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Dr. Susan Johnson. has an extensive medical background in Pediatrics and over 25 years experience diagnosing and working with children with developmental, behavioral, and learning disorders. She graduated from Carleton College and Northwestern University Medical School, and then completed a three year Pediatric Residency at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and a three year Fellowship in Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics at UCSF in San Francisco. During her Fellowship years she directed the Early Childhood Clinic and evaluated children with autism, pervasive developmental disorders, Asperger's syndrome, expressive and receptive language delays, attention deficit disorders, and learning disabilities.
She told the 20 therapeutic eurythmists and four doctors, gathered in Fair Oaks, California, that when her own son was born with sensory integration and processing challenges (his neurological pathways were blocked and/or poorly myelinated), she did not want to label him in the way her medical training had taught her. Susan literally started "a new career". She spent three years becoming a certified Waldorf Teacher, and an additional year training in sensory integration and remedial support (Extra Lesson work) through Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks. Susan participated in numerous seminars and workshops exploring various forms of movement therapies, such as Therapeutic Eurythmy, but also Parelli Therapeutic Horseback Riding, Spatial Dynamics, Brain Gym, HANDLE, and Bal-a-vis-X. She has travelled to the Lucas Clinic in Arlesheim to study Anthroposophical Medicine as well as continuing her studies through the IPMT (International Postgraduate Medical Training) here in the United States. In her talk, Susan also gave enthusiastic credit to Dr. Adam Blanning, who has been her preceptor for the past year.
The key in Susan's work came from starting from the medical, neurological model, and then moving from the physical body and the etheric, into the astral and I "Ego" r Spirit). She says that she will only talk to groups 1f there 1s also a master speaker who comes from the other direction and can penetrate from the Ego through the astral into the etheric. (Here, we were very well served with Dr. Michaela Glockler!) Susan's training makes it very easy to talk to parents and to help us, as therapeutic eurythmists, understand the spiritual work we are doing with each child and how it is grounded.
Susan is highly supportive of Therapeutic Eurythmy. She said, "If I have access to a therapeutic eurythmist, it is the first thing that I recommend." "Therapeutic Eurythmy is addressing all the sensory processing challenges that the other movement therapies are doing as well as bringing deeply spiritual aspects." "You (as therapeutic eurythmist) do not realize the value of what you are doing and bringing to the child. I see these children profoundly changed after one to two cycles (14 sessions/cycle) of therapeutic eurythmy." "What I see... besides the fact that the child can sit still, and not be wiggly" shows up in the person-house-tree pictures that the child draws, before and after the treatment period. These drawings, especially of the person and the house, show the incarnation of the I and astral into the vessel of the etheric and physical." (Susan learned about these drawings as a diagnostic tool from Ingun Schneider in The Extra Lesson training.) To look at the child's functioning in this realm and to start working here, this is what eurythmy does. Eurythmy works on all four of the lower, body senses (i.e. sense of life, sense of touch, sense of balance, and sense of movement), often all at once. So what are these 'body senses' that Rudolf Steiner described? What are other words that people use to describe these senses? The Extra Lesson movement therapists have learned these other words. Once we learn this vocabulary, we are going to see that we are working on these body senses too, and from a deeply spiritual aspect. This will give us confidence."
To return to Susan's "journey", now she started reading Rudolf Steiner and deeply studying Waldorf Education. But how was she going to make sense of all these labels that she had been taught? : "autism", "Asperger's syndrome", "pervasive developmental delay", "Attention Deficit Disorder"... problems holding still, with speech, with information processing, with fine and large motor movements, etc. etc. Full of labels! Most of her medical lectures given at medical conferences were sponsored by pharmaceuticals companies (although she was not aware of that at the t me) so the speakers always recommended giving pharmaceutical for every "disorder". Everything was labeled and put into boxes, but the boxes no longer made sense.
