Why Physical Foundations for Learning Matter Sally Goddard Blythe MSc.
Educational policy by successive governments has increasingly been driven by aiming at outcomes rather than seeking to understand the processes of how children learn.
New research confirms that there are wide differences in children’s physical readiness for learning and suggests that more detailed attention should be given to the physical foundations for learning in the pre-school and school years.
Healthy babies, born at full term are equipped with a set of primitive reflexes, which support survival in the first months of life. Examples of primitive reflexes include the rooting and sucking reflexes, which facilitate feeding; the palmar grasp reflex and other reflexes which respond directly to stimulation of the balance mechanism.
As connections to higher centres in the brain develop during the first six months of post-natal life, these early primitive reflexes are inhibited and/or transformed into postural reactions, which provide the foundations for subconscious control of posture (needed to sit still), balance (needed to provide a stable base for eye movements involved in reading, writing and copying) and coordination (the medium of expression in the classroom). In neurological terms, the process of early reflex integration consists of transition from brain stem reflex response to cortically controlled response.
If primitive reflexes are retained beyond the first year of life or postural reactions do not develop fully, they provide markers of immaturity in the functioning of the central nervous system, can interfere with natural development and contribute to later difficulties with psychomotor development affecting social skills and educational performance.Numerous earlier studies have pointed to a relationship between residual primitive reflexes and educational under-achievement .
In 1996, based on a method originally devised at The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology (INPP), a screening test and school intervention programme was developed to enable teachers to identify signs of immaturity in psychomotor development, which might undermine school performance . Following extensive evaluation, the screening test and school intervention programme was published in 2012 followed by a screening test for clinicians and health practitioners in 2014.
New research carried out in Poland in 2016 and 2017 suggests that these screening tools should be more widely used by professionals involved in child development and education to help identify children who show signs of neuromotor immaturity (NMI) and who would benefit from physical intervention programmes to minimize the influence of developmental disorders on educational achievement.
The first study involving 135 children (64 boys and 71 girls) in two age groups: 4-6 years (pre-school group) and 7 – 9 years (school age group), revealed that despite the theory that primitive reflexes are naturally inhibited in the first six months of life, they can and do persist in the general population. The authors commented that, “the study shows that spontaneous integration of reflexes is fuller in school age children than in pre-school children” and that “the introduction of screening and treatment of reflex integration at the stage of preschool and early childhood may be a part of the prevention of developmental disorders”. They also commented that wider population studies are recommended to define more accurate age standard for integration.
A second study by the same team involving 35 pre-school children assessed using both the INPP Screening Test(10) and the Motor Proficiency Test showed that the greater the severity of the reflex(es), the lower the motor proficiency. The authors concluded that, “it seems reasonable to introduce reflex integration therapy in children with low psychomotor skills. Primitive reflexes routinely tested, can contribute to improved early psychomotor development in children with needs, thus preventing many difficulties which children can encounter within their social and school life”.
Abstracts of this new research in English may be found by following the links to references 12 and 13 in the article or:
For further information about the screening test, intervention programme and training courses: https://www.inpp.org.uk
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Bender ML. 1976.Bender-Purdue Reflex Test and Training Manual. San Rafael, CA. Academic Publications.
Rider B, 1976. Relationship of postural reflexes to learning disabilities. American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 26/5:239-243.
McPhillips M & Sheehy N, 2004. Prevalence of persistent primary reflexes and motor problems in children with reading difficulties. Dyslexia 10/4:316-338 5.
Goddard Blythe SA, 2001. Neurological dysfunction as a significant factor in children diagnosed with dyslexia. Proceedings of The 5th International British Dyslexia Association Conference. University of York. April 2001.
Taylor M et al. 2004. Primitive reflexes and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: developmental origins of classroom dysfunction. International Journal of Special Education.19/1:23-37.
Goddard Blythe SA, 1996. The INPP Test Battery and Developmental Exercise Programme for use in Schools with Children with Special Needs. Chester. INPP Ltd. Restricted Publication
North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) 2004. An evaluation of the pilot INPP movement programme in primary schools in the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB), Northern Ireland. Final Report. Prepared by Brainbox Research Ltd for the NEELB. www.neeelb.org.uk.
Releasing educational potential through movement. A summary of individual studies carried out using the INPP Test Battery and Developmental Exercise Programme for use in Schools with Children with Special Needs. Child Care in Practice.11/4:415-432.
Assessing neuromotor readiness for learning. The INPP screening test and school intervention programme. Chichester. Wiley-Blackwell
Goddard Blythe SA, 2014. Neuromotor immaturity in children and adults. The INPP screening test for clinicians and health practitioners. Chichester. Wiley-Blackwell.
Gieysztor E, Sadowska L, Choińska AM, 2017. The degree of primitive reflexes integration as a diagnostic tool to assess the neurological maturity of healthy pre-school and early school age children. Journal of Public Nursing and Public Health. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/
Gieysztor E, Choińska AM, Paprocka-Borowicz M, 2016. Persistence of primitive reflexes and associated motor problems in healthy pre-school children. Archives of Medical Science. https://doi.org/10.5114/acms.2016.60503