How balance improves reading proficiency

Reading proficiency matters.

Learning to read is critical to a child’s overall well-being. A child with proficient learning skills, i.e., fluent speed, accuracy, expression, and comprehension, will be in a much better position to maintain a fulfilling, productive life.

Our education system is devoted to teaching our children to read, with Phonics programs, tutoring, and extra practice which only produce average results. About 16% of children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade do not graduate from high school on time – a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers. Reading proficiency is a critical component of educational development.

Children with ADHD, dyslexia, autism, sensory processing disorders, and learning disabilities often struggle to read. They also have another thing in common, they tend to struggle with balance and movement.

The good news is, reading happens in the brain by connecting our sensory and motor systems.  Weak brain and body connections can be improved at any age by improving a child’s ability to balance and move.

Reading doesn’t develop naturally. It must be acquired through direct teaching.

Humans develop many functions naturally over time because they’re hardwired into our DNA. For example, we can sense our surroundings, move our bodies, walk upright, listen, think, feel, speak verbally, and interact socially. Any child, unless neurologically, physically, or sensory impaired, will follow a natural developmental progression, starting at birth, to develop these abilities. When any of these functions fail to develop properly or on time, it’s a red flag that a child’s brain is underdeveloped, and not ready for school learning.

Reading, on the other hand, doesn’t develop naturally. It’s an acquired skill that must be directly taught to be learned. Reading instruction typically starts in kindergarten when children are expected to be school-ready. They’re expected to be proficient readers by the end of third grade, making K-3 the “learning to read” years.

At the start of fourth grade, learning shifts to the “reading to learn” years. If children aren’t proficient readers and visual learners at this stage, they will struggle to learn all academic subjects and are likely to fall behind in school.

Balance is the foundation of coordinated movement, thinking, and learning.

Body movement drives brain development for thinking and learning from birth. The vestibular system controls our sense of balance and motor movement. It’s the first system to fully develop in a baby at around five months old and is the key to the formation of stable, cross-body coordinated movement of both the gross motor and fine motor muscles.

At its essence, balance is the ability to sit, stand, bend over or move with stability so you don’t fall over. Balance requires the ability to maintain the body’s center of gravity and its base of support. As children grow physically, they need to learn to adjust their sense of balance to a changing center of gravity.

“Balance is the pillar beneath every skill we have.”

Marjorie Woollacott, Ph.D. professor of human physiology, University of Oregon, Eugene.

There are two types of balance to develop: static and dynamic.

  • Static balance is when the body is in one stationary position such as standing on one or two legs, bending over an exercise ball, or standing on your head without moving.
  • Dynamic balance is when the body is in motion and switching between positions, such as while walking, running, spinning, throwing, catching, or kicking.

Balance is integrated and automated in the lower brain.

The vestibular system is considered our sense of balance and motion. However, it also plays a much bigger role in overall brain function. It helps to organize all sensory information coming through the various senses and directs it to the brain and the body to facilitate motor movement. The main sensory systems involved in balance are vestibular, proprioception (muscles and joints), visual, and auditory. Here’s how they work.

The Vestibular system is the built-in compass in the inner ear that detects movement of our body parts against the force of gravity. It relays information to the lower brain as to where we are moving in our environment.

The Proprioception system is our sense of body awareness coming from our joints and muscles and tells us where our body is in relation to itself. For instance, you can close your eyes and still touch your nose with your finger because your body knows where your finger and nose are located.

The Visual system receives visual-spatial information coming from our eyes and develops balance reactions to our environment. Some people rely more on vision for balance and have a hard time balancing with their eyes closed.

The Auditory system receives sounds coming from our ears. As we develop rhythm or sounds, we develop timing of movement and balance reactions to our environment.

The vestibular system gathers and organizes all sensory information and sends it to the Cerebellum in the lower brain to direct the motor movement. The cerebellum looks at where the body is positioned in space and whether the muscle is relaxed or contracted. Depending on the desired action or movement, the cerebellum triggers muscle movement or halts the motion.

The cerebellum is also the “learning automation” center of the entire brain. In this broader role, it is the gatekeeper to a person’s learning ability. It automates new movements, information, thoughts, feelings, or learned skills, such as reading, without the need to mechanically think about it. In this way, the cerebellum automates riding a bike and singing a song and allows a person to perform both at the same time.

When any of these integrated sensory systems and/or the cerebellum is weak or underdeveloped, a child’s balance, movement, thinking, and learning abilities, including reading, will be compromised.

Links between balance and reading

Reading proficiency means reading with fluent speed, accuracy, expression, and comprehension of text. Physically, this requires stabilization and coordination of a child’s eyes, ears, and body position. Perceptually and cognitively, this requires strong focus, attention, and memory. All these brain and body connections start with balance.

Cross-body movement drives cross-brain development for reading. Reading requires the ability to use both sides of the upper brain (cortex) simultaneously. The mechanics of reading (letter recognition, phonics, word decoding, and vocabulary) are processed in the left hemisphere while the big picture understanding of what’s being read is processed in the right hemisphere. Balance physically develops coordinated movements on both sides of the body that drive the development of both sides of the brain. These movements cross the vertical and horizontal midlines of the body to develop laterality and directionality and train the eyes to move continuously from the left to the right sides of the body, as needed for reading.

Balance stabilizes head and eye movements for reading. When we read, our eyes need to move independently from our head movement. Our vestibular system stabilizes the muscles in our head and the muscles in our eyes separately so our eyes can perform the visual teaming, tracking, and perceptual aspects of reading. This helps us function in our everyday lives and read without feeling dizzy or have motion sickness.

The key visual aspects of reading include:

  • Eyes constantly jump (saccade) from object to object to perceive our entire field of vision as one picture.
  • Eyes team together to move across the page from left to right. They jump to a word (saccade), fixate on it, and use peripheral vision on each side of the fixation to perceive multiple words and their meaning. At the end of the sentence, they jump to the beginning of the next. Poor readers fixate on one word at a time. Fluent readers fixate much less because the brain fills in the visual gaps.
  • Eyes diverge to focus at a distance (for reading road signs while driving), converge to focus up close (for reading a book), and do both for moving back and forth (between the board and desk in a classroom).

Balance and auditory processing act as one to enable rhythm, timing, and sequencing for reading. Matching the sounds of letters and words to the spoken language is necessary to learn to read aloud and silently. But to read fluently, the timing and sequencing of reading help build verbal communication and information processing.

Auditory processing builds short-term memory and balance builds long-term memory. A strong vestibular system and cerebellum allow the physical and thinking aspects of reading to become automatic. But, when weak, reading fluency and comprehension is poor because children are using so much of their concentration and attention just to decode words that there isn’t room left in the brain to remember and understand the meaning of the text.

BrainyAct builds balance, movement, and proficient readers.

BrainyAct helps ages 6-adult with learning and development difficulties become proficient readers by building underdeveloped brain-body connections using a bottom-up neurological approach. This starts by building a strong sense of balance and coordinated movement.

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 prior to purchase in our Minnetonka, Minnesota center.

Discover the science behind BrainyAct. Download our Neuroscience Guide

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