In Rudolf Steiner's description of the four "body senses" or "foundational neurological pathways", Susan found the first glimpse of a very practical way to look at a child. These four "body senses" (sense of life, sense of touch, sense of balance and sense of movement) are key for a child to develop hi her capacities of learning. This is the paradigm that Susan refers to now when she evaluates children. She stressed the importance, for therapeutic eurythmists, to learn the specific vocabulary of these systems.
Written on the blackboard:
|Body Sense||becomes||High Capacity|
|Sense of LIFE||Sense of THOUGHT|
|Sense of TOUCH||Sense of the I of the OTHER|
|Sense of BALANCE (Static)||Sense of HEARING|
|Sense of MOVEMENT
|Sense of THE WORD|
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SENSE OF LIFE
This is connected with what is called the autonomic nervous system which innervates all of our organs and glands and even the color portion (iris) of the eyes. (In the Medical Lectures of Rudolf Steiner, this is inaccurately called the sympathetic nervous system, because the physiology of the autonomic nervous system had not been worked out.) The autonomic nervous system has two components: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Sympathetic Nervous System: Fight or Flight
This system is to get us out of danger, to help us make a quick escape. For example, if a tiger comes into the room, the blood flows out of our hands and feet and into the larger muscles of the arms and legs so we can fight or run. Blood flows away from the digestive organs, which are not crucial in an emergency. Blood flows into the reactive center, the primitive brain, so we become hypersensitive in sight and hearing. The colored portion of our eyes contracts concentrically causing large dilated pupils.
Parasympathetic Nervous System:
Susan calls this the "Buddha" Nervous System after her son's kindergarten teacher. This woman was so present, so full of joy, so at one with everything she did. Her hands were warm; she was grounded in her whole being. Her "I" and etheric were strong. Her "I" was present in every movement, even in the way she cut a carrot. In this "Buddha" (parasympathetic) nervous system, the hands and feet are warm and the blood flows throughout the digestive organs and throughout the brain. This is the relaxed, receptive part of the autonomic nervous system. You are not just reacting to the outer, sense world. You are not worrying (anxious) about the future or reliving the past. Instead you are totally in the present moment. The young child needs to live predominantly in this "Buddha-like" Nervous System in order to have a healthy and strong Sense of Life.
In the incarnation process, the I and astral are coming into the vessels of the etheric and physical. If any part of this process is not working properly the child goes into fight/flight, the stress portion of the autonomic nervous system. Looking at the Sense of Life, there can be something, physically or structurally, that is making it hard for the incarnation process to happen, e.g., a cranial compression. Or the etheric can be affected, e.g. by fever, asthma, congestion, allergies, digestive issues. Or the astral can be affected, e.g. by media. All of these will affect the ability of the I to incarnate in a healthy way. We (in therapeutic eurythmy) are working at the level of all of these: at the level of the physical, etheric, astral, and I.
When the child is in stress, in Fight or Flight, the color portion of the eye (iris) will contract when the child is in indoor, low to moderate light. This makes the pupil large, 50- 80% of the colored portion of the eye. When the child's autonomic nervous system is in a relaxed state, then the iris expands concentrically, making the pupils smaller, 30% or less of the color portion of the eye. In order to gauge the stress level of the child, you can look at the eyes when the child is in indoor light. Susan watches the child's eyes while she is doing her assessment. Some children are in constant autonomic stress due to their I, astral, etheric, and physical bodies being in disharmony. Other children have "reactive" autonomic stress, where the stress manifests when they are asked to do something difficult, e.g., write letters or numbers, and so in this situation Susan backs off a little as she does not want the child to go further into the stress response. Once a child is in this stressed Fight/Flight nervous system, everything shuts down, and any movement or learning the therapist does will not imprint.
