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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Teaching the Moving Child: A Book Review

Teaching the Moving Child by occupational therapist Sybil M. Berkey is not an easy read but it is an essential resource for therapists and educators seeking an in-depth look at the research that supports the movement-learning connection and the OT interventions that address it. The traditional model based on OTs treating only students identified to have disabilities is transitioning into a teacher-OT relationship based on early collaborative problem-solving that includes Response To Intervention (RIT) and positive behavioral supports. In other words, the role of OT is expanding in general education to meet the needs of students who struggle in school.

Berkey beautifully articulates the stress created when young students are expect to read and write when not yet developmentally ready for prolonged sitting, attending and complex motor tasks. As a result, referrals pour in for OT services and to no surprise they are usually for boys.

Teaching the Moving Child is written to spread awareness that young children can only succeed when taught in a developmentally appropriate fashion. Berkey includes research that indicates:

·        Children are not ready to form letters until the second half of the kindergarten year.

·        Young children learn best using the near senses (proprioceptive, tactile, vestibular) as opposed to the distant senses (sight and hearing)

·        Evaluations need to be dynamic meaning that the therapist not only looks at what skills a child demonstrates, but how scaffolding (supports that enable success) helps the child to perform at a higher level.

·      Following a curriculum sacrifices opportunities to practice basic skills. For example, expectations to generate and spell words prevent children from spending time forming letters until they become automatic.

·        The focus on academic achievement  replaces  movement and play with  instructional  methodologies (i.e. sitting and listening) that should be reserved for older students

I learned that cognition (i.e. IQ scores) is modifiable and sensitive to changes in the environment and that stress caused by shrinking education dollars and growing classroom size impacts  learning and behaviors to the point where children are sometimes referred for OT evaluation because they refuse to write.  

Berkey provides the neuroscience behind movement beginning with the connection between cognitive and motor functions. Simply standing increases blood flow and additional flow produced by movement stimulates brain function. There is also the evidence-based good news that dynamic seating promotes attention- this might involve sitting on a ball, seat cushion, T-stool or rocking chair. Berkey describes many other environmental adaptation strategies (i.e. fidget tools, respite spaces) to support young learners.

Berkey provides an excellent lesson for teachers (and review for OTs) on the in-hand manipulation skills children must develop and shapes they need to be able to form (i.e. X and triangle) before being expected to form letters. Other aspects of this book I enjoyed were

·        Tips for teaching cutting skills (including how to make your own self-opening scissors)

·         learning the sequence involved in developing drawing skills and the importance of unimpeded and non-directed scribbling.

·        A variety of strategies to be used based on the students subtype of  sensory processing disorder

·        The appendix packed with strategies, rationales and benefits of various modifications such as an uneven chair with one leg shorter so that the child can rock.

·        A list of activities to “write” without “writing”, such as playing Red Light, Green Light with letters. Children advance when the target letter is flashed.  

Much of the material about the reading process was unfamiliar to me as an OT but will be review for teachers as Berkey describes terminology such as- orthographic knowledge, phonology, semantics, syntax, graphemic buffer and allographs.  This is where I wished there was a glossary as well as a page to look up the acronyms I had forgotten.  Another piece of interesting information concerned the importance of  Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) of letters as a precursor to reading success and that children who struggle with RAN will struggle with printing automaticity.

I believe that this book should be beneficial for any school-based professional and that parents well versed in educational lingo will also appreciate the information. I realize that this is a long review for a book of only 186 pages including the index. But Berkey packs a lot of meat into this carefully crafted, detailed and insightful resource. I only hope that this book review does it justice.

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