Learning involves the laying down of thoughts. To anchor any thought, however, we need to materialize it by some form of movement – whether it be the movement involved in vocalizing the thought in words, or by writing it down, or by acting on the thought with gross motor movement. Movement activates us, it anchors our intellectual processes. Thus, learning is all but “all in our head”; movement is critical to our mental development from the moment of conception.
Although we are born with millions of brain cells, the connection between most of these are not necessarily finally formed connections between brain cells form with stimulation of particular nerve pathways. The only exception to this is the reflex pathways, including the primitive reflexes. Reflexes are involuntary movements that are preprogrammed to cause a certain physical reaction, usually movement, in response to certain stimuli, such as pulling your hand away from a hot stove.
The primitive or primary reflexes, like the Moro reflex seen in babies when they get a fright, or the Babinski reflex that causes the toes to splay when the baby’s feet are tickled, develop while the child is in the womb and lay the foundation for the development of the nerve connections that will allow optimal functioning of both the sensory systems and postural reflexes. These, in turn, enable the growing child to respond appropriately to his sensory environment and to perform voluntary movements, both of which are crucial for the ability do scholastic activities with ease.
Shortly after birth or during early life, the primitive reflexes are toned down, or integrated with higher nerve centres in the brain. If these reflexes are not integrated, this reflexive behaviour continues involuntarily, sensory issues persist, parts of the brain responsible for learning, behaviour and social skills don’t develop fully, and the child develops compensatory behaviours, which affect school and social performance.
Developmental movement programs
A Braintrain100 Developmental Movement Program is a set of exercises, based on Braingym, Integrated Learning Therapy, which incorporates components from Barbara Pheloung’s Move to Learn program, Primitive Reflex Integration as well as HANDLE™ exercises, amongst others, which attempt to elicit and then integrate the primary reflexes in a sequence which is determined both developmentally and by the priorities of each child. Further exercises aim to strengthen and optimize bodily and sensory systems as well as integration of the two brain halves.
It entails an initial assessment to establish the extent and degree of reflex integration, based on direct observation of bodily reaction to certain movements as well as on information garnered from a series of questionnaires completed by the child’s primary caregiver. This information is used to develop a directed daily exercise program to meet the needs of the individual child, which is explained during a feedback session. The progress of the child is then reassessed monthly and the exercise program is adapted accordingly.