Education is not merely about improving one’s memory and spitting out facts but rather, it is about developing the intellect. The intellect and conceptualisation are sparked when an atmosphere of expansion is created. In essence, when learners are allowed freedom of thought, movement and creativity they are can connect with their true potential…
Learning is an individual process, and what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. It is a process which involves all your senses, intellect, emotional, cognitive ability to learn, adjust, problem solve and succeed. Your child deserves to experience an education system that aligns with core strengths and reinforces other skills necessary for personal and professional growth. It is also very important to make sure that all the building blocks are in place for learning to occur
However, many classrooms teach only through either a visual or an auditory medium and yet sight and hearing are just two of the senses. What about the other 5 senses?
Most people know the obvious senses such as sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. However, did you know that the two hidden senses, which are not visible, are the most essential learning systems in the body? They are called the body systems – vestibular system (based in the inner ear) as well as the proprioceptive system (located in every muscle spindle, joint receptor, and ligament). As your child moves throughout their environment, so does the fluid in their inner ear canals. As the fluid in their inner ear moves, your child’s brain is receiving information as to the position of their head in space. These two systems are vital for the integrative learning through all the senses and help the other systems to process information sufficiently as a whole. Without these two systems, whole body learning will be possible.
Let’s have a look at the important functions of the vestibular system (inner ear system):
- It regulates your sleep patterns
- It tells you about position, time, space
- It gives you a sense of balance
- It helps the body to activate muscle contraction for sufficient postural control
- It assists co-ordination of the body to perform functions such as dressing, tying shoelaces, cooking, sport and ultimately brain co-ordination in scholastic tasks such as maths, reading and spelling.
- Together with the muscle receptor system and the touch sense, it is vital for the optimal learning through all the senses and therefore to plan ahead of time or use clues to adjust our actions
- Together with the eyes, the vestibular system helps us to track moving objects, plan the timing of moving objects such as when you want to catch a ball, cross the street or driving your car
- It plays an important role together with the hearing system to develop language and speech
- It keeps us alert and focused to support memory, retention of work and ultimately interpret and process information.
The vestibular system regulates our autonomic nervous system to boost immune systems and keep the nervous system balanced
Just imagine yourself in space. Gravity is gone, and you are relying on your visual and hearing system to know which way is up, down, forwards, backwards. Just think if you have to manoeuvre your way in a shopping centre without gravity and only using your eyes and ears. Imagine that you are not in tune with your body and feel like you are flying in the air, you are feeling off balance, you are not sure if you are standing or hanging upside down, you might be bumping into people and objects which are either moving or standing still, you try to determine if you are in the front or the back of the store, you uncertain how to move your body to get to the door and your are feeling nauseous. How do you make plans if you are not getting any feedback from your body?
The job of the inner ear and the receptors in your muscles and joint help you to orientate yourself in this world, it helps you to move and experience, it helps you to problem-solve and understand because you are experiencing it through your body. It keeps your sensitivities at bay and keeps you regulated and content. These two systems together with the touch system (tactile system) are very important for optimal learning.
It is so sad that our children are moving less and are exposed to more and more visual and hearing stimuli to learn. One parent even commented to say “Soon our kids will not be required to write as we have voice activating system doing the writing for us.” The kids are less active not as experimental and not as independent in solving problems relying on their bodies. Our children have become more static in their play as well as in their interaction with the outside world. Technology and screen time is taking away valuable time from our children physical play which is supposed to feed the vestibular system. Our clothing ranges are opting for easier options such as Velcro fasteners instead of shoelaces or buttons which limits motor sequences from developing. Our caretakers are doing most of the dressing, bathing, cooking, and cleaning. There are not enough trees to climb to teach our children valuable moving skills in space. The children are becoming more sensitive to movement because they are less exposed to movement. I am seeing more and more children in my practice with fear of heights, fear of movement backwards in space, fear of falling, fear of climbing, high levels of anxiety, overweight and sluggish, poor concentration, hyperactivity and learning difficulties.
And now the question: Why do we have so many children with concentration difficulties?
Children need to move to stay alert. They will seek it even though it is not appropriate to the situation OR they will just sit and “veg”. Then they are labelled as hyperactive, ADHD, ADD, disruptive, not concentrating, day dreaming; but in fact some of these children are trying to stay alert as their vestibular system is not as activated as it should be or they are happy to be passive.
We need to investigate and go back to the route of the problem. We need to encourage our children to move, jump, dive, fall, roll spin and help them to get up when they are hurt to try again. No learning occurs if we continuously avoid situations where our children might get hurt. We are depriving them of valuable movement learning opportunities. Scholastic achievement is reliant on body movement and learning through moving, touching, feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting.
Movement can be incorporated in the classroom without making it chaotic. Examples such as Rhythmical jumping while kids are learning to count in 2’s, sequential clapping patterns while you learn spelling rules, Movement breaks activating the muscles of the body to sustain concentration for longer, Physical education lessons can contribute by working on movement activities and co-ordination of the body which is vital for reading and maths (co-ordination of the two hemispheres of the brain) and sustained endurance.
What can we do?
We need to start moving from birth and continue to move through life, and I mean move…. Jump, skip, run, dance, dive, roll, and spin.
We can optimise learning throughout life by incorporating all the senses and not only relying on only two.
By Louzanne Meyer (Knoesen), Occupational Therapist Pecanwood College