Williams and Shellenberger developed the pyramid of learning along with the Alert Program, a self regulation program. The pyramid highlights how sensory processing relates to the learning process. It illustrates children’s foundational skills and the hierarchy of skills needed to support academic learning and behavior. The pyramid is important, as it helps breakdown skills into different foundational levels and prioritize what skills to address first in therapy. The process of moving up the pyramid is called a bottom’s up approach. This means that babies and children’s development begins with physical and sensory skills that they must master, step-by-step to move up to higher level skills such as learning, attending, and self-regulating.
The Pyramid of Learning is a way of looking at the whole child. The foundation of the pyramid is a child’s central nervous system, which is closely linked to their sensory systems. Adequate development is built on being able to register and process sensory information from the seven senses (touch, movement, deep pressure, smell, taste, sight, and hearing). If the lower levels of the pyramid for learning are not solid, then your child may have difficulty focusing, completing homework, and learning new information.
Let’s look closer at the levels of the pyramid and the skills that need to be mastered…
Level Two – Sensory
Vestibular (balance, movement)
Proprioception (deep pressure, where body is in space)
Level Three – Sensory Motor
Body scheme (body awareness through movement)
Reflex maturity (reflexes, for safety purposes)
Ability to screen input (paying attention to sensory experiences that are important)
Postural security (confidence in maintaining certain postures to prevent falling)
Awareness of two sides of the body (bilateral integration)
Motor planning (ability to plan movement)
Level Four – Perceptual Motor
Auditory language skills (hearing & speaking)
Visual-spatial perception (recognize an object’s physical location as well as the physical relationships between objects.)
Attention center functions (maintaining attention)
Eye-hand coordination (using what you see to guide the movement of your hands)
Ocular motor control (locating & fixating on something in the field of vision)
Postural adjustment (adjusting posture to maintain balance)
Level Five – Cognition
Daily living activities (such as eating, toileting, personal hygiene)
Mindful Child’s Approach
Sensory processing skills are foundational for learning and regulating behavior. At Mindful Child, our therapists use the aerial hammock as a therapeutic prop to help children develop the skills they need to successfully climb to the top of the pyramid.
Believe it or not, movements such as climbing, are essential to cognitive functioning. Movement integrates new information and experiences into children’s brains. Children not only build their brains when they are moving, but they build the muscles they need to sit in a chair and write. Allowing children time to engage in unstructured play is essential to their development. When a child is playing, they are producing endorphins (brain chemicals that make us happy). Thus, unstructured play develops your child’s muscles, sensory systems, and their brains, making it the foundation that complex learning is built on.
Here are a few activities that are full of therapeutic benefits
and easy to fit into your child’s day:
Swinging is not only relaxing, but it builds core strength and motor coordination. When your child spins in a swing they are
engaging different parts of the brain at the same time. These areas in the
brain are associated with learning skills such as spatial awareness,
rhythm, timing, balance, and muscle control.
Climbing. When children are climbing, they are
stretching their arms upwards, which enhances cardiovascular flow and
flexibility. Additionally, climbing
builds upper body strength and coordination
Running builds strength in the legs, endurance, and provides sensory
With screen time and school taking time away from unstructured play, children do not have as much time to engage in healthy movement activities. This is detrimental to their development and learning. It is important to try to spend at least an hour a day letting children engage in movement-based activities. If possible, give them time to engage in unstructured play, this allows them to seek out the movement their bodies need, which is a form of self-regulation.
At Mindful Child, we allow unstructured play in our aerial hammocks for at least 15 minutes of every aerial yoga class. Children are able to climb, spin, and swing in our hammocks, providing them the movement their bodies and brains need for healthy development.
Kid’s today face daily stresses on the mind and body. Summer camps are a great way for kids to unplug from technology, reduce stress and enhance physical and mental health. Way to go summer camps!
Here are some of the recognized benefits that our yoga + mindfulness summer camps can provide your child:
Boosts Brain Power! Science tells us yoga and mindfulness can promote healthy brain development and boost resilience.
Builds Life Skills. Yoga and mindfulness helps children learn self-control, kindness, gratitude, patience, and other important life skills.
Cultivates Learning. Children need to move to learn. Cross-lateral movements integrate both sides of the brain, which enhances learning.
