Turning the Learning Switch "on"! using The Feldenkrais Method™

Baby pulling toes

Curiosity is the key to learning. Think about how entranced a baby gets when she "finds" her hands and her feet. There is this fascination with the movement of the fingers as the baby begins to realize that these are part of her. That fascination with movement and attention to herself creates a healthy environment for learning. This comes about spontaneously for most children, but some children need a little help to spark this kind of exploration and interest that leads to early learning. The Feldenkrais Method™ allows a child to find her curiosity by focusing on all of the healthy parts of her rather than focusing on the places of difficulty.

We do our best learning when there is someone there to point out all of the things we are doing right and to encourage us to keep going. Instead, when a therapist or a parent tries to open the tightened fist of a child with cerebral palsy, he is engaging with the child from the place of her greatest difficulty. None of us does our best learning under these circumstances. Think of something that is not easy for you to learn. Then imagine that your teacher constantly brings this to your attention, no matter what you are trying to learn. Do you think you would learn efficiently? Would you grow to love learning and to seek it out in your world? Probably not.

We must take a different approach with these special children to allow them to grow and learn from their places of ability and ease. The Feldenkrais Method™ provides us with a wonderful resource that promotes this kind of thinking. Using very slow, gentle movements, a Feldenkrais Practitioner can determine what is easy for the child and whole and use this information to help the child learn. From this place of ease and health, the child is able to listen to various relationships within herself that the Feldenkrais practitioner highlights, and it is in learning these relationships that the child begins to put things together that lead to rolling, sitting, creeping, crawling, standing and walking.

It must be pointed out, though, that this is a very different approach from teaching a child how to stand or teaching a child how to walk. If we give the child one big block called "standing" by placing them in standing repeatedly until they can do it themselves, that will not help them to learn to walk because they have just been given one piece that cannot be broken down and used again. With Feldenkrais, we are able to give children millions of tiny pieces that can be put together to make up rolling and then add in some more to figure out sitting and reorganize the pieces again to form all of the other milestones on the developmental chart. And because the child is figuring it out for herself, the movement that comes about is much more fluid, graceful, and easy than it could be if learned in any other way. Typically developing children are given the time to figure things out for themselves through trial and error. And we must give these special children the time and the tools to do the same. It will make an incredible difference not only in how they move but in how they learn. When a child is taught to sit by placing him in sitting, the learning ends there. When a child is given the opportunity to learn how to sit on his own, he will not only learn how to sit better, but he will also be learning to explore and experiment with movement, leading to real learning in real life situations.

Trial and error is a very powerful tool. If we allow these children to explore movement and find their way to these milestones, by supplying them with all of the pieces they need along with the curiosity to play with them, we give them a learning tool that they will use not just in movement, but in every part of their lives. So, the exploration goes on, the gratification of innovation and success continues and the learning has no end. Feldenkrais allows each child to hold all of these tiny pieces that when put together make anything possible. This is why when a child is being given Feldenkrais lessons, you will not only notice changes in the way the child moves but in the way the child speaks, behaves, thinks, eats, acts, plays, and on and on. Feldenkrais uses movement to make millions of new connections in the brain so that the possibilities for each child become exponentially greater. And through this work, children and their families begin to see all of the possibilities rather than the limitations. And that in itself changes lives. There are countless stories of parents being told their children will never walk, will never talk, will never lead independent lives, and the nevers go on, but with the help of the Feldenkrais Method™, those nevers begin to evaporate and the possibilities are revealed.