Physical Activities for Improving Children’s Learning and Behavior
reviewed by Jason H. Mateika & Andrew M. Gordon - 2001
Title: Physical Activities for Improving Children’s Learning and Behavior
Author(s): Billye Ann Cheatum, Allison A. Hammond
Publisher: Human Kinetics , Champaign
ISBN: 0880118741, Pages: 341, Year: 2000
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Most elementary, middle school and high school teachers completing graduate degrees in education are not required to enroll in an elementary course in neuroscience despite the availability of applicable courses at the institutions in which they are enrolled. As a result, most teachers are not aware of the impact that developmental neuroscience has on learning and behavior in the classroom. This lack of awareness also extends to many parents who might be faced with a child displaying signs of learning and behavior problems. Consequently, many of the underlying causes for these problems in the home and classroom are not detected at an early stage, although they may be most evident in these settings. Furthermore, because of this lack of insight, once a diagnosis is determined parents and teachers may be passive participants in the treatment process even though they could potentially provide valuable insights that might enhance the course of treatment.
Although information on this subject may presently be available, there may be a lack of awareness or understanding in part because the needs of teachers and parents are not specially addressed. Much of the present information on this topic ignores the role of teachers and parents in the diagnosis and treatment of learning and behavior problems while providing complex scientific material to individuals who may not have a strong background in the area. However, Physical Activities for Improving Children's Learning and Behavior takes a step toward filling this void by providing information that emphasizes the impact of sensory motor development on learning and behavior while simultaneously eliminating much of the scientific complexity often associated with this field of study.
The book is divided into two primary parts; the first part of the book reviews basic neuroanatomy and physiology in addition to general sensory motor development, while the second part examines more closely five sensory systems (the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, visual and auditory systems) in separate chapters. Most chapters follow a similar scheme designed to cover four primary topics. Each chapter begins with an introduction to the basic concepts surrounding motor development (first part of book) or the anatomy and physiology of a sensory system (second part of book). Overall, the authors present this material at a level that can be understood by individuals with little to no previous understanding of sensory/motor system physiology. The most important concepts are highlighted in convenient summary boxes. However, in some instances the authors in their efforts to simplify material provide misleading information to the reader. Nevertheless, these errors in fact do not detract from the overall goal of providing complex information in a simplified manner.
Subsequently, the authors address various methods that can be used to evaluate development of the sensory systems. Although informative and likely to be helpful to a teacher or parent in determining the extent of sensory/motor deficit, the presentation of the data does have some weak points. In many instances data presented from one of the authors were used to support the premise that performance on evaluative tests is reduced in children with learning difficulties. Although details surrounding the studies are often not provided, examination of the data presented indicates that the design of some studies was not well controlled and that multiple explanations for the results might exist. Furthermore, the reference list reveals that most of the work has not been published previously in peer reviewed journals and thus may not have been subjected to the scrutiny normally associated with this process.
After presenting methods of evaluation in each chapter, the authors present a discussion focusing on the impact that alterations in normal development might have on classroom behavior and learning. This section utilizes the information presented in the previous portions of a given chapter in order to highlight the difficulties a child might experience in the classroom as a consequence of sensory/motor development. This is one of the strongest aspects of the book since it provides the teacher/parent multiple reasons for a given behavior in the classroom or home. In addition to providing details in the text, the book also makes use of tables to list the learning and behavior symptoms associated with alterations in sensory/motor development.
Lastly, the authors provide descriptions of physical activities, often in conjunction with pictorial demonstrations that can be employed to correct the sensory/motor deficit that might exist in a child. The premise of involving the teacher and/or parent in these types of activities is an excellent idea. The exercises selected in most cases are fun in addition to having possible therapeutic effects. However, the authors place no emphasis on the use of computer games to work on perceptual skills. The reasons for this omission are not presented. However, it is possible that these types of activities are not emphasized because children today tend to lead a more sedentary lifestyle, and the authors state earlier in the book that teachers and parents need to encourage "vigorous physical activities." Thus, activities in the book may have been selected to promote enhancement of both sensory/motor skills and physical fitness.
The involvement of teachers and parents in the therapeutic process is without doubt beneficial to the child. However once it is determined that a child’s problem falls into one or more of four categories (gross/fine motor, cognitive, social and emotional or speech language problems) a variety of professional services are available to them including occupational, speech and physical therapy which can be provided in a home or school setting. Unfortunately the authors did not emphasize the need for teachers/parents to interact closely with qualified health professionals in the implementation of the activities described in the book. On only one occasion when the subject pertained to correction of visual problems was the need for adequate interaction between vision professionals, teachers and parents emphasized. Nevertheless, even though the role of the health care professional in the treatment process is de-emphasized, the information presented in the book is an excellent step toward increasing the involvement of teachers and parents in the diagnosis and treatment of children with learning and behavior problems.