Reduces Stress. Mindfulness teaches kids to be less reactive to daily stressors. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is quick way to calm the nervous system. The best part is kids can do it anytime and anywhere.
Promotes Strength and Flexibility. All of your child’s bodily systems are supported by movement. Yoga strengthens and stretches your child’s entire body.
Inspires Happiness. Research tells us a consistent yoga and mindfulness practice produces GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter that plays in an important part in your child’s mental health. Increased GABA leads to feelings of relaxation and happiness. Yay GABA!
This blog focuses on the benefits of our Mindful Child camps, but camps, in general, are a wonderful way to promote health and reduce screen time. Regardless of the camp you choose, most summer camps have many character building experiences and offer exercises that build confidence and self-esteem. They are also a great way to explore different hobbies without a long term commitment.
The basis of educational theory describes intelligence, creativity, and learning being housed in the brain. However, this theory missed an important aspect of learning. Learning does not all occur in the brain, it occurs in the whole body. Movements, emotions and sensations are grounded in the body. It is our body’s senses that provide the brain with environmental information to give us a better understanding of our environment. Movement facilitates enhanced cognitive processing and grows the neural networks in the brain. This means movement enhances brain functioning.
Cross-lateral movement is crucial for learning. Cross lateral movements are those in which arms and legs cross over the midline (imaginary line that divides the body into right and left sides) of the body. The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and the right side of the brain controls the left side. When arms and legs cross the body’s midline, the two sides have to communicate. This integration of both sides of the brain facilitates learning
These are some of my favorite cross-lateral moves that I incorporate into my yoga classes.
Children’s Version. Start in mountain pose. Extend your right arm out and cross it over the left grabbing opposite shoulders. Shift your weight to your right foot and bring your left leg over your right.
Teen Version. Start in mountain pose. Take the left leg back to form a mini lunge. Extend out your arms. Take the left arm underneath the right arm and and bring palms together. Bring the left leg forward and wrap it around the right leg. Take in a deep inhale as you raise your arms to shoulder height. On the exhale sink the hips back as if sitting in a one legged chair.
Start in Mountain Pose. Alternate lifting and an arm and the opposite knee. Pretend you are climbing a ladder or hiking through the jungle.
Lie on your back. Lift up the arms and legs. Let them flow back and forth in big “x’s”. A fun variation is to start is lotus pose and pretend a bug lands on your lotus flower. Roll onto your back and begin flowing the arms and legs.
Figure eights can be drawn in the air with glow sticks. Begin in mountain pose. Lift the right arm and make ten sideways 8’s also known as the infinity sign. Shift the glow stick to the left hand. Raise the left arm and make ten sideways 8’s. Finally, lift both arms and grasp the glow stick with both hands making sideways 8’s. Another fun variation is to use a dry erase board and make butterfly wings. After you’ve made 10, with the right, 10 with the left, and 10 with both hands fill in the rest of the butterfly.
Try these fun moves at home and watch your child soar to new academic heights!
It s odorless, tasteless, and colorless, but makes up eighty percent of our body weight at birth. Need more hints? The brain has more of it than any other organ in the body with estimates as high as ninety percent. Last hint. It is essential to life. Yep, you guessed it, the secret elixir is water.
Okay, we know it is an essential substance for life, but why learning? Our bodies are electrical systems. Water is essential for electrical transmissions, which distribute oxygen and nutrition (Hannaford, 2005). Electrical transmissions in the nervous system help children use their senses, learn, focus, and act.
Water is emphasized in Brain Gym, simple exercises that increase blood flow and aide in learning. Drinking water during school will help with learning and keep dehydration at bay during stressful situations such as presentations and tests.
Children should drink water and avoid drinks such as soda, fruit juice, and milk. These drinks have sugar and salt in them, which binds water in the body, leaving less available for electrolyte levels in the nerves.
It is advised to start the day with a glass of water for digestive and liver support. Efforts should be made to keep children hydrated with at least 2 quarts of filtered water daily and more if they are in sports or very active. Try water with lemon or orange slices to give it a bit of flavor. Most importantly drink it yourself, children learn through modeling.
Hannaford, C. (2005). Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head. Salt Lake City, Utah: Great River Books
Teaching fun, therapeutic, aerial yoga and mindfulness to children