My grandson is four years old. He has been accepted into a public preschool program. One of the problems with this is that he would be on a school bus two or more hours per day, though the program is only two and a half hours long. The other option is to continue his private preschool classes three times a week. In determining which program is better for him, his mother is open to suggestions. At this point, he shows no problems except that it’s hard for him to focus, especially on things he’s not interested in, such as art.
Our Edu-K work is based on the concept that the more learners can integrate their basic sensorimotor skills for ease of whole-body balance and coordination, the freer will be that part of the brain—the prefrontal cortex—that is needed for focusing on cognitive skills, such as learning to read and write. Otherwise, as a child learns, he may always be keeping a partial focus on how to sit, balance, walk, hold a pencil, or otherwise move comfortably. For a four-year-old, exploration of the three-dimensional world through play and movement is the best way for him to organize himself in his world—to discover how to relate happily to his surroundings with both mobility and stability while focusing his attention.
So how can your daughter best ensure that her son is actively engaging his sensorimotor skills as he begins school?
Our suggestion to her: Watch him at play for 20 minutes and make note of how many times he changes position. Then observe him while he sits. Will he know how to stay comfortably upright on a long bus ride? There’s a world of difference between active and passive sitting. So note how frequently his seated movement comes into vertical alignment with gravity (active sitting); that is, his sacrum and occiput are in sync, allowing his spine to move freely without slouching. Sitting on a rolled towel or wedge (see below* for how) most often gives immediate access to good alignment, as indicated by the following markers:
- He’s sitting on his sacral platform (sitz bones), allowing for a natural lumbar curve.
- His hips, torso, and head are stacked, with a vertical axis in gravity; he doesn’t tend to tilt his head or twist his torso to either the left or right.
- His head is balanced over his torso, rather than thrust forward or bent down (for each inch that the head tilts forward of the shoulders, the neck muscles must support about eight pounds of added weight).
- The movements of his sacrum and occiput are generally in sync (a good connection between the sacral and occipital areas provides stability for development of the neck muscles, jaw and eyes, and overall head-turning ability).
- He moves his spine freely, without slouching into a C-shape curve.
Noticing of these markers can help his mother to recognize when her son is developmentally ready to sit for any length of time, as he’ll surely be required to do in a school classroom, or as would be necessary for the bus ride.
She might also consider how likely it is that the time on the bus will teach him to become inactive, for the 2½ hours is time he might otherwise be using to do gross-motor play like running, jumping, or taking a walk with his family. Or he might be doing fine-motor arts and crafts, or learning to socialize with friends—any of which can support his sensorimotor coordination and even his initiative to move. How much will excessive sitting dampen down his motivation and aliveness?
By the time he’s in kindergarten, he and his peers are likely to find themselves in a classroom hierarchy largely based on how well they pay attention, including how well they sit still. Yet it sounds like these are two things he isn’t quite ready to do. The stress of a two-hour bus ride is more likely to inhibit than support his connection to the motor skills that will help him prepare for classroom ease. There is probably little your grandson can gain in even a high-quality preschool classroom that will justify his sitting inactively in a school bus for more than two hours per day.
Regarding the Brain Gym activities, it will also be helpful to teach him (little by little) the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, a few Lengthening Activities**, and some Energy Exercises—especially the Energy Yawn, the Thinking Cap, Earth Buttons, and Space Buttons, as these can support his motor skills, centralization in the visual midfield, and general learning-readiness, and can help to release motor compensations. Knowing these activities, and the comfort they can bring, can also empower him to know what he needs to keep his eyes, ears, and whole body more active—either in the classroom or on a bus. To benefit a four-year-old, the Brain Gym activities will ideally be done to music and as a fun family activity.
Our preference is always to increase children’s playtime and to support movement patterns (playful Cross Crawling and many long walks) until a child’s freedom of focus becomes the leading energy. This can take minutes, days, or weeks.
This situation can also be a wonderful opportunity for you, as a grandmother, to share with your daughter what you know through your years of hands-on experience, as well as through the book and research links that I’ve included below. Although the decision is ultimately up to the boy’s mother, I believe we all hunger for a deeper connection with the wise elders in our lives. I have many times used Edu-K balancing to step into that role, and have found this to bring me great joy.
We received this thank-you note: “I think the article you wrote is wonderful. Just thought you’d like to know that my daughter and her husband have agreed to NOT send my grandson to the public school. My daughter appreciates your thoughts in the article, and it probably made an impact on their decision.”
*Alignment expert Kathleen Porter describes how to use the wedge in this 1 min. video on her site.
**For a detailed description of these and other Brain Gym activities, see Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, 2010, by Paul and Gail Dennison.
Please also share some of the books and research on sitting that we reference. Here are a few links:
– Kathleen Porter’s Sad Dog, Happy Dog: How Poor Posture Affects Your Child’s Health and What You Can Do About It, searchable at http://tinyurl.com/n7wzrk3 #parents
– “The Vestibular System Goes to School,” by Mary J. Kawar, MS, OT/L, PediaStaff: http://www.pediastaff.com/blog/the-vestibular-system-goes-to-school-362
– Research study results, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, showing that children who did not spend time outdoors after school failed to reach the recommended amount of daily exercise. The same children also spent an additional 70 minutes per day in sedentary behavior, compared to children who reported spending most of their time outdoors after school. Peer-reviewed journal reference: Schafer, Lee, et al. 2014. “Outdoor Time Is Associated with Physical Activity, Sedentary Time, and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Youth,” The Journal of Pediatrics (early release)
– “Kids Still Getting Too Much ‘Screen Time’”: CDC, HealthDay, US News and World Report.
– “A Surprising Hazard of Sitting All Day” by Michelle Schoffro Cook, link here.
Photo Credit: ID 19548117 © Rimma Zaytseva | Dreamstime.com
For a Spanish translation of this article, click here: Preparados para la Escuela = ¡Preparados para sentarse!
© 2014, 2016 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.