Many movement and educational therapists do not have the realization that you have to have a strong Sense of Life. In order for a child to be open to any therapy, he/she must be in this relaxed autonomic parasympathetic nervous system. Only in this relaxed state can the child be receptive to movements and learning. For example, in the 1960's, they would spin a child until it would throw up... for many weeks, and then they would recheck balance, and find that it had not improved. So they concluded (falsely) that movement had no effect on improving balance.
Susan recommends that the therapeutic eurythmist watches every gesture that the child makes while doing eurythmy to ensure that the child is fully engaged. You want the child to be fully present, and the child's entire Being (mind, heart, and body) to be fully engaged in the movement. You do not just want the child to move physically. Transformation (integration) occurs when the child is fully engaged.
The Sense of LIFE becomes the Sense of THOUGHT.
If we are in that present moment place with a strong sense of life, then life has meaning and we can have the capacity when we are older to have a deep sense of thought, the ability to be able to think about our thinking (not have reactive thoughts), to experience the Observer, to be able to be open to what wants to come in... this is the higher capacity.
SENSE OF TOUCH
Steiner characterizes this as having a sense for where the body ends and the world begins. If this Sense of Touch is not fully developed, then the child may be either Hypersensitive or Hyposensitive to touch. Hypersensitive: The child is aware all day of the rubbing of clothes. They can be overly ticklish or every little touch is excruciating. These children will often withdraw from touch, pull back from other children, get labeled as "shy" and may not want to participate in circle time. Hyposensitive: The child may fall down and not feel any pain or discomfort from the fall or the child may not feel this boundary and crash into things and others, invading another child's space.
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Some children can be hypersensitive and hyposensitive at the same time. For example, over sensitive in the upper body, and under sensitive (have not incarnated enough) in the lower body.
If you don't know or perceive the boundaries of your body, then you have to look down at your feet and keep your eyes on your body or on the objects surrounding your body, all the time. You have to use a great deal of your mind (awareness) just to feel safe and secure within your surroundings. Therefore, your mind (awareness) is not body free. Once children can perceive inwardly where their bodies end and their world begins, their mind (awareness) becomes free and children can look up and notice the other. The higher capacity of the Sense of Touch becomes the Sense of the I of the Other.
SENSE OF BALANCE
Static Balance is standing in stillness on one foot without the lifted leg/foot touching the standing knee. Static Balance is usually what R. Steiner is talking about when he mentions balance. In contrast Dynamic Balance is maintaining balance while moving, for example running, walking on toes or heels or rocking heel to toe. It is much easier to maintain balance when the trunk and the limbs of the body are actively moving since the movement itself provides feedback to the brain that helps maintain balance.
By age three a child should be able to stand on one foot, without the knees squeezing, for two to three seconds. Usually the child can jump up and down with both feet together and even hop on each foot one to two times. By age five a child should be able to balance on each foot for five seconds without squeezing the knees together or wiggling too much. By age seven for girls and sometimes up to age eight for boys, children should be able to balance on each foot for 8-10 seconds, and repeat back a tongue twister or simple verse, or count up to ten and then backwards down to one, or spell her/his name forwards and backwards. (These tasks require mental effort, and therefore the balancing has to be done "mind-free".) Hopping should be "mind-free" as well, meaning that the child should be able to hop easily on each foot, repeatedly, without having to concentrate (i.e. not a very Slow and deliberate hop requiring great conscious effort).
It is much easier for a child to maintain balance when moving quickly. If a child has difficulty with balance he/she will always want to move fast. See if a child can walk slowly, forwards and backwards, on its toes, on its heels as well as rock slowly toe to heel. By age eight or nine, children should be able to stay quite upright without bending at the waist while they rock on their feet.
Exercise in Static Balance
We stood up and tried balancing, like a pink flamingo or a blue heron, on one leg, standing by a beautiful stream, looking down at the fish... the bird has to stand very still so it doesn't frighten the fish away... The child with difficulty balancing will immediately start to squeeze the knees, because the squeezing gives the child more proprioceptive input to. help with balancing. Now try stretching your arms out to the sides (making it easier to balance). Now try stretching your arms out in front of you (which makes it harder to balance). Now try spelling your name, forwards and backwards, while balancing on each foot. If you can do this then you are demonstrating "mind-free" static balance or balance in stillness.
