Take your kids to the brain gym

14th February 2003 at 00:00
Daily exercises for the mind help to focus the class and are particularly useful for children who struggle with the three Rs, says Janet Saunders

SCHOOLS, primaries in particular, are increasingly tuning into the benefits of brain-based learning, building the mind-body connection with brain gym and other movement work.

Such programmes can be particularly beneficial for children who struggle with the three Rs. Children who have greater difficulties may be referred to the Institute of Neuro-Physiological Psychology (INPP) for individual attention, through the record of needs.

Nevertheless, this remains a lottery depending on whether the child's school or educational psychologist has even heard of the INPP. Schools in the independent sector are more robust in advising parents to pay for this route privately. Moreover, parents are increasingly showing a willingness to pay substantial sums and commit time long term to a daily exercise routine for no other reason than because it works.

There was an opportunity for teachers to find out more towards the end of last year by way of Learning Tapestry's "Wisdom and Wizardry" seminar series. Sadly the INPP event had to be cancelled for lack of interest. For the price of a one-day workshop, teachers could have had the bargain of the year - a test instrument and a series of 10-minute exercises to use with their whole class on a daily basis and free to parents and children.

These exercises are founded on the same excellent and long established base of research and practice as the INPP's one-to-one programme. Research in schools in England and Germany shows that the whole-class programme brings substantial gains. All children improve in ability to focus and in co-ordination skills. The slowest learners also make significant gains in literacy skills. The greatest boon for the children is improved self-esteem: teachers find the children enjoy the activities and are more settled for learning by doing them.

Specific learning difficulties successfully treated include dyspraxia, dyslexia, various attention deficit disorders and speech and language difficulties.

As many as 30 per cent of children suffer from neuro-developmental delay (NDD). This claim is made by researchers at the International Extra Lesson Association, which evolved out of the Steiner movement. The consequence of NDD is that children are unable to achieve their educational potential.

This is precisely the area that the INPP's work addresses.

The most obvious symptom of NDD is the retention of reflex movements from infancy. This mainly happens because, in our car-oriented and unsafe world, children are more likely to grow up without having adequate opportunities to engage in wide-ranging movement experiences.

Such reflex movements are designed to develop the brain and its ability to process information from the senses. Failure to work through the reflexes at the proper stage leaves the child at a neuro-physiological disadvantage and with automatic reflex behaviours still in place.

As the child grows older, they learn that they must consciously control residual reflex movements and this sets up a distraction from the business of learning in school. Inability to exercise automatic self-control over the physical body makes it more difficult for all learning to become automatic.

The quality of the INPP research is well established. With close links to Moray House, we have reason to hope that the graduate teachers of the future will have the INPP test battery and developmental exercise programme in their teaching kitbag.

As word spreads among parents that this approach can really work, parents of children with specific learning difficulties in state schools are bound to feel short-changed if learning support and records of needs responses focus only on symptom management, failing to tackle the underlying causes.

Janet Saunders is a management consultant and parent of two children, one of whom is on an INPP programme.

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