Switching off a reflex you're born with so you can learn to write
As a dancer and maker of theatre shows I'm fascinated by movement, especially that of very young children.
As a mum of three children (two boys and one girl) I was fascinated to watch them move, as babies, as toddlers, as young children and now growing into adults as the they move towards their teens.
Being a mum and being a dancer has given me insights into two fascinating worlds, that often collide, inform each other and bring me interesting perspectives.
One piece of information that surprised me was how much dancing and moving is directly linked to our children's engagement with and ability to learn
Children are born with nine reflexes - automatic movement responses that happen when certain parts of the body are moved or touched. You might be familiar with the grasping reflex - when a baby closes it's tiny finger around your finger. Apparently you can hang a new born from a washing line (!) but I've never tried it.
One that's less well known is the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR). This is when a baby turns its head to one side and it's arm/legs on that side straighten while the arm/legs on the other side bend. Like all of the other reflexes that a baby is born with they need to be 'switched off' by the time the baby reaches about 6 months. And here's where it gets interesting for me...
Switching reflexes off involves moving; spending time on tummies, crawling, sliding, rocking. And I don't just mean the baby, I mean the mummy/daddy too.
We are our children's best tool and encourager for development. While I do believe in 'healthy neglect' (which enables children to explore their surroundings without too much adult interference) I'm mostly a firm believer in playing, exploring, creating together. And here's why...
As well as helping to switch off the reflexes we're born with crawling can help with strength, both in the arms for later using them for mark making, painting etc.
Being on the floor, sliding, rolling stretching is necessary for back strength so we can sit upright, and be in control of our arms and legs.
Spinning round and being dizzy develops our vestibular system - if we want to be able to track words to read, then this is really vital.
While it isn't good to dwell on the negative it's worth knowing that if the ATNR reflex isn't switched off it can be responsible for some difficulties with learning;
- handwriting - each time a child turns his head to look at the page, his arm will want to extend and the fingers will want to open.
- holding and working a pen or pencil will require enormous effort, meaning that there might be a very heavy pencil grip and tension in the learners body.
- reading which linked to eye tracking difficulties which can result in lhe child loosing it's place, meaning that there's a loss of accuracy and comprehension
Today why not clear some space... put on some music and move. You don't have to know what to do, your child will show you how. Because let's face it, they're the movement experts and we're the ones stuck in our heads and more afraid of our bodies!