There are three semi-circular canals in each inner ear. Each canal contains fluids that move with respect to the three directions of space, i.e. forward/backward, up/down, left/right.
This information is then communicated to the brain through the eighth cranial nerve, the same nerve connected to the organ of hearing within the inner ear. R. Steiner explained in a course for the workers of the Goetheanum that words first crystallize within these semi-circular canals and then are heard. This explains why the child who struggles with (mind free) balance cannot accurately crystallize the words and take in what he or she hears. Susan explains to parents that children cannot pay attention to the words they are hearing if their minds are being used to help their bodies maintain their balance.
When a parent comes and says, "My child is not listening." or "Does my child have a problem with auditory processing?", Susan first uses an audiometer with earphones to test the child's hearing. Sometimes children are not hearing because there is fluid behind the ear drum that is preventing it from moving in response to sounds. Sometimes there is a hearing loss from nerve damage. Other times children have difficulty understanding language because of brain inflammation due to the "leaky gut syndrome". Finally, some children may not be retaining what they hear because they have not completely developed their sense of (static) balance.
To assess whether children's difficulty listening is related to challenges with their sense of balance, Susan gives children (five years and older) a series of three verbal instructions, such as brush your teeth, turn off the light and drink a glass of water, first while the child is sitting in a chair, then three different instructions while the child is standing still, and finally three more instructions while the child is sitting snuggled in the parent's lap or lying flat on the floor.
If the child's sense of balance is not fully developed, then the child, who is five years or older, may remember only one of the three tasks while standing, because the child's awareness (mind) is busy helping the child remain upright. This same child may remember two out of three tasks while sitting, and all three tasks when snuggled on a parent's lap or lying on the floor since in these last two situations, maintaining balance is no longer such a struggle.
If the child (age five years or older) easily remembers and can repeat back a series of three or four verbal instructions while standing and sitting still, then the child's sense of balance is probably very strong (Children ages three and four
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are expected to be able to remember and repeat back only one to two verbal requests).
In her medical training Susan learned that:
If children have challenges understanding, remembering, or carrying out sequences of verbal requests while sitting, standing, lying down, and snuggled in a parent's lap, then their challenges with listening are due to a hearing loss in both ears or brain inflammation and not just related to their sense of balance. The mind-free Sense of BALANCE allows us to develop the capacity to deeply listen. This allows us to develop the higher capacity of hearing into the other (Sense of HEARING).
SENSE OF (SELF) MOVEMENT
One aspect of the Sense of Movement is proprioception. This is the ability to sense where the body is in three-dimensional space, even when the eyes are closed. Once again, just as with balance, it is easier for the child to perceive the trunk and extremities when he or she is actively moving, rather than in stillness.
Bruno Calligeri helped to bring all this together for Susan. There are sensory nerve endings (i.e. proprioceptive receptor sites) within the spindles of the muscles, joints of the body, Golgi apparatus in the tendons (tendons connect muscles to bone), and ligaments (which connect bones to other bones). These proprioceptive receptor sites are stimulated especially during stretching movements of muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments. This information travels up the spinal cord and into the brain. The right side of the brain cortex (parietal area) maps proprioceptive information mainly coming from the left side of the body, while the left side of the brain maps proprioceptive information mainly coming from the right of the body. A child's brain usually makes this proprioceptive "map" during the first seven years of childhood. (Girls by seven, boys by eight or eight-and-a-half (even nine years of age.) This proprioceptive map allows the child to know where his or her body is in space. Once children perceive their own body in space, then they can perceive another child's sense of space and not bump or crash into the other child.
