Thursday, January 24, 2008

Educators have long known that interest and enthusiasm for reading comes best in its appropriate developmental time.... a lesson ignored by both parents and politicians in their efforts to accelerate reading. The following is from behavioral pediatrician Dr. Susan Johnson:
True reading readiness (as opposed to forced reading “readiness”) is a biological phenomenon*, and requires that a child has passed a number of benchmarks of sensory-motor integration—which is an aspect of healthy brain development! Many of these benchmarks have been passed when a child is able to do the following:

* Pay attention and sit still in a chair for at least 20 minutes (without needing to wiggle or sit on his feet or wrap his feet around the legs of the chair as a way to locate his body in space)
* Balance on one foot, without her knees touching, and in stillness, with both arms out to her sides—and count backwards without losing her balance.
* Stand on one foot, with arms our in front of him, palms facing up, with both eyes closed for 10 seconds and not fall over.
* Reproduce various geometric shapes, numbers, or letters onto a piece of paper with a pencil while someone else traces these shapes, letters, or numbers on her back.
* Walk on a balance beam
* Jump rope
* Skip

If children can’t do these tasks easily, their vestibular and proprioceptive (sensory-motor) neural systems are not yet well-integrated, and chances are they will have difficulty sitting still, listening, focusing their eyes, focusing their attention, and remembering letters and numbers in the classroom.

Support for sensory-motor integration comes not from flash cards or video games... but from the following activities:

Physical movements, such as
* Skipping
* Hopping
* Rolling down hills
* Playing catch with a ball
* Jumping rope
* Running
* Walking
* Clapping games
* Circle games well as fine motor activities to strengthen important neural pathways, such as
* Cutting with scissors
* Digging in the garden
* Kneading dough (play or bread!)
* Pulling weeds
* Painting
* Beading
* Drawing
* String games (e.g., Jacob’s Ladder)
* Sewing
* Finger crochet/knitting
All of this information, of course suggests once again, that learning, memory and intelligence are whole body phenomena. So what's happening in modern education? Many schools have abandoned the well proven early childhood developmental activities and shove reading down their children's throats at too early an age. Then we wonder why reading and literacy are in decline. Can it be that we've taken the fun out of it?

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