(on Charlotte Mason, sensory integration, and things seen at the dentist’s office…)
Recently, during our biannual exposure to children’s television at the pediatric dentist, I saw a commercial that’s stuck with me. As I recall, the commercial introduces us to four-year-old Antonio, who is running around playing happily. We then meet his mother, a former kindergarten teacher who laments how difficult it is to get her son to take any interest in learning. We see little Antonio slumped despondently over a stack of sight-word flashcards — but then, enter an online educational program, designed to make learning fun. The commercial ends with Antonio and his mother sitting together at the computer, smiling and engaged, clicking through a brightly animated lesson labelled “social studies.”
Well, it’s just a commercial, obviously, but it’s also a voice in a larger cultural conversation, indicative of the pressures placed on mothers and small children to pursue early academics. The fact that a four-year-old isn’t interested in flash cards is a Problem That Needs to Be Addressed. The assumption seems to be that the sooner children begin academic work, the better their academic future will be. But in fact, the active play Antonio was enjoying at the beginning of the commercial was probably the best thing he could have been doing for his academic skills.
To understand this, it’s helpful to dig in to the field of sensory integration and sensory processing dysfunction. Sensory integration is the brain’s ability to receive and process the information streaming in from our sensory systems. This is a large percentage of the brain’s work, as it must constantly monitor and evaluate which of the sensory signals it is receiving are useful and which can be muted.
The brain learns to do this by encountering a wide variety of sensory information beginning in infancy, and the more practice it gets, the more efficiently it works. For a child whose sensory processing ability is underdeveloped or impaired, physical reality can feel like a distracting, frustrating riddle. Since sensory integration enables a child to form the habit of attention, it’s especially important for Charlotte Mason educators to understand and honor its development.
We typically think of the five familiar senses of vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, but there are at least two more. One is the vestibular sense, located in the inner ear, which signals to the brain the position and movement of the head relative to the earth’s surface. When we are dizzy, our vestibular sense has become confused from conflicting input. We also have a proprioceptive sense, which conveys information from our muscles and joints. The proprioceptive sense enables us to gauge how much muscular effort and which movements of our joints will be required to pick up a cup of water.
The vestibular and proprioceptive senses are unconscious but foundational, affecting our ability to balance, sit upright and still, hold a pencil, climb stairs, and much more. These senses develop through active physical play, and the desire for such play indicates a need that should be met. But because we are less aware of the importance of the proprioceptive and vestibular senses, much of what gets called ‘sensory play’ is a bit misguided, not to mention unnecessarily elaborate. For most children, sitting at a table messing with brightly colored and scented rice isn’t as valuable a sensory experience as simply climbing up and jumping off a tree stump repeatedly, or digging in a sand pit. Unfortunately, that won’t get re-pinned on Pinterest, but any good occupational therapist knows that such gross motor skills are the real foundation of fine motor skills.
For most children, sensory integration develops more or less as it should. However, a child’s experiences can enhance or suppress it. In Growing an In-Sync Child, Carol Kranowitz explains
how maneuvering a stroller can prepare a child for handwriting, how splashing through a puddle can improve attention, and how walking across a tree trunk can enhance vision… Unfortunately, many parents and educators believe that the earlier a child learns to read and write, the better off he will be. To that end, they provide video and computer programs, paper and pencil games, and other sedentary tasks, hoping to develop the child’s academic skills. Parents and teachers may not understand that, for the young child, a walk along the river is a much more developmentally and academically appropriate use of the child’s time.
Though Charlotte Mason lived before these concepts became known, it’s clear she observed them at work. In School Education, she mentions that among the fields of knowledge with which a child should form relationships, there are also
what I may call dynamic relations to be established. He must stand and walk and run and jump with ease and grace. He must skate and swim and ride and drive, dance and row and sail a boat. He should be able to make free with his mother earth and to do whatever the principle of gravitation will allow. This is an elemental relationship for the lack of which nothing compensates. (pp. 79-80)
And this is the process the child should continue for the first few years of his life. Now is the storing time which should be spent in laying up images of things familiar… By-and-by he will be called upon to reflect, understand, reason; what material will he have, unless he has a magazine of facts to go upon? (pp. 65-66).
What Charlotte offers here is a layman’s description of the development of sensory integration. It is all common sense, in fact; perhaps the only surprise is that this process is at work not just for the first few months but for the first few years of a child’s life. Hence the importance of Charlotte’s “quiet growing time,” the “storing time,” with formal academic work waiting until age six, a practice validated by sensory integration specialists. As Kranowitz writes,
the end products of sensory integration are academic skills (including abstract thought and reasoning), complex motor skills, regulation of attention, organization of behavior, specialization of each side of the body and the brain, visualization, self-esteem, and self-control. (emphasis mine)
This developmental phase can’t be short-circuited or rushed. Pushing academic skills before their time may simply result in the development of “splinter skills” that provide scanty benefit to the child’s holistic development. Charlotte Mason educators often speak of “delaying formal academics” until a child is ready. Understanding sensory integration helps us understand the why behind this philosophy — and in fact, with this understanding, it seems less like “delaying academics” and more like providing children with the developmental foundation necessary for academics. This knowledge should bring us peace where our culture creates undue pressure.
Now, if only I could pass these thoughts along to Antonio’s conscientious mother so she could relax a little, confident that he is learning exactly what he needs without flashcards or computer programs. And yes, kind reader, it is possible that I’ve become a bit too invested in our fictional little friend, Antonio. May he be liberated, may he splash through many puddles, may he forget all about those flashcards.
The Sew Sampler box is one of my favorite monthly subscription boxes. It always has super cute and new fabric along with a bunch of sewing notions and I look forward to seeing what’s in each box.