Therefore, this fully developed, proprioceptive brain map also allows a child to navigate in space without bumping into other material objects and to sit still in a chair without needing to think about the position of the body. Now the child can focus on the teacher or what is written on the blackboard at the front of the room. The child's mind or awareness is free to focus on learning. When this proprioceptive system is not fully developed, children will fidget, wiggle in the chair (sometimes falling off), sit on their legs and feet in order to feel external pressure, or wrap their legs around the legs of the chair (experiencing external pressure), in order to free their minds to focus and pay attention to the teacher. All this movement that the child does while in a chair is really the child's best adaptation to help himself or herself listen to the teacher.
Diagnosis: What gives you a clue about the development of the proprioceptive system of the child?
Susan looks at the person-house-tree drawing of the child, as developed by Audrey McAllen. This drawing is in reality a neurological map of the incarnation process, of the I coming into the body. It shows the proprioceptive connections between the child's brain and body.
Prior to two years of age, children will just scribble or draw a spiral when asked to draw a picture of a person. By age two years for girls and three years for boys, children will draw a circle for a head and stick-like legs and arms extending out from the circle. When drawing like this, children may still be bedwetting because they do not yet feel the trunk of their bodies. They will also move around a lot or cling to a parent or teacher, just to perceive their bodies. Waldorf kindergarten Teacher and sometimes Waldorf first grade teachers see five to six year old children that are still drawing like this. This means the children may be very bright in their minds but neurologically (i.e. proprioceptively) they will be more like two- to three-year-old children. Where children are proprioceptively in their bodies is where they will be socially and emotionally as well.
Girls around age three and boys around age four years start drawing stick figures for people. Now they draw a circle for a head and a stick or circle like trunk with stick arms, stick fingers, and stick legs. These children have a beginning perception of their bodies but not yet in three-dimensional space (i.e. forward/backward, up/down, left/right).
When children age four to five years and much older, who still draw stick-like people, start to do therapeutic eurythmy, they can begin to develop a sense of their bodies in space. Now their drawings of people will start showing dimension. Now they will start drawing clothes on the trunks of their people and tubular-shaped arms, hand, fingers, and legs. In other words, eurythmy movements help children develop the neurological (proprioceptive) connections to perceive their bodies in space.
Proprioception as part of the Sense of Movement also affects the child s ability to accurately imprint and remember the shapes and correct orientations of letters and numbers, because these are movements. When a child looks at the letter M, for example, or the number two, the eyes first trace the shapes of these forms. The only way a child can start to accurately imprint these eye movement (alphabet letter or a number) is if the proprioceptive system is fully built. If children are still drawing stick figures, then they will not yet be able to accurately imprint and write by memory the abstract forms, such as letters and numbers that they see. In fact,
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children usually cannot copy the diagonal lines making up a triangle until age five, and a diamond shape until age seven. Even to accurately copy diagonal lines, children need to have a sense of their bodies in three-dimensional space.
Another way to evaluate a child's proprioceptive connections between the brain and the body is to firmly draw shapes, numbers, or letters, on a child's back. For example, if you draw the letter M on a child's back with your finger and that child is still drawing stick-like figures, then that child will probably just draw three vertical lines on paper. If you draw a "W" or "V" on that child's back, he or she will represent this on paper as four or two vertical lines, respectively. The letter, "V", drawn on the child's back (with the two intersecting lines drawn closer to the horizontal rather than the vertical) will be put down on paper as two horizontal rather than vertical lines. Children that are drawing stick-like figures for people may be able to accurately imprint some vertical, horizontal and curved lines, but they need to fully experience their bodies in three-dimensional space before they can reliably perceive a more complicated form like the number "5", consisting of a mix of curved, horizontal, and vertical lines.
