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Here we highlight the eight essential skills for learning & academics. These skills are developed after the neurological foundation is developed through primitive reflex integration, brain balance, and sensory integration. The Pyramid of Development & Learning displays the eight essential skills and how they are built on the neurological foundation. (see below).
At the top of the pyramid is executive function, skills needed for school and life, including reading, math, memory, organization, etc. To have optimal learning & academics you’ll need the neurological foundation to be strong, then essential skills developed. Below we’ll cover all eight essential skills and details about each.
#1 CORE STRENGTH & POSTURE
Our postural reflexes develop after our primitive reflexes integrate. They help us to stand upright, walk, sit in our chairs for school, and enable the core to strengthen. We must have a balance between the back body and front in order to stand upright and move freely. Our bodies typically need 30-50% more strength in the back then the front to counteract gravity forces pulling us forwards. Our posture also affects our cognitive function. Some research has even shown that cognitive function varies whether we are in a seated or standing position.
Once postural reflexes are in place they remain for the rest of our lives. They help us stay upright and allow our body to move freely and with volitional control. If there are unintegrated primitive reflexes, this will hinder the postural reflexes ability to be fully present. Many times the areas of unintegrated reflexes that are dominant include those in which the infant would be prone: Landau, TLR extension, STNR etc. These reflexes help to strengthen the back body and give us that balance between front & back.To help develop core strength & posture you will need to integrate primitive reflexes. Then lots of work in prone: superman, ironman, doing work on your stomach, plank, etc –> movements that help to build the back body strength. Balance practice will also help to develop core strength and engage our postural reflexes.
#2 BODY AWARENESS
Body awareness is the ability to understand how our bodies move and where they are in space. Body awareness is an understanding gained through Proprioception. Our body has tactile receptors housed within the joints of our bodies that feel stretch & compression – giving the brain the sense of what is moving and how it is moving in relation to our environment.
Body awareness is important for reasons beyond movement. Without it, we have difficulty with social skills and empathy. If we do not understand where our own body is in space, we won’t have a full “sense of self.” When we do not understand how we fit into the world, its difficult to understand other people.Body awareness begins to develop in the womb and continue as the infant moves across the floor and wiggles their body non-stop. The infant moves in a whole-body fashion with a sensory stimulus initiating a turn of the head, arms, and legs through automatic movements called primitive reflexes. As the infant begins to bear weight they give more feedback to their joints, enabling their brain to better understand the body.Without good body awareness your child may demonstrate difficulty in directions, coordination, sports, organization, self-care, social skills, empathy, and more.After reflex integration, we can improve the skill development of body awareness through activities that promote directionality, imitation, and proprioception.
Balance is the ability of our bodies to maintain alignment while engaged in a task. It gives us the ability to move through different environments while moving our body parts separately (looking side to side, up and down, reaching, etc) without losing upright posture. Having good balance gives us confidence to move through our environments safely and interact with other people socially. It helps us play on the playground and is a foundation for learning new motor skills for sports.Balance will remain unsteady and be a problem for your child’s other skill development if they have unintegrated reflexes. Primitive reflexes are whole body movements, stimulated by sensory information. Once they are integrated, postural reflexes emerge, allowing us to not only stand upright, but to move body parts independently.
If reflexes remain unintegrated, a toddler or older child will have micro-movements occur when they turn their head to a noise, or react to other sensory stimuli, making it more difficult to have volitional control over their body.To help your child’s balance improve, first make sure all of the core primitive reflexes are integrated. Next add in fun activities throughout your day:* balance on one leg, add in a hop* balance beam work* balance pad or board while catching/throwing balls* try different movements with eyes open, then eyes closed. Practicing balance in combination with visual tracking, core strength, and coordination will help skill development everywhere.
#4 VISUAL-MOTOR SKILLS
Visual motor skills are needed for coordinating the hands, legs, and other body movements with what the brain perceive from visual information. Visual motor skills are essential to coordinated and efficient use of the hands and eyes, balance, attention, and more. Many professionals believe visual-motor skills to be one of the most important senses for development. Children who have deficits in visual-motor integration may exhibit problems with participating in sports, eye hand coordination skills, eye-foot coordination skills, bilateral coordination (combining both sides of the body together), body awareness, activities of daily living (i.e. getting food on a fork), copying visual information, reading, drawing, handwriting, lining up math problems, geometry, speed of complete motor tasks, etc.
