Allenhurst Sensory Motor Integration
Empowered Learning Transformation Centers
How early motor skills stimulate cognitive processing
We've all heard how important the first years of life are developmentally, but have we stopped to consider the process of learning to walk and the role it plays in brain development? Are the two even related? Do early motor skills stimulate cognitive processing?
I had never heard the words brain and body used in the same sentence prior to raising my son with sensory motor challenges. As a professional modern dancer, cognitive skills and motor skills seemed as far apart as the North and South Poles. The brain is for thinking and the body for doing. Children’s deficits, however, gave me a hunger to learn more about it, and I soon discovered that sensory motor development during the first year of life is paramount to our cognitive processing, including behavior and self-regulation.
Looking for answers, I dug deep, and began to understand the complex connections that develop during the first year of a child’s life. The brain needs to learn to control both gross and fine motor actions, talking, impulse control, and complex motor sequences. I had to ask myself, what links the body to the brain? What I found has forever changed my perception of children’s behavior, the source of their well-being, and their appetite for lifelong learning. It begins with our sensory motor system.
Sensory Motor Development
As in other forms of development, there is a sequence to sensory motor development that each child follows. These skills provide the building blocks that drive our ability to navigate our world and learn. This awareness of one’s body in space is called Kinesthesia which develops through the use of our limbs and torso to organize and coordinate movement on the way to walking.
The jerky, uncoordinated movements of a newborn mirror the unorganized neural networks in their brain. Since the brain is built on demand, the more the infant moves, the more robust connections develop in the brain. The disorganized synapses seeking incoming stimuli become the sensory motor foundation for life-long learning. The synapses are organized and communication between the brain and the body is established when an infant press or pushes off the floor, resisting gravity. This “heavy work” coordinates the limbs in relation to the body. Infants must push, press, and reach to establish proprioception—the understanding of where they are in space. This is the most important sensory motor building block. It develops mental focus and establishes emotional well-being.
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