Neurologic Development: Opportunity, Experiences and Encouragement

 

Dear Friends,

This week a wonderful article written by Susan Johnson, MD has been circulating around one of the Waldorf homeschooling Yahoo!Groups:  http://youandyourchildshealth.org/youandyourchildshealth/articles/tv%20article.html

This article is called, “Strangers In Our Homes” and is about media and its relationship to the neurological development of the brain.  However, when I read this article for the second, third and fourth time, what I garnered was this: a profound interest in how what we do in Waldorf Education, within learning, affects the neurologic development of the child.  And, most importantly, how does this fit in at HOME where we are NOT re-creating Waldorf Schools within our living room? 

This part of the article was most interesting to me:

It is important to realize that a six-year-old’s brain is 2/3 the size of an adult’s though it has 5–7 times more connections between neurons than does the brain of an 18-month-old or an adult (Pearce 1992). The brain of a 6–7 year old child appears to have a tremendous capacity for making thousands and thousands of dendrite connections among neurons.

This potential for development ends around age 10–11 when the child loses 80 percent of this dendritic mass (Pearce 1992, Buzzell 1998). It appears that what we don’t develop or use, we lose as a capacity. An enzyme is released within the brain and literally dissolves all poorly myelinated pathways (Pearce 1992, Buzzell 1998).

So, if in the Early Years are job is one of protection, rhythm, and routine, and community so our children feel loved and accepted and that they belong,  I strongly believe our job in the early grades becomes one of  providing opportunity, experiences, and encouragement.  I argue in this back post that experiences form the basis of what happens in the upper grades of Waldorf homeschooling, and whilst this is not completely incongruent with “what a child wants to learn”, part of Waldorf homeschooling is accepting that you are a teacher and it is okay to introduce things that your child will need as a foundation for what comes later on:

http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/20/unschooling-and-waldorf-the-student-teacher-relationship-in-the-grades/

 

Some children are more self-initiated than others, especially in areas of challenges.  We all tend to want to work in the areas where we are comfortable, yet most of us will admit that we have grown the most out of the areas we are most uncomfortable. 

So, we must ask ourselves:

Where are we in our inner work and MOVING FORWARD?  We cannot just wallow in the feeling life of what is going on with our children, our spouses, ourselves – how do we move this to ACTION to move forward?

And, most importantly, where are our children:

Physically?  Here is a list of Grade Three physical milestone from one of my favorite websites:  http://www.movementforchildhood.com/standards.pdfOpportunity for physical movement, for HOURS each day, is the most important key toward increasing and developing movement. If it is a priority for the family, it will be a priority in the life of the child.  Physical movement is the basis of learning.  One cannot develop further skills without a sense of the body.

Fine Motor Skills?  This is an article written by an OT that points out fine motor skills and some activities to strengthen the shoulder girdle and hand:  http://www.connectionsmag.co.il/articlenav.php?id=1170

From a Waldorf perspective, no creature on earth has hands with the potential that the human being does. Our helping hands are what can create beautiful music and art and writing and serve humanity.  Here is a wonderful article by Ingun Schneider, a physical therapist who is now head of the Remedial Education program at Rudolf Steiner College, about “Supporting the Development of The Hand”:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/journal_articles/GW4102.pdf.  She,  in part, writes:

After four years of age most children can hold the stick crayon or pencil through thumb opposition to the index and long fingers with the ring and small fingers in flexion beginning to stabilize the hand. As the ring and little fingers take up the role of stabilizing the hand against the drawing or writing surface, a subtle ‘arch’ of the hand develops longitudinally from the wrist to the space between the base of the ring and long fingers. (Like the feet, the hand has two arches—a transverse and a longitudinal—which create a cross.) Gradually, small movements at the metacarpophalangeal and interphalangeal joints begin to control the movements of the crayon or pencil. The shoulder, elbow, forearm, and wrist act as stabilizing joints, along with the core muscles of abdomen and back, giving support and a firm foundation from which the finer movements of the hand and fingers can operate.
By the time the child is five to six years old, his or her hand development has matured to the point where he or she now can eat and draw with a mature, ‘adult’ grasp. When writing, the mature hand rests on its side, stabilized by the little and ring fingers. The stick crayon or pencil is grasped in a relaxed, graceful manner with the ends of the curved thumb and index finger across from each other on top of the crayon, supported by the side of the long finger’s distal phalange underneath the crayon.

 

Part of supporting the fine motor development is to develop the upper body and shoulder girdle but also to provide OPPORTUNITY to practice fine motor skills.  Is there a craft corner, do you model cutting paper with scissors and cutting pieces of salt dough snakes, do you draw? Part of this is putting it in the rhythm for your household. 

 

More about speech and the emotional and spiritual life of the child in our next post.

Blessings on your week as you get back into your rhythm,

Carrie