Research shows many significant correlations between visual-motor integration and academic performance.* preschool children’s visual-motor integration and object manipulation skills are related to executive function skills and social behaviors (MacDonald et. al., 2016)* For older children, performance on a visual analysis and visual motor integration task were significantly related to academic performance in 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds (Taylor, 1999)* Visual-motor integration skills have been shown to be related to the ability to copy letters legibly (Daly et. al, 2003)* Eye-hand coordination skills in children have also been shown to be related to math, reading and writing attainment (Giles et al, 2018). So as you can see VERY important! Visual skill development relies on your child having good core strength, upright posture, head control, and intact vestibular system. Eye-hand coordination and visual-motor skills can be trained after reflex integration using ball activities and specific eye training activities.
#5 CROSS-BODY MOVEMENTS
Cross-body movements (or crossing the midline as many say) is when the right side of the body engages at the same time as the left side of the body, or vice versa. It promotes the coordination and communication of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Cross-body movements are essential many activities in daily life including catching a ball, tying your shoes, buttoning your shirt, reading a book, scanning your environment, and more.
Crossing the midline improves both our physical and emotional state. Having a balanced brain & body improves coordination, bilateral integration, enhances whole brain thinking & processing, develops proprioception, calms our nervous system, and helps increase self-awareness. There are many movements & activities you can perform that incorporate a cross-body motion: cross crawl, bird dog, dead bug, etc. (I didn’t come up with these names LOL!) I like to use the cross crawl in the morning to energize my brain and incorporate it daily before math & reading lessons.
#6 Bilateral Integration & #7 Eye-Hand Coordination
We are coupling these two together because they are very similar and its difficult to have one without the other. Bilateral integration is the ability to use both sides of your body together in a coordinated way. Eye-hand coordination is the coordinated movement of hands and eyes guided by vision. The biggest difference is the visual aspect — yet many of the activities we perform in life use both of these skills: for example, catching a ball, tying your shoes, buttoning your shirt. But eye-hand coordination can include other skills such as racquet sports like tennis where bilateral integration is not being used.
Moving both sides of the body together in a coordinated fashion relies on good communication in the corpus callosum (the “superhighway” that connects right & left brain hemispheres). With many activities using bilateral integration you’ll also need the ability to cross midline — such as tying your shoes where you come together in the center. Have your child try drawing on a fixed surface the exact same thing with both hands at the same time. Eye-hand coordination relies on ocular motor control moving in coordination with the hands. Children will have difficulty if they are unable to visually track objects independently with their eyes or have binocular focus. Have you ever seen a child try and catch a ball that doesn’t have good binocular focus? They flinch, turn away, and the ball is rarely caught. You can practice both skills to perfection with repetition, but ONLY after their neurological foundation is strong. Without ocular motor control (for eye-hand coordination), and right/left hemisphere balance (for bilateral integration), the skills will be difficult and almost impossible to perfect.
#8 Timing & Rhythm
Timing & Rhythm in this example refers to the ability to move the body synchronized to a specific beat. It is noted that children that have difficulty clapping to a beat are those that also have trouble with reading. Timing & Rhythm are closely related to cognition and processing. Although there is no area within the brain that specifically controls timing, so it is thought to be a skill needing multiple areas of the brain and body. It is a lesser research area, but showing good promise in improving cognitive skills.
Research shows some promising areas of learning using timing & rhythm:* Results indicated that children who can synchronize most consistently with the least variability in timing & rhythm demonstrate more advanced neurophysiological responses linked with language skills.* Precision of temporal coding across modalities is important for speech processing and literacy skills that rely on dynamic interactions with sound.* Case studies on ADHD show improved timing, attention, and motor control.* Students who performed auditory-motor timing & rhythm training demonstrated significantly higher scores for mathematics achievement when compared to students who participated in recess. And something to note is that timing & rhythm can be trained. Children who have poor timing, can practice and improve their skill level over time. Most notably affected by timing & rhythm practice is attention and cognitive processing.
Our Brain Connextions Monthly Movement Membership offers videos to enhance all the essential skills above. You receive access to written & video instructions, plus several follow-along videos for older children.