Brain development tonic by benbenzhou


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									Scientists confirm what parents and caregivers already know - how the child is raised has an
enormous impact on his/her emotional well-being, intellectual level and skills for success. In
addition to nutrition, dealt with in another advocacy letter, research is showing that experiences,
coupled with heredity, literally sculpt the brain.

A baby is born with approximately 100 billion neurons, or nerve cells, in his/her brain that
communicates through tiny connections that form networks. These networks allow neurons to
transmit information involved in sensing, feeling, thinking, learning and remembering. At
birth, most of these important connections are not yet formed; neural networks are established
in the brain in response to experiences. Every experience a baby has forms a corresponding
network in his/her brain. Movement is a central part in acquiring these experiences and
stimulating the brain.

Experiences are like food for the brain. A rich diet of love and healthy stimulation causes the
brain to grow and flourish. A positive environment nourishes the child's innate intelligence
and allows his/her unique gifts to blossom. Conversely, an impoverished environment
diminishes the brain. Unfortunately, many children's brains are starving due to a lack of
attention, movement and the right kinds of experiences. Without the opportunity to be used,
neurons can actually wither away and die.

Fortunately, the human brain has an amazing
capacity to grow and change throughout life.
However, for optimal development, timing is
critical. There are periods of opportunity, "prime
times" during which the brain is particularly
efficient at specific types of learning. In the first
decade of life, the brain's ability to grow, change
and compensate is especially remarkable. (See

During this time, networks are forming at an
astonishing rate - by age three, the weight of a
child's brain has almost tripled! The young brain is
like a super sponge, absorbing every experience
into its neural architecture. During these first three
years the brain is storing information and
memories that will be the foundation for all future
learning. Experiences in early childhood have
decisive and long lasting effects on the holistic                                            Source: DSHS
development of the child.
Split-brain theory:
   •   Psychologists have shown that the left hemisphere of the
       brain tends to concentrate verbal and symbolic logical
       reasoning, while the right hemisphere tends to concentrate
       spatial and holistic reasoning.
   •   Left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the
       left hemisphere the right side of the body.
   •   Since the brain is divided it is crucial to make connections
       between the right and left side. Focusing on stimulation of
       both brain hemispheres is therefore of major importance.
   •   Classical schooling often focuses too little on stimulation of
       right brain hemisphere.
   •   Already in prenatal stage the brain is using movement to get
       information, stimulate the brain and make connections
       between left and right hemisphere.
   •   One way of achieving connection between right and left
       hemisphere is through movement that crosses the body’s

   Key development stages – primary reflexes and sensory systems
   The development of primary reflexes such as the asymmetric tonic neck reflex, the spinal
   gallant and the symmetrical tonic neck reflex are key development stages in brain
   development. Together with the sensory system these are the basic foundation for learning in
   the early years. If any of the key developmental stages are skipped it can cause severe
   learning difficulties. An example is a child who crawled for a short time, or not at all, might
   skip the development of right and left side body coordination and therefore left and right side
   brain hemisphere coordination, if this has not been mended by other kinds of movement.

   Primary reflexes
   Primary reflexes are movement patterns that emerge during fetal life and are critical for the
   survival of the newborn - e.g. infant rooting and suck reflexes. At birth a baby has no control
   over voluntary movement. The baby responds to environmental stimuli through the primitive
   reflexes, which are automatic stereotyped responses. As the nervous system develops,
   however, they are inhibited or transformed. The persistence of primary reflexes beyond their
   normal timespan (12 months) interferes with subsequent development. It can affect not just
   arms and legs, but eye functioning, visual perception, balance and the processing of auditory
   information. Retained primitive reflexes will also affect a child's sensory perceptions, causing
   him/her to be hypersensitive in some areas and hyposensitive in others. All these issues have
   educational implications. More than 70 primary reflexes are known. We will here discuss 3
   important examples.

   The spinal gallant
   Stroke an infant’s lower back on one side, and their side muscles instantly contract. It is
   important in supporting front and back coordination and crucial for development of links
   between the legs and core of the body.

   If this reflex is not correctly integrated it leads to multiple challenges:
        • Fidgeting and poor concentration
        • Decrease in short time memory
        • Lack of coordination in gross motor activities
        • Low motivation for movement
        • Difficulties internalising speech
Asymmetrical Tonic neck reflex (ATNR)
The ATNR is activated as a result of turning the head to one side. As the head is turned, the
arm and leg on the same side will extend while the opposite limbs bend. The reflex should be
inhibited by 6 months of age in the waking state. If the ATNR remains active in a child at a
later age, it can affect:
 •   Hand-eye co-ordination - difficulties such as ability to control the arm and
     hand when writing
 •   Continued cross laterality or ambiguity of laterality above 8 years of age
 •   Ability to cross the vertical midline. For example, a right-handed child may
     find it difficult to write on the left side of the page
 •   Discrepancy between oral and written performance
 •   Development of lateral eye movements such as visual tracking (necessary
     for reading and writing)
 •   Control of automatic balance
 •   Bilateral integration (differentiated and integrated use of the two sides of
     the body)
 •   A study revealed that 50% of children considered dyslectic have a non-
     integrated ATNR

The symmetrical tonic neck reflex (STNR)
The transition up into a crawling position is assisted by the emergence of the STNR, which
enables extension of the arms and flexion of the legs at the same time. However, the STNR
has to be 'switched off' before the baby can crawl forward as this involves a combination of
flexion and extension. Crawling is a major developmental milestone. It represents the
transition from fetal/infant movement, which is dominated by primary reflexes, to movement,
which allows the young child to explore its surroundings
independently. If it remains present in an older child, it inhibits cross
lateral development and thus academic learning at all levels:
    • Integration of upper and lower portions of the body (for
        example, when swimming)
    • Sitting posture (tendency to slump when sitting at a desk or a
    • Poorly developed muscle tone
    • Poor hand-eye co-ordination
    • Attention

The child needs movement and physical stimulation to
develop and integrate the primary reflexes.
Sensory systems:

Perceptual motor foundations are laid           Perceptual motor skills are developing by
down by one year of age:                        three years of age:
   • Body awareness                                 • Auditory perception
   • Bilateral coordination                         • Visual perception
   • Lateralisation                                 • Eye hand coordination
   • Motor planning                                 • Visual motor integration
                                                    • Purposeful activity

Developing academic readiness by age of         Sensory systems imbalances:
six:                                               • Difficult to sit still and listen
     • Regulation of attention                         attentively
     • Complex motor skills including              • Tactile defensive
       hand dexterity for cutting, writing,        • Difficulties sitting up straight
       drawing, etc.                               • Clumsy, falls often or knocks
     • Organised behaviour                             things over
     • Task initiation, perseverance and
     • Self esteem and self control

What can be done?
Movement is a key factor in providing sensory stimuli for the brain. Through specific
movement crossing the right and left body hemisphere we can make connections between left
and right hemisphere.

 Movement, sight, smell, sounds, taste and touch are keys
 to brain development; especially efficient is movement
 crossing the midline of the body.
 Children’s senses need to be stimulated and encouraged in
 the first stages of life.
 Building, climbing, jumping, running, taking apart and
 rebuilding and watching is essential for learning.
 Discovering three-dimensional space and mastering them
 by movement, enables children to learn valuable concepts
 that are applicable in mathematics, reading and writing.
 Limited movement has implications for the development
 of the brain and the ease with which a child can learn.

An active life with physical and mental stimulation is
crucial for a child’s brain development. Quality ECCE
programmes can provide this stimulation.

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