Another aspect of the Sense of Movement is bilateral integration. Bilateral integration is all about the connections between the right and left sides of the brain and therefore the right and left sides of the body. When bilateral integration pathways are not yet developed, when the right and left sides of the brain and right and left sides of the body are not yet fully connected to each other, then a child's body feels split into two halves and you can see this in the way the child moves. Such a child would not be able to do the cross lateral skip with opposite arm to leg extending (i.e. left arm with right leg and right arm with left leg). Instead this child would do the homo-lateral skip with the arm on the same side as the leg extending together. Sometimes a child is taught to do the cross-lateral skipping pattern by an occupational therapist (OT). In this case the movements of the child doing the cross lateral skip by concentrating, look jerky and are not flowing or "awareness-free": Susan then has the child skip backward to see if that pattern is cross-lateral, (because the OT does not usually teach a child to do this skipping movement).
This is an Extra Lesson assessment exercise, but it is also a neurological assessment that Susan learned during her fellowship training. Stand upright on one foot. Eyes open. Get your balance. Now stick out your tongue and close your eyes. See if you can perceive your entire body. That is the proprioception place. Now try the same proprioceptive test on your other foot.
On a functional MRI scan of the brain, certain sections of the brain light up in various colors based on the amount of metabolic activity in those parts of the brain. Movements of the left leg and foot will light up a portion of the right side of the brain, and movement of the right leg will light up a portion of the left side of the brain. If children can simultaneously move opposite sides of their bodies (e.g. right arm and left leg) at the same time, then you know both sides of their brains are connecting with each other.
Dominance in the child's hand and foot is usually not established in the child until these bilateral integration pathways are fully formed. Form drawing will be challenging and children will also prefer to print their letters rather than write them in cursive, until bilateral integration pathways are completed. Also, children will not cross-over the mid-line of their bodies with their dominant hand, to pick-up an object placed on their other side. For example if a shell is placed on the left side of the body, the child will use the left hand to pick up the shell. If a shell is placed on the right side of the body, then the child will use the right hand to pick up the shell. Once bilateral integration pathways are established and the child's body feels as one body, rather than two separate halves, then the child will use the dominant hand to reach across the body to pick-up the shell on the opposite side. Finally, when bilateral integration pathways are not yet fully formed, children will often rotate their paper or shift the position of their bodies to one side of their paper while drawing a picture or certain forms.
If proprioceptive and bilateral integration pathways are not yet fully developed then children will not integrate their vertical and horizontal midlines. Susan gave credit to Melody Van Hoose for the following beautiful image of how to explain these midlines. If the body is a cathedral, and yet the foundation is not fully formed, then you need scaffolding until the foundation is finished. So the horizontal and vertical midlines are like scaffolding. Horizontal midline simply means that if you have children walk on the outside of their feet (if they still have not connected the right and left sides of their bodies together, and the brain has not yet fully connected to the body proprioceptively, so that the awareness is free) then the hands will mimic what the feet do. This horizontal midline is protective, so children will not fall down so easily. By the time a child is seven or eight years of age, we want that horizontal midline integrated (i.e. no longer visible). For example, you will need that midline integrated in order to run while your hands are catching a ball. In most eurythmy movements (for older children) feet and hands are doing different things.
This is an exercise for assessing presence of the vertical midline. First, put both hands on your lap. Now raise one hand. Imagine that the thumb is a huge crystal, and all the fingers are gnomes with little hammers. Each finger then taps away at the big crystal. If the vertical midline is integrated, then the fingers on the other hand in your lap will be still... but if the vertical midline has not been integrated (i.e. the child is still working on the right and left sides of the body corning together and the mind is still making the "proprioceptive" map), then the fingers on the other hand will have overflow movements. If the Palmar Reflex (a retained early reflex) has not yet integrated because of blocked and underdeveloped, neurological pathways (usually from an unresolved cranial
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compression), then you will see the tongue sticking out or moving inside the mouth when the fingers are moving. You will often see this when the child is doing eurythmy. When the right and left sides of the body have connected with each other and the brain has made that "proprioceptive" map of the body, then these midlines and retained reflexes will integrate (no longer be visible).
