The building blocks for learning happen in stages, each one following the other in a natural sequence. Starting with a solid foundation can help to keep the rest of the stack steady.
Your child’s early learning is a bit like this. A good foundation in infancy and early childhood can help to support all later stages of development. When one or more of these early stages has been missed, or is incomplete, the stack can become a bit “wobbly”.
As a result, your child may struggle in the classroom, finding tasks such as reading, writing and spelling challenging to master. They may also find it difficult to make friends and regulate their emotions and try to avoid sport and PE classes.
Where does all this important learning happen? Through play. Play is not a luxury, it is an essential part of those early building blocks, a place where your child is discovering those important abilities they will need for the rest of their lives.
The importance of the first seven years as preparation for lifelong learning cannot be underestimated. Your child’s development cannot be rushed. Each stage matters, and prepares them for the next part of their growth process.
Safety and Security
The first building block is safety and security, and this comes from you. Baby will love having you around, learning basic social and communication skills through being with you. She loves you to connect and tune in to her needs, and will develop self esteem through feeling safe and secure.
Through you, she will learn how to make sense of her feelings, and how to soother herself when feeling stressed or overwhelmed. This forms the foundation for later successful relationships throughout life.
Relationship building won’t come from TV and other electronic devices. Did you know you were this important?
Floor Play and Tummy Time
Through floor play and tummy time baby is building early motor skills, and loves to have you share the floor time fun. Starting with lying on his tummy and learning to lift his head up against gravity, he will gradually progress to lifting his upper body. As his arms strengthen, he will lift more of his body off the floor.
Once he has gained control of his limbs, he will learn to develop those fine muscles in his fingers that are so necessary for handwriting. This muscle strength will help him to later be able to sit still and focus in the classroom.
This won’t happen if he is propped up on cushions in front of a television or iPad.
Walking and Talking
Eventually baby will progress to crawling, cruising furniture, then finally walking, at a round 12 months. At this point, you will start to notice she is more interested in talking and developing language.
Talking to baby will help her to learn to how to communicate using language. She started to tune into your voice even before she was born, “feeling” sound vibrations through the bony parts of her body.
Language is much more than simply speaking. Baby is also learning to understand changes in your vocal tone, and recognise you facial expressions and body language.
Midlines and Laterality
As your toddler grows, you will notice that he is using both hands for activities, and hasn’t yet developed a preference for left or right. This is normal, and a preference won’t be fully established until he is between 6 and 7 years old.
Nature equipped your baby with invisible midlines, dividing her body both vertically and horizontally. This allows each side of the body to develop fully. They will gradually integrate as she gets older, as the two hemispheres of the brain link up and start to specialise.
The next stage or building block, is the achievement of right dominance by the time he is 6 or 7. Now your child is equipped for abstract learning – reading, writing, spelling, written expression and maths.
The ability to sit still and focus in a classroom is built on all these early sensory-motor foundations. Once all these early building blocks are in place, your small child should be able to sit still, regulate their emotions, and connect with others. All of this has happened in the first seven years.
Development Happens Naturally
All these stages happen naturally, especially through free play, in a safe place where your child can explore their world, knowing that either you, or another attuned caregiver, will be there to offer support when needed. In this way your child will be gradually building self esteem, and confidence in her abilities.
There is no need for fancy gadgets, or digital devices. The floor is your baby’s first playground, and you are her first teacher.
All these sensory and motor skills are coming together and integrating all the time, with everything your child does. And the good news is, most of this happens through play.
Ready for School
We often become aware of these early gaps or immaturities when a child starts school, and has trouble sitting still and maintaining focus. Reading and spelling are challenging, and handwriting is generally poor when motor skills are not properly developed.
An assessment for school readiness is a good place to start. We can identify and address immaturities before they have a chance to develop into major problems.
They can easily be addressed with an individualised sensory-integration and movement program to fill in the missing stages. In this way, we are building firm foundations for lifelong learning, not just tomorrow in the classroom (see case studies and testimonials).
I often suggest the Circle Of Security Parenting program to help parents understand those challenging behaviours, meltdowns and mood swings. This internationally recognised program will help you to learn how to build closer relationships through recognising your child’s needs and how they might be feeling.
Trying to keep up in school when early stages of development are incomplete is like asking a child to run with a broken leg. No-one would ask a child to do this, but we still expect them to sit still and learn in a classroom.
Children usually know when they are behind their peers. Many become frustrated, struggling to keep up in class. They often know they can do the work, but with no idea of why it isn’t happening for them. One of my students described this as “smart but feeling dumb”.
How You Can Help
Your young child learns mostly through watching you, feeling connected, Safety and security are the basis for learning and this comes from being with someone who understands them.
Support for school readiness does not come from flash cards and fancy devices. It comes from lots of time spent playing and physical activity, integrating sensory and motor skills. Activities such as running, jumping, rolling, hopping, walking along a balance beam, skipping, jumping rope, playing catch, kicking a ball, clapping games, songs and rhymes, and time spent in nature are all helping to build those early foundations for learning.
You can support your child’s fine motor development with activities such as cutting paper with scissors, drawing and painting, puzzles, board games, clay modelling, beading, finger knitting, string games and digging in the garden or sand tray.
Noe of this can be achieved in front of a television or other electronic device. In fact, the opposite is usually true, and screen time can actually delay your child’s early development.
In other words, having fun, and connecting with other children, and caring adults.
If you are concerned about your child’s early development, why not book in for a school readiness check? Identifying and addressing gaps in some of those early building blocks for learning before your child starts school can help them get off to a much better start. This way you can help to minimise later problems of frustration and poor self esteem.
Your child’s assessment might be covered by their NDIS plan. Your plan coordinator might be able to help you with this.