Children are like little sponges. They learn so quickly and retain so much of what they learn. If you think about what our children accomplish in a single year, it really is incredible. How is it possible that at the beginning of life, a baby cannot even focus her eyes, and by the end of the year, she will probably be walking, talking, and feeding herself? The answer is movement. Babies learn through movement. In fact, all of us have access to this kind of learning for our entire lives. We just need to keep on moving in new directions.
How We Learn
Our brains are organized through movement. The way that babies seem to randomly explore their environment is actually the beginning of organizing their brains. They learn through exploration. We have all witnessed the excitement when baby discovers her feet and even gets one into her mouth for the first time. Babies are curious… about everything. And the curiosity that comes with this kind of open exploration is extremely important. Every time a baby discovers a new way to move, millions of new neural connections are formed in the brain. Curiosity leads to discovery which changes the brain and creates new pathways for even more learning to take place.
Children with Special Needs
When left to their own devices, the typically developing child makes discovery after discovery. Children with special needs can learn in the same way. They just need some clues to get them started in the right direction. A movement-based method, such as the Feldenkrais Method, is a great starting point for finding those clues. Once given the clues, the exploration will begin, and those vital connections in the brain will begin to form, creating the opportunity for more and more learning. However, if we step in as parents or as therapists and begin to make movements for the child before the child is ready for them, that vital ingredient of curiosity will not be there and neither will the learning. The child does not need to pay any attention if someone else is doing it for him and the potential for learning will decline steeply. Instead of doing things for our children, such as propping them up with pillows before they can sit independently, we must give them the right tools so they can do it themselves. If we give them the tools, they will have more information available to them so that they can put the pieces together in thousands of different ways, furthering their discovery and their skill set. Plus they are learning how to learn and when they feel success, they gain momentum from those successes.
Learning by Exploring
Our brains also thrive on novelty. Exploration is key for children and for adults. When our children stop moving and stop exploring what is around them, the learning switch is turned off. This is true for adults as well. When we are truly exploring, we are moving slowly, allowing ourselves to get lost and find our way again. We cannot do this if we are on autopilot. We must slow ourselves down and remain open to doing new things throughout our lives. Just as we encourage our children to try new things, we need to encourage ourselves. Take a moment to count up the things you have stopped doing over the past five years. Now, count the things you have just started doing over the last five years. This will give you some understanding of where you are headed. Neuroscience has shown that doing new things is the best way to keep our brains fit as we age. So, the next time you or your child has the opportunity to learn a new instrument, a new language, a new sport or something as zany as juggling, go for it. Your body and your mind will both thank you.
Tools to Becoming a Lifelong Learner
1. Awareness. Awareness is paramount to learning.
2. Curiosity. Curiosity leads to discovery, which leads to real learning.
3. Exploration. Put yourself and your children in novel situations. Our brains thrive on novelty.
4. Slow. Fast means autopilot… no learning there.
5. Success. Celebrate the small successes along the way. Our brains are fueled by success.
Lynn Kenny is a certified Feldenkrais practitioner who works with people of all ages who want to move better and feel younger. She also works with many children with special needs and their families. She offers both Awareness Through Movement classes and private sessions at MoveBeWell Studio in Bloomingburg. She can be reached at 978-6506 or MoveBeWell.com.