Hilary Craig is a specialist teacher for people who learn differently, founder of Hils Learning Centre in KL, and author of Small Steps, Big Differences. Through the centre that she founded, Hilary has helped children – and their parents – identify and overcome their learning difficulties and challenges, using movement as one of the approaches. Movement therapist Amy Tan met up with Hilary for yet another insightful conversation on this.
Amy: You specialise in helping individuals with learning needs. What are some of the challenges the parents face?
Hilary: Many parents assume that, because they went to school and learned in a certain way, their child learns the same way. These parents have difficulty coming to terms with the fact that their child learns differently.
I think that’s what happens to a lot of parents is that they have preconceived notions about how their child’s way of learning should be like and can’t see it any other way. It is a huge challenge for them.
Amy: And to recognise that every child is an individual and different, because we are so used to having a template.
Hilary: That’s right, that’s probably the biggest difficulty.
Taking a walk with your children
Amy: You use movement therapy as one of your methods, what is the relationship between that and an individual’s learning needs/challenges?
Hilary: We do need to move to learn, it is something that’s been forgotten when we place children at desks. It’s a basic reality of life. If we look back at the times of Socrates, he used a method that became known as the Socratic walk to help his students with their problems. He basically took a walk with them.
The other aspect is that of building balance. In today’s digital society, children are often bent over computer screens. At my centre, we take the children through balance exercises during most sessions. It’s just to get them to do something that’s not being done enough or at all, yet should be. Today’s children are not climbing trees or cycling or balancing on walls.
Games are not just to fill time
Amy: You also mentioned using congkak as an activity and learning tool for handwriting, the relationship between playing games and learning, and that games are not just to fill up time?
Hilary: If you think of a primitive society, you realise that the games their children play all had to do with hand-eye coordination and accuracy. In those societies, you have to teach children to survive and you have to teach them from the beginning. Very often, the wisdom of these ancient societies has become lost.
Amy: I was reading a lot about indigenous societies and how they raise their children from the book by Jared Diamond titled The World Before Yesterday. The thing is, everything they do makes a lot of sense. These societies have been around way longer than us, the modern people.
Hilary: We are more technologically advanced, perhaps.
Learning through moving
Amy: Through the many conversations we have had, we have come to see parallels between our work. From your perspective, what are those?
Hilary: To me, movement, posture and learning are all tightly entwined. I have made a lot of interesting observations from my work, although I don’t have any medical knowledge or reference for them. For example, I notice that nearly every autistic child who comes to my centre has flat feet. Flat feet affect balance. These children generally will turn their feet in or roll their feet a certain way when they walk. I don’t know what or if there is any correlation between that and their autism. I think that if I know what you know, we would be able to help the children better.
Amy: I agree. It’s a crucial question: How do children learn how to walk? It’s a small journey but it’s probably the most important thing that we need to master in our lives. We need to learn to walk in order to be able to participate in this world.
I have observed many parents and how they support their child in this endeavour. They hold up their babies. They prop them up to stand when the child has not yet arrived at that ability to do it on their own. It puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on the baby’s joints. Also, once you place your baby to stand and play at that level, they won’t want play on the floor anymore. Then you wonder why your baby doesn’t like to get on their tummies. You wonder why they are not learning to roll.
I know of some children who didn’t learn to roll over but eventually learned how to walk. It seems like a small thing. But it could make a huge difference in how a child is going to learn and perceive the world.
New Pathways in the Brain
Amy: For a child to be able to sit up right, they have to be very developed in their shoulder girdle. That would come from pushing often when they’re on their tummies. They build the upper body strength that helps them to sit. Without that ability, they may lack strength or structure in the shoulder girdle. This could affect the child’s ability to hold a pen and write, for example. All because that initial coordinative development – adequate tummy time and learning to roll over – did not happen.
Every time a baby learns a new movement, it wires up a new pathway in their brains. If you move your baby from their lying down position to a sitting position instead of letting them develop those abilities naturally, they miss out on the nuances of movement that help light up new pathways in their brains.
By Amy Tan
Amy is a movement therapist and educator passionate about living with nature. Since becoming a mother, she left the city for a free-range farm life in the jungle where she raises her two children. Her jungle family life was featured on the documentary series, Living Free with Kimi Werner on National Geographic.