Literature Review of the supporting evidence behind the movement-based group program Move Learn Grow

Move Learn Grow is a movement-based group program that has been designed to accelerate the sensorimotor development of children in their early years of primary school. Designed by paediatric Occupational Therapist, Kelly Kroeger, and Physical Education teacher, Tracey Cramond. The weekly sessions are intended to encourage skills in coordination, concentration, sensory processing, social interaction, and the regulation of behaviour, in order to lay a solid foundation for academic learning within the school environment. The program is widely accommodating for all children at any stage along the developmental timeline and has a student staff ratio of approximately 1:5. Following a fine-motor warm-up activity, each session will typically include six different stations, where children will practice skills such as rolling, crawling, jumping, crashing, balancing and ball skills. Children will usually complete the circuit in groups of 3-4, and spend approximately two and a half minutes at each station. The end of each interval is indicated by background music that signals to the students that it is time to move on, further working on listening skills.

Sessions or activities can be repeated throughout the term in order to increase the child’s participation and occupational performance through familiarity, whilst also building confidence and self-esteem. The evaluation of individual outcomes, through pre-post comparison is also completed to provide evidence-based practice for individual and program enhancement. Over the course of the program, pre-post comparison data has shown a significant improvement in a child’s motor, learning and behavioural capacity. Although Move Learn Grow may be used in conjunction with adjunct Occupational Therapy, Speech Pathology, and general school-based development opportunities, there is ample evidence to support movement-based group programs, and the considerable influence they can have on a child’s early years.

Research has shown that movement from an early age, not only stimulates and activates neural connectivity, but also has the power to influence the structure and organisation of our neurons, preparing us for optimal function and brain development (Krog & Kruger 2011). It follows that a child with a less-developed central nervous system may appear less prepared for the academic learning environment once they have reached school age. This concept remains widely accepted today, with its roots stemming from the work of many early developmental theorists, including Cratty (1972, 1973), Kephart (1975) and Jane Ayres (1979).

In more recent years, Dr. Soezin Krog and Deirdré Kruger (2011) conducted a study whereby 14 participants, or “learners”, attended a movement-based group program for 30 minutes each day, for ten weeks. The program progressed through four successive stages, with each involving various stations where participants could practice their skills in balancing, rolling, crawling, climbing, throwing, heel-toe walking and rhythmic movement. Over the ten-week timeframe, the learners showed significant improvements in various areas such as crossing the midline, laterality, directionality, spatial awareness, concentration, handwriting and language ability (Krog & Kruger 2011). Furthermore, these results support and correlate with the findings of similar studies conducted by Fredericks et al. (2006) and Van der Westhuizen (2007), who also found a significant increase in concentration levels following the implementation of a movement program.

Move Learn Grow places a significant emphasis on primitive reflex integration. Primitive reflexes are the involuntary movements made by an infant in response to certain stimuli from the external environment. As well as assisting in our movement through the birth canal, their role is to A) protect us, and B) stimulate our neural pathways to initiate higher-level brain function, as mentioned previously. This has been referred to as Nature’s way of ensuring that our brains and bodies are hard-wired for movement (Pheloung 2003, 2006). According to Agnieszka Olechowska, most, if not all primitive reflexes should be integrated by the time a child is one year old, where retained reflexes may present as delays in sensorimotor development and learning. After implementing Barbara Pheloung’s world-renowned Move to Learn program with a group of children aged 5-8 years, Olechowska found significant positive changes in emotional and social development, as well as considerable improvements in general school and preschool function (Olechowska 2011).

The replication of reflex-specific movements has also been linked to many other improvements within the classroom, such as reading. A study conducted by McPhillips et al. in 2000, sought to explore beyond the underlying, language-related challenges that might affect a child’s reading, and instead investigate the impact of retained primitive reflexes. The study focused on 60 children with a persistent Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR). The results of the study suggested that a significant decrease in the persistence of an ATNR reflex resulted in a “substantially greater” improvement in reading over time. The clinical significance of these results suggests that the repetition of reflex-specific movements can reach beyond the obvious benefits for motor development, and play an essential role in early neurological maturation, thereby better preparing for reading development later down the track.

An additional study published by Teitelbaum et al. (2004) suggests that the correct integration of retained primitive reflexes will not only help to develop our coordination and stability, but also assist in the maturation of our hidden sensory systems. These include our vestibular sense, referring to our balance, and our proprioceptive sense, referring to our body awareness. De Jager (2009) describes how the stimulation of these hidden senses and brain areas can assist our neurochemical pathways to help develop new skills and abilities in meeting the demands of our environment. In doing so, he refers to the connection between the body and the environment during infancy. Babies are not born with an existing understanding of their body parts, or where they are in space. Instead, they must rely on the sensori-motor feedback loop through which they can discover and learn to control their body parts, by strengthening the neural pathways to the brain. The neurological development that is driven by movement, allows children to experience their environment, reach developmental milestones and develop across all brain areas, laying the foundation for higher level cognitive function in the future (De Jager 2009).

There is a growing body of evidence to support the benefits of movement-based programs for children. When considering the impact of a movement-based group program for children it is first important to understand that no two children are the same, and that a one-size-fits-all approach is virtually non-existent. However, the evidence base in support of programs like Move Learn Grow, suggests that there are a wide range of positive outcomes for individuals and groups as a whole. The aim of the Move Learn Grow program is to provide fun, play-based learning opportunities that address the fundamental areas of development, and further support social and cognitive performance.

Reference List

Ayres, AJ. 1979. Sensory integration and the child. California: Western Psychological Services.

Cratty, BJ. 1972. Physical expressions of intelligence. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Cratty, BJ. 1973. Movement, behaviour and motor learning. London: Henry Kimpton.

De Jager, M. 2009. BabyGym. Brain and body gym for babies. Welgemoed, South Africa: Wetz Press.

Kephart, NC. 1975. The slow learner in the classroom. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill.

Krog S 2015, ‘Movement activities: A critical link in developing motor skills and learning in early childhood’, African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 426-443.

Krog S & Kruger D 2011, ‘Movement programmes as a means to learning readiness, South African Journal for Research in Sport, Physical Education and Recreation, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 73-87.

McPhillips M, Hepper PG & Mulhern G 2000, ‘Effects of replicating primary-reflex movements on specific reading difficulties in children: a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial’, Lancet, vol. 355, no. 9203, pp. 537-41.

Olechowska, A 2012 ‘Movement, Vision, Hearing – The Basis of Learning’, The Maria Grzegorzewska Academy of Special Education, Warsaw, Poland

Pheloung, B. 2003. Help your child to learn. Sydney: Iceform.

Pheloung, B. 2006. School Floors. Effective perceptual movement programs for your classroom. Sydney: Iceform.

Written by
Dan Russo (OT), Kelly Kroeger (OT) and Tracey Cramond (Teacher).