Preparing Your Child to Learn – part 1
Although human beings aren’t born with an ability to read and write, we do seem to come with an in-built capacity for learning, and this learning seems to be designed to occur naturally in distinct stages, one skill building on another, until quite complex tasks like reading and writing can be mastered. Before a child can be taught to write, for example, he or she must first gain the necessary muscular control to be able to focus their eyes, to sit up, and to hold a writing implement. Fortunately, most of these skills are acquired quite naturally through the normal instinctive movements of babies and young children during the first three years of their lives.
Tummy Time Spending lots of time on their tummies presents one of the first opportunities for a baby to learn. Major challenge number 1 is learning to simply roll over onto their backs. This will be quite exciting for them, and they will continue to play with this and eventually be able to go from front to back and even to move around by rolling. They should be encouraged to do lots and lots of this.
Major challenge number 2 is to develop the muscle strength to be able to lift the massive weight of their own heads. Soon their shoulders and arms become strong enough for them to straighten their arms and look up. With this amazing new ability, they will be able to see mum at the door (white board distance), and to look at their hands on the floor (reading distance). The ability to focus is being developed.
Gradually they will be strong enough to lift up their stomachs and get up onto their hands and knees. They won’t however likely be able to crawl yet. First they will need to spend up to several weeks rocking back and forth on hands and knees developing muscular control and strength and dealing with retained primitive reflexes.
Primitive reflexes are instinctive movements and reactions that allow a baby to not have to think about where they are going to suck, or how they will get down the birth canal or walk. They do, however, have to be pacified or subdued once they are no longer useful. If they are kept too long they will prevent a child developing normally and he or she will appear awkward and ‘different’. Normal movement, such as rocking on hands and knees and play, are usually enough to deal with these reflexes but at least 25% of children need a bit of assistance.
Crawling The next milestone is crawling. All babies are absolutely delighted when they can move forward and backwards on their own. This is also a vital stage in the development of academic readiness and it’s important that the child crawl in the ‘right’ way for a long enough period of time – usually six months. Many babies may begin to crawl in a unilateral way, (moving their left arm and leg together and then their right arm and leg together), but it’s important that they crawl in a cross pattern manner, (moving their left leg and right arm together and then their right leg and right arm together). This appears to be the most efficient way to help the child to develop communication between the right and left sides of the brain, to become integrated, in preparation for more complex learning tasks.
So much to learn before a child is ready for academic learning!
Most children go through these stages naturally and without difficulty, so that by the time they reach school age they are well prepared, but some children, for one reason or another, don’t spend enough time in each of these stages or even miss one out altogether.
Some babies don’t get enough time on their tummies, or don’t do enough rolling. Some children progress too quickly from crawling to walking or even don’t crawl at all. Others don’t crawl in a cross pattern manner. The net result is that vital developmental stages are missed or skimmed over, leaving the child ultimately ill prepared for school. When confronted with classroom learning, they are simply not yet ready and struggle to keep up with the rest of the class.
But, there is a lot that can be done to avoid or correct this.
Make sure your baby has plenty of tummy-time.
Encourage them to roll
When they haul themselves up onto their hands and knees, encourage them to rock
When they are ready, encourage them to crawl in a cross pattern manner
Don’t encourage them to walk. Throw out all walkers out into the sea! Encourage them to crawl even if you need to get down on the floor with them.
Simply allowing or encouraging your child to move in the normal, natural ways he or she was designed to move in goes a long way in helping your child to prepare for academic learning.
Written by: Barbara Pheloung & Jini Liljeqvist Move to Learn www.movetolearn.com.au Phone: 02 9907 7048