Strengthen School Readiness for Struggling Students

Build the foundational brain-body connections that drive learning and development naturally.

School is back in session for another exciting school year. You may have a child who just started kindergarten or has moved up to elementary, middle, or high school this year. Parents hope their children are ready to transition to the next grade level, without any serious problems. Unfortunately, many children are not fully school-ready and struggle in school year after year. They may even be diagnosed with one or more neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism, sensory processing disorder, and/or other learning disabilities at some point in time, resulting in academic, emotional, social, physical, and behavioral challenges.

The good news is these diagnoses are neurological in nature. The brain can change at any age with the help of neurological-based interventions to help build the foundational brain-body connections that control our everyday functions such as health, movement, thinking, and feeling which will drive learning and development forward naturally.

Dimensions of school readiness

Being ready for school is not just about a child acquiring academic skills such as reading, writing, and math. Being school-ready is a child’s ability to learn fluently and function effectively within the grade-level classroom setting. This takes on many dimensions of functional development and, of course, expectations increase as a child ages.

  • Physical readiness: the child’s sensory and motor systems allow physical abilities to meet the demands of the school day.
  • Social-emotional readiness: the child is equipped with the social-emotional capacity to interact and cope in a class of 30 children.
  • Cognitive readiness: the child has the thinking, memory, and information processing to focus on tasks and complete them according to instructions.
  • Behavioral readiness: the child has the behavioral skills needed to be organized, manage time, take notes, study, be accountable for results, and more.

When children are equipped with these dimensions of school readiness for their grade level, they should be able to learn fluently and function effectively in school given the typical amount of instructional teaching time and repetitive practice provided in school for each assignment.

Many children have occasional difficulty mastering a subject or task. In this case “reteaching” through extra homework help, short-term tutoring, or a summer school class should be enough to get them caught up and on pace to move forward with their peers. But, when short-term and temporary “reteaching” interventions don’t result in significant learning improvements, this should raise a red flag to parents and teachers that this approach isn’t working and isn’t addressing the child’s underlying learning and development needs. Rather, this could be a sign that the child has a weak neurologic foundation of brain-body connections that are blocking learning and development from coming on board naturally. The way to get to the root cause of the problem is through a neurological-based intervention targeted at filling gaps in specific brain-body connections.

Physical movement is the foundation for learning and development.

It is common knowledge that physical movement is directly linked to learning and development. The more fluently a child can sense, move and self-regulate within their environment, the more fluently they can think, memorize, and process information. In turn, the more fluently a child can think, the more fluently they can follow instructions to learn new skills in school and in life—such as academics, social interactions, emotional control and feelings, and other new behavior patterns and sequences.

Given this hierarchy of learning and development, children who struggle to learn in school likely have challenges with thinking and processing information, and/or challenges with sensing, moving, and doing activities. Interventions that fill gaps in brain-body connections start from the bottom to the top of this hierarchy.

Sensorimotor integration impacts physical movement.

Horses can walk within a few hours of being born. Humans, on the other hand, take roughly a year to accomplish this task. Humans must master rolling, sitting, crawling, and standing before they can walk. The ability to skip takes much longer to the age of four or five. For humans to coordinate movements fluently, they first need to develop their senses and connect their sensory abilities with their motor abilities. This is a slow developmental process which can be derailed at any moment along the way, causing movement, thinking, and learning challenges.

Sensory processing issues affect coordinated motor movements. Humans have seven sensory systems. The first sensory system to develop is the vestibular system. It is in the inner ear and controls balance, head position and manages our center of gravity during motion. As we physically grow, our center of gravity changes, and our sensorimotor processing must adjust our body movements to this change. The proprioception system involves the awareness of the body in space through the muscles and the joints. The five remaining senses are light, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

The brain processes incoming sensory information from our body and environment and tells our body how to move or think in response. If any part of this process isn’t functioning properly, movement and thinking responses will not be accurate, timely, rhythmic, or fluent, and will impact gross motor, fine motor, visual, and auditory skills. Movement challenges in turn can cause communication, emotional, social, and behavioral dysregulation which impacts the ability to learn skills such as speak, read, write, imitate a superhero, dress, ride a bike, take notes in class, or clean a room.

Fluency is the automation of movement, thinking, and learning.

School readiness requires a child to be able to learn fluently and function effectively. We all know a child who knows their multiplication facts one day but not the next. In this case, the child has learned the multiplication table, but not fluently – not with automatic recall speed and accuracy every time. Some children never become fluent with math facts. They either count out or look up the answer every time. That takes a lot more time and energy and impacts their ability to solve higher-level math problems.

