Swooping, diving, reaching and pounding, the body, articulate and bold, moves before us, a pleasure to behold. It has been suggested and observed by many writers on movement education that clear and articulate movement reflects clear and articulate mental processes; that those who move well, learn well.
So we send our children to swimming and dance lessons, basketball camp and gymnastics, helping them grow in the most well rounded way we can provide. And we are wise to do so. Movement educators and dance teachers like Anne Gilbert and others on the faculty of the Creative Dance Center of Seattle, Washington, have long been exploring and demonstrating the relationship between movement skills and academic skills, between movement in the dance studio and movement throughout life.
Yet even before children are old enough to touch small toes to the hardwood floor of a dance studio or the mats of a gymnasium, powerful movement processes are at work helping them organize sensory and motor systems in order to make sense of their world. The brain has a plan for development that involves intensive and specific motor activities to make full use of our complicated nervous system. It is well known that the nervous system of each new human being must go through a definite series of developmental stages before the brain can operate at its full potential. The baby “programs” his motor/ perceptual equipment, nerves and brain cells by using his whole body and all of his senses.
This process, called “neurological organization,” describes the evolution of the central nervous system between birth and 6-8 years. (More recent studies have also documented essential activities of the healthy fetus, which will not be included in this article.)
The newborn infant, all nervous system pieces in place, is already well on the way to developing an organized nervous system. The apparently random squiggling of arms and legs around a torso that does not propel forward despite the baby’s efforts will soon turn into a more organized pattern. Most babies will, by 2 ½ to 7 months, begin to organize this movement to get themselves off the spot, often in an urgent push away from perceived danger (such as a loud noise or a wet diaper). As this early belly crawling evolves into a consistent workable pattern, the baby now has mobility, and is beginning to use horizontal tracking of the eyes, which will later contribute to reading. Lumbar and cervical curves become stabilized, as does the rotation of the hips in their sockets. The baby is putting together a sensory and motor world of a very specific nature that will create a foundation for the next stage of creeping.
As the baby begins to creep on hands and knees, sometime between 7 months and 1 year, he puts distance between himself and the floor. Now balance mechanisms must become developed. The curvy little baby legs start to align with hip sockets and feet in preparation for standing. A greater distance from the floor creates new demands on the eyes as they begin their journey toward convergence. Vertical eye tracking is a part of the growth triggered by creeping, and a skill that will be ultimately essential for academic learning.
While these observable changes are taking place, countless other neurological tasks become stimulated and organized by these very necessary stages of development. Among these, detail perception and focusing, body temperature and waking/sleeping cycles, suppression of newborn reflexes, and the emergence of a more mature human being begin to occur in very observable ways during this period of creeping.
By 12 months, the brain has already learned 50% of everything it will ever know!
By 12 months, many children are doing those tasks that we recognize will lead to adult skills development, namely walking and talking. By 12 months, the brain has already learned 50% OF EVERYTHING IT WILL EVER KNOW! And the child hasn’t even entered preschool.
The journey from 1 to 8 years old involves an explosion of learning as we know it: language and music, bike riding and clock reading, tying shoe laces, finding Seattle on a map. However, for those children who are slow to read, who fidget and distract others through 2nd grade, and who must still wear Velcro shoes at 9, this brief overview of development may provide a key to gaps that may be responsible for these problems. If, in fact, this step-by-step development of the central nervous system is a key to mature, organized learning and physical skill, then perhaps we could use this same process to put into place functions that were missed.
How could any baby miss such basic instinctive activities? The list of answers is long. In the name of convenience, love or safety, we often keep babies off the floor for much of their first year in walkers, jumpers, car seats, or loving arms. A baby who has had surgery in the first six months of his life is often restrained until stitches heal or bones knit; children who have lived their early months in extreme deprivation, such as orphans brought out of Eastern Europe, may never have had an opportunity to test their mettle against the floor, which the Gesell Institute calls, “the athletic field of the child.” Even when develop¬mental opportunity is not lacking, birth trauma, a high fever, a blow to the head, or experiences that emotionally traumatize the child (adoption, the death of a parent before age one, war, etc.) can cause neurological dysfunctions that may be responsible for what may later appear as learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, behavior disorders, memory pro¬grams, speech, balance or filtering programs, difficulty sleeping, and a host of other difficulties that disrupt the flow of normal childhood development.
Often, taking children back through missed or disorganized developmental stages can correct flaws in their perceptual processes and enhance their intellectual, academic, and physical function¬ing and coordination. Parents whose children, for various reasons
A review of the child’s history and a check
of basic sensory and motor skills can often provide answers to long-asked questions.
missed some of these early stages, may be surprised to find their child described in some of the words in this brief article. A review of the child’s history and a check of basic sensory and motor skills can often provide answers to long-asked questions.