You also need to have both sides of your brain fully connected in order to be able to read by sounding-out the words phonetically in the left side of the brain while simultaneously forming mental pictures in the frontal area of the right side of the brain, connected to the words you are reading. It is the forming of inner mental pictures in the right side of the brain that allows for the in-depth comprehension of the words that are being read.
Around three years of age the right side or hemisphere of the brain starts to develop more, and then around ages six and-one-half to seven years in girls and later for boys, the left brain starts to be more myelinated. This is when phonetic based reading can start to develop. If reading is taught before the left side of the brain has developed then children will use the frontal area of their right brain to guess at the identity of words by sight recognition or sight reading. When the right frontal area of a child's brain is used when trying to read a word, the child only notices the shape and overall length of the word, then notices the first and last letters of the word, and finally makes a guess. The problem with reading by sight recognition is that it uses the same frontal area of the right brain that is used for mental picturing. Children that read by sight memory often cannot spell words easily (since the right brain does not pay attention to the letters in the middle of words) and the overall comprehension is poor since there is very little mental picturing while reading. Therefore, it makes a huge difference for a child whether that child learns to read by sight, or by sounding out the words.
Most of our parents were taught to read phonetically, by sounding out words, although initially they may have learned a few words (e.g. are, is, and, the, etc.) by sight. These tiny sight words that they learned to recognize at least did not have any mental picture associated with them. Later educators abandoned left brain, phonetic-based reading when they introduced reading into the public preschools and kindergartens. The brains of children in preschool and kindergarten are not yet developed for them to read phonetically, and trying to teach them to read phonetically did not work since they tried to teach it too early, before the brain was ready. So educators of children in preschool and kindergarten started teaching children to read by using right brain, sight recognition. Now in the public schools, every word is being learned and memorized by using sight memory.
In the beginning of first grade at a Waldorf school (when children are six-and-a-half years to seven-and-a-half years of age) the letters are initially brought to the children as pictures, as a preparation for reading (for example, the letter M is represented by the two peaks of a mountain that are standing side by side). When children draw the two mountain peaks, they have drawn the letter M. This is wonderful as these pictures can be perceived by the right side of the brain which develops first, and there is no confusion about the orientation or shape of a letter if it is brought to the child as a picture. Later, after the left side of the brain has developed for both listening and stringing separate sounds together to form words, then children can learn to read in earnest.
Present research is showing that we should wait for the two sides of the brain to connect, and they first connect in movement. When the left side of the brain starts to develop for reading (around six-and-a-half years for girls and often eight to eight-and-a-half years for boys), then the child can hear the different sounds within a word (phonemic awareness) and string sounds together to form words (phonetically read). Four and five year old children cannot even separate out the sounds heard in the word "cat", because this is a left-sided brain activity. They instead hear all the sounds together and will even say "cat" again when you ask them to just tell you the first or last sound in the word they are hearing. Once again, a child who learns to read too early by sight memory, is learning to spell all these words by memory, with just the right side of the brain. These "sight" readers will not be able to make mental images of what they read, unless they read very slowly, or repeat back to themselves what they just read to make a mental picture as a second step. Besides having trouble spelling words and comprehending details in a story, sight readers will also struggle with word problems in math and algebra, as well as understanding biology, chemistry, physics, comparative literature, and comparative history. They will read a history or English book, and then their memory for what happened in the book will be gone in a few days, because they did not form any mental pictures. Children who can only read by sight memory often have to plagiarize when they write reports. They have no lasting mental pictures that allow them to describe what they read in their own words.
We are really reading when we can read the words and make pictures at the same time. The frontal area of our brain has a much more important task than to try to guess at words by sight; as it matures it is meant to make internal (mental) pictures and scenes.