To function effectively in school, children need to learn and follow classroom routines fluently. For example, how to physically turn in their assignments, gather their belongings, and line up to leave the building at the end of the school day. Some children need to follow checklists or need verbal reminders of these steps every day. The routine never becomes automatic where it can be performed without thinking about every detail of every step.

It’s well known that there is one part of the lower brain (the cerebellum) that processes sensory, motor, balance, and coordinative body movements. What is less known, but confirmed by the latest neuroscience studies, is the cerebellum is also responsible for learning fluency. It’s considered the automation center of the brain. In other words, whenever something new is being learned, be it movement, information or skills, the cerebellum is extremely active. But, once the movement, information, or skill is learned in a fluent and automatic way, the cerebellum is no longer very active. So, when a child is learning to ride a bike, the cerebellum is highly active, and the child literally thinks about everything being done all the time. At this point, riding a bike looks and feels very robotic. But when the child finally learns how to ride the bike quickly and smoothly, without thinking about it, the cerebellum is no longer very active. At this point, bike riding has become an automatic function and the child would be able to carry on a conversation with a biking partner while riding.

When the sensory and motor systems and the cerebellum are fully developed, movement, thinking, and learning will happen naturally and fluently with a typical amount of time and practice. But when the sensory and motor systems and the cerebellum are not functioning efficiently, it affects everything in life. It takes 90% of a child’s brainpower and energy to manage body stability and muscle movement properly, leaving only 10% for thinking and processing information. Fluency might never be achieved.

Strengthening Brain-Body Connections for Writing

More than half of all children with ADHD, dyslexia, autism, and other learning difficulties have problems with their sensory and motor systems and/or cerebellum. Poor writing skills are a common problem when a child can’t automate senses, movement, or thinking while writing. Here’s an example of what Robert, a fourth-grader, is doing, feeling, and thinking while completing a writing assignment in the classroom:

  • Just the thought of writing causes Robert to get anxious. His breathing escalates. He rocks back and forth in his chair, opens his notebook, and knocks his pencil to the floor.
  • While reaching for his pencil he’s thinking: “How far away is my pencil to reach?” I need to balance myself in my chair as I reach so I don’t fall out of my chair.”
  • With his pencil ready to write the title, he thinks: “How tight should I grip my pencil? How much pressure is okay when I write on the paper?
  • He breaks the lead and needs to get another pencil.
  • While writing the first sentence he doesn’t know how to spell orange and writes “orng” with no care. Then he thinks: “Is there enough room for one more word on this line or do I need to go to the next line?”
  • He writes very slowly and laboriously and can’t keep his letters aligned to the line, form his letters properly, or give proper space between words.
  • He had lots of ideas to write but seems to have forgotten them now.
  • His mind wanders and starts thinking about recess, totally losing track of time.
  • When time is up, he’s written only five sentences and is far from completion. The rest of the class has finished. He feels terrible about his work and thinks he’s stupid. He crumbles up his page and drops it on the floor.

This is a common scenario for many struggling learners. If writing was this laborious and exhausting for you, would you want to do it? With all the rote thinking and moving going on, no wonder Robert was anxious, forgot the details while he was writing, only completed a few sentences, never checked his work for errors, and had no self-confidence.

The good news is the brain and body connections can be built at any age. The handwriting sample below is from an eight-year-old girl, Kayla, who completed 40 BrainyAct brain-body training sessions over four months. It shows how unorganized and awkward she felt, moved, and thought before completing the program and how much improvement she made in these connections by the end. Her handwriting improved dramatically by training foundational body awareness, balance, cross-body movement, rhythm and timing, fine motor movements, perceptual thinking, and eye-tracking, not from practicing handwriting.

Kayla, Age 8

BrainyAct puts hope in motion.

BrainyAct helps ages 6-adult with learning and development difficulties become independent lifelong learners by restoring brain-body connections that build a strong brain so learning new skills and performing well in school happens naturally.

BrainyAct is a non-medical, drug-free program that uses interactive full-body movement gaming technology to deliver an engaging and personalized neurodevelopmental program in your home or in our Minnetonka, Minnesota center.

Contact us at (952) 444-2808 to discuss your child’s challenges and how BrainyAct can help. Purchase BrainyAct for home or in our center at www.kinuu/purchase. You can also purchase an assessment in our Minnetonka, Minnesota center.

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