Is my child ready for school? The answer – Is your child’s body ready for school?
The Early Childhood Development (ECD) Phase is the season of the great brain development. Although the pre – frontal cortex will continue to mature until their mid-twenties, the infrastructure of the brain undergoes its greatest development by six years of age.
This is not the season for playing mini-Grade One. It is the season for making the body ready for learning. But when parents approach the Grade 1 year, they are terrified that the child is “not ready” for school. Schools that utilise the High 5 make sure that anxiety is no longer involved in the learning process. Anxiety shuts down the Executive Function of the brain. Making use of the High 5 strategies in a playful space, the body will develop the skeletal and muscular support to enable the brain to lay neural pathways for deep thinking.
So what are the High 5?
Number 1: Posture
Unlike the locust with an exoskeleton, humans, mammals and reptiles have endoskeletons. This endoskeleton requires a great deal of external support to hold it up. This support is given by the large muscle groups that control the smaller muscles. It takes a great deal of physical activity to ensure that the body is ready to sit for a limited period of time, concentrate and manipulate learning tools like digital devices, pens, crayons, paint brushes or pairs of scissors.
The role of the core muscles cannot be over emphasized in the learning programme from ECD to MATRIC. Training the muscles in the hips, lower back, pelvis and abdomen to work in harmony is essential for cognition. Sit ups, planking and fitness ball exercises should be part of everyday activities in the classroom. Playground equipment must be designed for pull-ups (monkey bars), balancing and toning the core muscles. I am always surprised how few High Schools have Playparks/Gym Parks on their fields. Getting kids and teens to lie on their backs and use their bent legs to lift their buttocks off the ground to create a bridge where the hips and the knees are aligned, assists in strengthening their core muscles. While the core and shoulder muscles are developing and getting stronger to stabilise the body, simple activities like popping bubble wrap in the ECD and Foundation Phase classes trains the index finger and thumb co-ordination so needed in holding a pencil or crayon. But here is the thing! You cannot work backwards. Big muscles must be developed first – then small muscles. Too often teachers have children sitting at desks without creating the environment for the big muscles to stabilise the body.
When the body is aligned – the muscles are not required to work so hard to stabilise the student, freeing much required energy for the power hungry brain and increasing energy levels, attention and learning. A healthy stabilised body is able to be independent. An unstable frame will require support.
Big muscles control small muscles and posture (control of large muscle groups) will determine our ability to manipulate our smaller or fine muscles and control instruments like a pair of scissors, chalk, paint brush, wax crayons and eventually pencil crayons, windups and pencils.
Number 2: My Place in Space – Laterality and Directionality
Our body can be divided into two, using an imaginary line, from our head to toes. Laterality is the internal awareness of space located to the right and left of this imaginary midline. It is the internal awareness of both your right and left sides of your body working together and in opposition to each other. Our sense of laterality begins when we are babies. For example, when you learn how to crawl, both sides of your body work together in tandem.
Directionality takes this awareness of left and right a step further. It is your ability to take the concept of left and right into the space beyond your fingertips. Directionality is the ability to see right and left in other objects. With directionality, you are able to detect how words appear left to right on a page of text, for example. Visual perception and spatial awareness are tied directly to laterality and directionality.
The trampoline is an amazing laterality tool. It teaches children to be comfortable with their place in space. They learn what is up and down, left and right, over and under, through and around. Robot walking is such fun. The facilitator shouts out directives: “Forward, left, stop, forward, right, stop. Backwards, stop. Forward, left, left, forward. Under the imaginary bridge. Over the imaginary wall…..”
Standing facing a sheet of paper pasted to a wall, “Put your index finger on the left top corner, right bottom corner, centre. This prepares the body to manage the creation of patterns required in forming letters from the left to the right in western countries.
Number 3: Communication
Listen first, then talk, then write and decipher patterns to construct meaning by encoding and decoding the symbols.
The art of listening is natural. We listen before we talk, and we talk before we write and read. We have been listening and talking as a species for 500 000 years. We have only been writing and decoding/encoding patterns to make meaning for about 5000 years as humans and public schools where everyone goes to learn have only been around for less than 200 years, primarily to prevent children taking the work of adults in factories. Reading and writing is therefore relatively new in the human evolutionary process. But listening and talking is natural.
Number 4 – Independence/interdependence – Confidently unique – Competently collaborative.
This is the ability to know your own unique skill-set and bring it into a collaborative space where you can add value and learn from others. This skill is essential for the world of work. There has to be a fundamental shift away from individual learning to collaborative learning in our schools. Perhaps one of the reasons individual learning is so popular in schools is that so few teachers have had the experience of working as an entrepreneur or in the corporate workspace.
Number 5: Skills and Prosocial skills
Emergent literacy and numeracy and prosocial skills like self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, kindness and self-control fall into this category.
So, is my child ready for school?
Your child will be ready if they are placed in a Pre-School which allows them to play. Every single element of the High 5 can be mastered through free and guided play. Let’s get our students ‘body-ready’ and they will be more than prepared for whatever formal schooling throws at them.