells and movement. Should senses not be used enough or the impulses aren’t picked up correctly by the nervous system, this affects the ability to perform everyday tasks and will affect behaviour and focus. When a child is having difficulty in an area of development, be it emotional, physical, social or language, it is essential to consider whether the senses are balanced.
Assuming sensory integration is working optimally, the next step in development is for the brain to form a clear concept of colour, size, shape and numbers using the senses. The more a child uses multiple senses i.e. moves, touches, hears and sees, the more pathways to the brain are made and information remembered and thoughts organised, using previous experience. Only after this perception is mastered, i.e. given the correct meaning, can academic learning happen. However, even with a stable environment and balanced senses, some children still battle to read, write and spell?
Parents continue in desperation to find the answers! The problem arises in how information that is taken into the brain is processed. There has to be a conscious understanding by the child that speech is divided into sounds, syllables and words. He/She must HEAR differences in sounds, the sequence of sounds and distinguish one sound. He/She must SEE differences in letters/words/numbers, sequence of letters/numbers, focus on one letter/word/number at a time, what the letter/number looks like and how it’s formed.
ATTENTION is also necessary to take this information in so that it can be stored and retrieved to correlate with other information. If retrieval of a sound or symbol is not possible, reading and writing can’t become automatic and fluent, and comprehension of what is read/written is difficult The National Institute for Learning Development (NILD) was the result of many years of intensive research and clinical studies done. Learning disabilities have a neurological origin and underdeveloped/dormant areas of the brain need to be stimulated in order to overcome these deficits. The basic skills necessary to learn need to be taught explicitly and with precise language to children with challenges and specific to their areas of weakness.
Commitment and consistency from parents, teachers and therapists are vital for improvement to be seen. It is the right of a child to become equipped in order to avoid feelings of failure! Vanessa Clarke (Nild Educational Therapist)