The Sew Sampler Box is a monthly subscription quilting box that delivers surprise goodies right to your door! It’s $24.95/month and the boxes ship on the 20th of each month. There are at least 5 specially chosen items which may include fabric, notions, patterns, thread, and anything else full of quilty goodness! You’ll also receive a Block Recipe card each month with three size options. These can be put together for a super cute sampler quilt! You can purchase previous recipe cards here.
If you’re new to sewing or quilting these are a great way to build up your stash of fabrics, patterns, and notions. Especially if you’re unsure of what to get to start out. I’ve been sewing and quilting for about a year and a half now and I think the Sew Sampler boxes are really fun and have thus far been packed with super cute and helpful tools.
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Hi friends and welcome to our vlog! Today we’re taking you along with us as we continue testing out our new GoPro Hero 6 Black.
We started off with a trip to the lake and then we headed over to horseback riding lessons with my oldest.
It was a great day for boarding as the water was crazy smooth. I’ve finally downloaded an app for my phone called “Windy – Waves and Wind”. It’s basically the weather forecast but for wind. I’m sure you all already know about these things, I’m just late to the wind tracking party LOL!
I also use a pair of binoculars to check the lake as well. If I can see waves, wind surfers or kite surfers from our deck, then I know it’s probably not a good day to paddle board! The app has also helped out my paddle board planning a little, though like all of the weather in Colorado, the wind is just as unpredictable, so sometimes you just have to go for it and see what happens!
Today’s water ended up being super calm and it was a perfect day to be at the lake. Though later on for horse back riding lessons it got pretty windy. According to my app, that was accurate so it was win for the Windy app!
But enough rambling let’s get to the vlog shall we?
The summer solstice is behind us and a peek on Instagram tells me that many of you are enjoying your summer break. While this will certainly involve plenty of time relaxing by the pool reading good books, I have noticed that several families utilize the summer months to emphasize habit training that often falls to the wayside during the school year. Have you considered the possibility that Swedish Drill can be a habit training tool?
As you know, Swedish Drill fosters the habits of observation, attention, and perfect execution that are frequently referenced in Charlotte Mason’s volumes. We can all benefit from additional opportunities to practice these habits, can’t we? What about our physical habits? Have you ever considered that posture (a.k.a., alignment) is a habit, too? Good “posture” is a good habit; likewise, bad “posture” is a bad habit.
Are you aware of your own posture? What about the posture of your children? As a physical therapist, I, for better or worse, pay attention to this all. the. time. In myself and in others. I literally cringe with discomfort when I notice particularly poor examples of posture, because in my head I am seeing all the strain and stress it imposes on the structures that lie beneath the skin and the resulting pain that lies ahead for the individual as a result.
And now none of you ever want to meet me in person lest I judge your posture. Sigh.
Please do not imagine that my own is posture perfect, though, or that my children are poster-children for good posture. Like the rest of you, we are works in progress. But it is definitely something we constantly work on in our home, and we intentionally emphasize good postural habits over poor ones. I seem to remember someone wise once saying that if we choose not to instill a good habit then a bad one will form in it’s place… Oh, yes! It was Charlotte Mason! In Towards a Philosophy of Education she writes:
Habit is inevitable. If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord. (p. 101)
It’s not a stretch to see how this applies to our physical posture, is it?
In School Education, Charlotte Mason acknowledges the disciplinary value of physical education when she writes:
Use of Habit in Physical Training. — It is well that a child should be taught to keep under his body and bring it into subjection, first, to the authority of his parents and, later, to the authority of his own will; and always, because no less than this is due, to the divine Authority in whom he has his being.” (p. 104)
After all, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, are they not? We are called to glorify our physical bodies, which are on loan to us from our Heavenly Father. Developing good physical habits is one way that we can bring honor to our Lord.
In a Parents’ Review article from 1904 entitled Physical Education for Girls, Miss C. Thomas addresses the need for improved discipline of body and mind. With respect to the value of Swedish Drill as a discipline, she writes:
Precision is to be aimed at… Simple unquestioning obedience is rarely to be met with now. Everywhere the lack of it is felt. Disobedience and carelessness in attending to all directions is the great trouble encountered by all who have to train others. Movements performed to words of command should, and certainly do help to form habits of obedience and promptness. Accuracy of detail inculcates a sense of truth and this will finally lead on to courage.” (p. 696)
Later in this article Thomas returns to the theme of discipline:
A drill lesson is almost entirely made up of controlled movements; games allow a good deal of spontaneous movement on the part of the player. Spontaneity forms the charm and much of the value of games — discipline, strange as it may seem, forms the charm and value of a good drilling lesson. (p. 701)
One more aspect of Swedish Drill that I wish to highlight is that it promotes physical activity without a subsequent rise in adrenaline levels that frequently leads to a decreased ability to focus on lessons. Where calisthenics and boisterous games often result in a child becoming too stimulated to return to his lessons, Swedish Drill seems to enhance a child’s ability to focus on mental work after a session is complete.
And … this is where I will be self-promoting for a bit, if you’ll forgive me. Swedish Drill Revisited is an excellent means by which to address physical habits as well as mental ones. It is designed to be a tonic for the postural faults that so often plague us, to promote increased body awareness, and to develop strength and endurance in musculature that is critical to optimal alignment (a.k.a, “good posture”). If you’re not already incorporating Swedish Drill into your homeschool, may I suggest that this summer may be an excellent time to start?
And for those of you who have already been implementing Swedish Drill in your homeschools … Level II of Swedish Drill Revisited will be available in mid-July. Stay tuned!