Susan has many graded paragraphs with stories written where the spelling of each word more than three letters long is scrambled in the middle of each word. Children who have learned to read early, only by sight memory, will read these misspelled paragraphs fluently and often not notice any of the spelling mistakes because they are only looking at the first and last letters of each word and not the letters within the word. These children do not even notice any differences when Susan shows them the similar paragraph that is spelled correctly. Sight readers say the correctly spelled paragraph
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and the paragraph with all the spelling errors are exactly the same. Even if Susan asks these sight readers to compare each word, many of the children still say the words are exactly the same. A phonetic reader will immediately notice the spelling mistakes because they are sounding-out each word.
If Susan wants to know if children are simultaneously making mental pictures when they are reading phonetically (and therefore have achieved bilateral integration in their reading) she will have the children first read the correctly spelled version of the paragraph, and then ask the children to tell her about the story they just read, in their own words. Children who are reading by sight can only memorize the paragraph and repeat it back exactly as they read it. (When asked, these same children will say they never see pictures in their minds when reading. They usually see nothing except words they are trying to figure out. These children who are predominately reading by sight will tell her that they only see pictures when their parents or teachers tell or read a story to them. One child told Susan that this is why she (the child) does not like to read books. Another child that was a boy told Susan that he had read a book 20 times because he would forget it all a few days after reading it but remembered that he liked the book so he wanted to read it again so he could try and remember it. A child that creates mental pictures while reading because their proprioceptive and bilateral integration pathways are fully developed (through the sense of movement) will see the pictures and retell (relive) the story giving lots of detailed descriptions. This is what we want to happen. This is true reading.
Television and a lot of media is so damaging because it interferes with the child developing this picturing capacity. It also puts the child in her stress autonomic nervous system while watching these flashing screens, plus the child is not moving. Media disrupts all aspects of the human being.
Singing songs, circle movement games, bean bag catching. indoor and outdoor movement activities, classroom chores, form drawing, handwork, and classroom eurythmy are movement activities that are done all throughout the younger grades (especially in first and second grades) helping to develop children's sense of movement. "With therapeutic eurythmy you are simultaneously working on the child's sense of life, sense of touch, sense of balance, and sense of movement. You are working on all the body senses." For example, every eurythmy movement (starting in first grade) that the children simultaneously move their arms and hands with their opposite legs and feet strengthens bilateral integration. With the Large Ah, you strengthen their sense of life, helping them overcome their animal nature, i.e., being in their fight/flight, sympathetic, portion of their autonomic nervous system. With the finger movements on the rods and the seven-fold rod exercise (especially if the child is moving the feet at the same time as moving the rods with the bands) you are working through the sense of touch and strengthening all these pathways and stimulating the sense of balance. It is unbelievable what you are doing. You do the movements in a rhythmic way, in the present moment, while keeping the child's sense of life strong (which is one of the hardest things to do).
Rudolf Steiner said that we need a fully developed Sense of Movement in order to develop the higher capacity of the Sense of the Word. Sense of the Word mearis that you can form imaginative pictures, pictures that actually speak to you.
Therapeutic Eurythmy is Recommended First
Dr. Susan Johnson starts by sending a child to therapeutic eurythmy to integrate the four lower senses and to support the incarnation process. If, after a number of therapeutic eurythmy sessions, nothing has changed, then it may be that the child has a cranial compression (a compressing of the cerebellum, just where the vertebrae and spinal nerves go up into the skull). as a result of a traumatic birth, from vacuum forceps, etc. Cranial compression can be addressed by Biodynamic osteopathic therapy which opens all the neurological pathways. The biodynamic cranial osteopathy works very sensitively with the fluid energy, and does not do physical manipulation. Please see www.jamesjealous.com or www.cranialacademy.org. Generally, after three sessions of this therapy the child is open to movement therapy.
Dr. Susan Johnson has a wonderful website with many articles about reading and writing and child development. These articles are generally suitable for parents as well as therapists. www.youandyourchildshealth.org
-- Dr. Susan Johnson