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If you’re a teacher or a parent, I’m sure you’ve come across this situation: picture two children with the same resources, same background, same school, and even the same teachers.
One picks up a book and reads naturally and fluidly. The other moves slowly through the text with poor comprehension and even worse concentration.
We often blame the teachers or the parents. Even worse, we sometimes blame the child. We call them lazy or unintelligent.
Well fortunately, science tells us that none of it is true. One of my children struggled in this same way, and now she has recalled many important aspects of her primary schooling – things that at the time her teachers were convinced had not sunk in. A great joy of mine is being able to go back to my daughter’s teachers and tell them their hard work paid off.
It wasn’t the fault of a poor education, but simply poor brain / body coordination. So how can we unlock a child’s hidden potential? It has to start with addressing the root cause.
The Thinking Brain vs. The Motor Brain
The human brain is divided into many different sections. We’ve developed into such beautifully complex organisms, with each bit playing a crucial role in our lives. The piece that we pay significant attention to is the cerebellum.
Your cerebellum is responsible for coordinating your skill development, muscle coordination and also has significant influence on how your emotions are controlled. That means everything from writing with a pen to riding a bike. When your cerebellum has fully developed a skill it becomes incredibly efficient; it performs it without any conscious thought. Unlike animals when they are born, human babies are born with virtually no skills and have to start developing them immediately – a maturing process that continues to beyond puberty.
Another part of your brain, which we’ll call the ‘thinking brain’ for ease of understanding, is not so efficient. It requires an incredible amount of thought and energy to perform all those skills that have not yet been hardwired by the cerebellum. The brain processing there moves far slower, and it is less refined.
That’s why whilst learning you are consciously riding a bike, i.e. using your thinking brain, you will inevitably fall off. Once you master the activity, your thinking brain becomes far less involved as the processing takes place in your cortex where it is instinctive, automatised and effortless. Usually when your cerebellum has fully developed these skills you never forget.
Motor Skills and Reading
Chances are that when you think of reading, you think of a purely intellectual activity. Yes, once you get into higher-level analysis, much of the work shifts to drawing conclusions in the thinking brain, but that’s not true from the start.
Let’s break down what reading is on a very basic level… Your eyes must follow a line of text taking in the letters of each word in the right order, you automatically recognize a word, and then the meaning and comprehension of the phrase is stored away in the thinking brain.
Look at that first action: ‘eyes must follow a line of text.’ That’s actually a fine motor skill. Your cerebellum is coordinating your eye muscles to fluidly move across the page. There is a firm connection in the neuroscience world between early motor skill development and school achievement.
This is a major reason why.
If a child hasn’t developed the motor skill of eye tracking, what happens to their reading process? Just like when riding a bike, the movement shifts to the thinking brain.
The eyes cannot smoothly follow the line, so they’re bouncing up and down and back and forth. Often children with this challenge use their finger or a ruler in their attempt to enable their eyes to follow the words. The thinking brain then has to put in the effort to disentangle the words. Finally, once the child has interpreted the word, it must be stored in the thinking brain – and then the process starts again with the next word. So by the time the child reaches the end of the sentence, the brain is so exhausted, the words at the start of the sentence have been lost so that comprehension goes out the window.
That’s because every bit of the activity had to be accomplished by the thinking brain.
If the cerebellum hasn’t created hard wired skills to relieve the thinking brain, your child is never going to enjoy reading and will be worn out long before their classmates.
Unlocking Your Child’s Potential
At this point, you’re probably thinking “This is all well and good, but how can I help my child?” The reason that it seems like your child’s difficulties aren’t being addressed in the classroom is not from lack of trying.
Despite many professionals urging universities to bring neuroscience into teacher education, we haven’t quite made it there. That means your child’s teachers aren’t given the resources they need to address it.
In primary education, and at home as well, we try to address reading problems like throwing a child into a pool and hoping they learn how to swim. That’s not how you teach a child.
Swim instructors start with basics, like floating and gliding. Then they address kicking and arm strokes. Once they’ve mastered the mechanics, swimming can become muscle memory. By starting small, you aren’t stressing the child, causing them to hate the water.
Unfortunately, modern education uses the first method. We might give them metaphorical floats like a ruler to draw their eyes to the line, but that doesn’t cut it for many students.
If an older child was struggling to swim, you wouldn’t have them swim laps. You take them back to the basics. If an older child is struggling to read, you shouldn’t shove a book in their face and force them to struggle. You need to go back to the basics, which starts in the cerebellum.
In essence, children are worn out from treading water. They get so exhausted from trying to battle with their brain that reading becomes stressful. They can’t comprehend, they can’t concentrate, and they can’t keep up with their peers.
This Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t Intelligent!
The brightest children can have the hardest time. What it DOES mean is that we need to approach helping them differently. If so much of the issue can be traced back to eye tracking, why are we not addressing eye tracking?
To put it bluntly, if you want to improve your child’s reading, writing, and even simple concentration skills, you need to address the brain / body coordination that needs to be fully developed for them.
You need to train the cerebellum so that skill processing moves from the thinking brain to the hardwired center.
The Kids withZing Programme does just that. We work a personalised program of physical exercises into the learning process to help your child develop the fundamental skill they need to access the education they’re receiving.
This is not about re-teaching, but rather about simply unlocking the potential and intelligence that was there all along. We’re just teaching them how to access it.
For more in-depth information and next steps to help your child get an edge in the classroom, check out my free ‘Hidden Potential Assessment’ here
To you child’s happiness,