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Learning: A Neurodevelopmental Approach - Part 1

Posted By Sarah Hickey and Sabrina Smart  

When children go to school they are expected to learn, however, some children struggle to learn as their learning process is hampered. There are many factors (internal and external) that can influence a child’s ability to learn. In this blog, we will look at Neurodevelopment and how it affects learning.


Neurodevelopment focuses on the brain’s ability to learn. The word ‘neuro’ refers to neurons which are the cells that make up our nervous system. Children’s development during the early years is influenced by their neuro-physiology, neuro-chemistry and neuro-anatomy. Often, difficulties experienced with learning and socially accepted behaviours can be traced to an irregularity in one or more of these areas.


In order to function at an efficient level for learning, we need to integrate our sensory and motor information smoothly to react appropriately to the outside environment. If one or a few of these inter-related systems are weak, then this can cause issues for a child such as:

  • Difficulty concentrating on and coping with the immediate task at hand such as school work and self-help skills.
  • Co-ordinating body movements for gross motor skills.
  • Manipulating objects such as books, cutlery, pencils (fine motor skills).
  • Being aware of their own body in space (proprioception).
  • A lack of regard for their own safety.


At school, these behaviours would be presented by the child as:

  • Struggling academically
  • Difficulty mastering skills such as reading, writing, maths or spelling
  • Unable to finish work on time
  • Disorganised or untidy
  • May be aggressive towards other children in school
  • Unfocused and / or daydreams


Let’s look deeper into the learning process. To learn we need to receive input, process the input accurately and then show a response (output).

Sometimes the brain may not always accurately interpret information from the environment or the output may be inappropriate.

Learning requires a process made up of three basic steps:

  1. The process of sensation - all incoming information to the brain occurs through the senses (sensation) such as touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell as well as from our proprioceptive system (knowledge of where the parts of the body are), and the vestibular system (the sense of where our bodies are in relation to the constant pull of gravity).
  2. Perception - where the information from the senses is organised meaningfully or interpreted in the brain. This information is forwarded to specialised areas, which make sense of this influx of information. The brain has to make sense of new information taking into account what has been remembered from earlier experiences.
  3. Response to the interpreted information. This requires us to react in the form of an action (movement) in an appropriate manner.


So what can be done to assist a child in their learning process so that they can achieve their potential? Success has been documented and shown to occur through Neurodevelopmental Therapy, where the brain is ‘rewired’ and new neural connections made to restructure the brain for optimal learning. This is achieved through specific movement activities.


In our next blog we will discuss these movement exercises