I just saw a commercial on TV that terrifies me a little bit. It shows a proud young couple with their toddler who’s learning to recognize numbers and letters and even learning to read through an app on his iPad.
Wow – a toddler learning to read! He’s going to be great in school, right?
Not necessarily. Believe it or not, recognizing a few words is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the skills needed to be an automatic and independent reader.
As enticing as technology is, old-fashioned playtime is what helps mold young brains. Hopefully, these young parents are wise enough to provide a strong balance of non-screen time for their little guy, so he can explore his environment and develop the truly foundational and absolutely critical skills for learning that come through movement.
Crawling, pulling up on a table, rolling on the floor, climbing, jumping, and reaching – what seems like only child’s play is developing the child’s brain and honing his internal organization, so by the time he gets into school, he has the skills he needs to sit in a chair, move his eyes across the page, pay attention to the teacher, write, and learn academics.
Want to support your child’s future learning?
• Give babies tummy time!
• Give toddlers and young children lots of unstructured playtime.
• Get kids of all ages moving!
Babies are born with reflexes that help them survive and get moving during the first months of life. In the normal path of development, these reflexes integrate, taking the backseat to higher-level patterns of control. It’s through movement that the reflexes integrate, and it’s through this process that body and attention awareness and control, visual skills, and some aspects of auditory processing are developed. If any of these early reflexes get stuck or continue firing when not needed, they can cause interference to this process of development and comfortable, efficient learning.
When kids struggle in school, it’s tempting to think an app out there somewhere can fix it – and there certainly are some that can be really helpful. However, what we know is that there are a tremendous number of underlying skills that support learning. When any of these are weak or inefficient, they can cause smart students to struggle with attention or academic skills.
The encouraging thing is these “stuck” or retained reflexes can be integrated, and weak underlying skills can be developed. When the pathways are open, the brain is available and ready to pay attention, learn, and function properly.
Jill Stowell, M.S., is the #1 bestselling author of At Wit’s End: A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle, Tears and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities. Learn more at