Why Are So Many American Children Struggling with Learning? And What Can You Do about It?

Written by Jan Bedell, M. Ed., MND, The Brain Coach®

The sad state of our education system has America ranking twenty-fifth in math and science among industrialized nations. So, why the decline when children have more instructional hours and school days each year, teacher training has expanded, and the money spent on education has dramatically increased? It is a foundation problem!

In Texas we know the heartache of foundation problems in our homes due to drought. Doors stick with frustrating stubbornness; the stress on the structure has caused cracks in the sheetrock. Well, it is time to end the drought in our society and put this nation back on a strong developmental foundation that could end the continued “labeling” of needed foundation repairs.

The foundation for learning resides in the brain, since it controls everything we do. Cultural practices are keeping our children from reaching their full potential. Parents are fearful of putting Baby on his tummy, when the fact is that wake-time “tummy time” is the best brain-stimulating and organizing activity a human can do! Another detrimental American cultural practice is the practice of children eating meals in the car on the way to the next extracurricular event while watching a video or playing on the latest two-dimensional screen.

Instead, there should be conversation around the family dinner table, talking and listening, followed by family read-aloud time. These activities actually create brain pathways for auditory short-term memory, a skill essential for staying on task, following directions, comprehending spoken and written language, and handling a phonics reading approach. Lack of these skills populates the checklists for learning disability labels.

Most people are labeled because they match a list of symptoms. However, the question any coach would ask when her team is not performing well is, “What causes these symptoms?” I submit it is a foundational brain issue, and because we are so fearfully and wonderfully made, the problem can be reversed.

For prevention of learning challenges, start your infants on their stomachs. Yes, they may protest at first. You do, too, when you work out at the gym! This baby “workout” time will yield great rewards, as it helps the child know where he is in space. His eyes start working together at close and far distances. His tactile system gets the needed stimulation, preventing oversensitivity to touch and textures. In this position, the brain starts to communicate from one side to the other, making connections for organized movement (coordination) and organized thoughts.

Learning difficulties often do not appear until the fourth and fifth grades, which puzzles the parents of these obviously intelligent children. It is about that time of life that a child’s compensating skills fail to keep up with the academic demands put on an unstable foundation that causes the stress fractures to appear. The doors become inoperable, locking out the ability to succeed.

Now what? Fortunately there is a way of escape. It is called brain plasticity, and it means that the brain is not hard wired and can, with specific stimulation, create new neural pathways, resulting in the desired function.

“Cross pattern movement” (moving opposite limbs simultaneously) is a great brain-stimulating activity. With this understanding, create a home P.E. program with activities like army crawl, hands-and-knees creep, and marching or skipping while reaching across the midline to touch the opposite knee. All of these activities build a foundation for learning. Two minutes of each activity, each day for four to six months, will have remarkable effects on a child’s functional ability.

Another huge roadblock in the learning process is a person’s short-term memory, visual and auditory processing. Auditory processing is the best kept secret in education, affecting most everything that we do. It affects our ability to communicate, follow directions, or comprehend the big picture and consequences of our life choices. The ability to hold specific auditory or visual information in sequential order, and then use and store it in long-term memory, is a foundational skill for success in school and life. (Space prohibits a full explanation, but free test kits to check auditory and visual processing are available at www.littlegiantsteps.com, as are suggestions for the Brain Coach’s “two-a-days.”)

Why do we have the decline in academic performance in American education? A shaky foundation! You can help reverse the trend. Do cross pattern movements and the processing activities twice daily for two minutes each. This is a good start toward building a strong foundation that gives your family the functional success for which you have been looking.

Jan Bedell, B.S, M.ND, M.Ed (2008), Certified Teacher, and Certified Master Neurodevelopmentalist, began her professional life with a love for children and a deep desire to give them the best academic start possible. She recalls having children in her classroom who were very bright yet who would know facts one day and the next (as she says) “were like a cow at a new gate!” If only she had known then what she knows now. Today Jan’s mantra is: “What the future holds is not predetermined or preset ~ what the future holds is based on specific opportunities presented to the child or individual. When something different is done for the child’s brain development, the results can be entirely different – irrespective of their IQ.”