Author’s Note: This article was written in August 2023, as children in Hungary, my home country, prepared to start the school year. While the data I quote is specific to Hungary, the problems children encounter when they begin school are common throughout the world.
I am posting this question because according to the data from the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, in the 2023/2024 school year, 4906 first-grade children will repeat the year, meaning they will go through the first grade again in September. This represents 5.2% of the children, so approximately every twentieth first-grader.
Another thought-provoking statistic is the number of children with special educational needs (SNI). There are 60,000 of them, according to the past academic year statistics in Hungary. This accounts for 8.3% of all primary school students! And this number does not include children don’t have a diagnosis but still struggle with adaptation, learning, or behavioral disorders. Who knows the total percentage of children who need or would need individual or special assistance, development, or support in school!
The third disheartening thing that recently came to light is the 2022 standardised test results. The situation there is not rosy either. Specifically, the reading comprehension of eighth-grade students has significantly deteriorated. This is even sadder because the statistics were not impressive to begin with. According to the measurements, 40% of fourteen-year-old children do not understand what they read.
“The future will reflect the schools of today", said Albert Szent-Györgyi, the Hungarian biochemist who won the Nobel prize for his role in the discovery of Vitamin C. If we take his words seriously, we are facing a rather dismal future.
While some educators put their heart and soul into their work, unfortunately, as the situation looks right now, preschool and school education will not be able to improve for some time.
What can the parent or grandparent do?
Help them! Help your child, or your grandchild. Help them by at least laying the foundations with which they can "get through" their school years and even make the most of the situation by themselves.
In most cases, the parent knows their child the best. Their son or daughter is most important to them. They do everything for their child's present and future. The parent has been there since their birth, closely following their development. The child smiled at them first, they saw the first baby tooth appear, they heard the first words, and they were there for the first steps. As for grandparents, a recent study has shown how significant a role they play in their grandchildren's lives. Having a grandmother or grandfather present is a huge advantage for a child.
You should be there for your first-grader who is repeating the year, or any other grade. Even if they received a "bad" grade for their behavior, if they are ostracized, if they are "different" from the others, if they have no friends, if they can't read, write, or do math.
Many parents and grandparents wonder how to help. Where to start? Tutoring, extra lessons, arguments, bribing and begging the child. It's often a desperate struggle, and the parent gets tired, not to mention that the child often doesn't make much progress. The number of depressed and anxious high school students has never been as high as it is today.
I'll try to summarize briefly the research findings that, once known, can help a parent get started.
At the time of birth, simple reflexes control the baby's movements.
These are infantile reflexes, also known as primitive reflexes.
Their role is to perfect sensory functions, develop the child's motor and speech functions, and assist with feeding and protection.
Every movement, every tiny motion, and every experience produced during the operation of the sensory organs leave a trace in the nervous system. We can say, these "mature the brain."
Connections form between nerve cells, and new nerve cells are generated.
During the maturation process of the cerebral cortex and some subcortical areas, neurotransmitters are produced by nerve cells. These neurotransmitters inhibit the functioning of the aforementioned primitive reflexes, indicating that the reflexes are no longer needed.
The timely cessation of primitive reflexes (around 2–2.5 years of age) means that specific areas of the cerebral cortex have reached the appropriate level of maturity for the child's age.
Conversely, the persistence of primitive reflexes beyond the expected timeframe indicates immaturity in one or more areas of the brain.
Depending on which reflexes remain in a child, various problems can arise.
The most common problems include attention disorders, motor coordination issues, bedwetting, stool retention, speech and language-related disorders, hyperactivity, compulsive symptoms, autistic symptoms, reading and writing difficulties, anxiety, and learning difficulties.
In most cases, fortunately, there is no organic (physical) abnormality underlying these problems; it is “simply” a matter of immature nervous system development.
Fortunately, due to the plasticity (malleability, or adaptability) of the nervous system, the brain is able to mature. To achieve this requires regular practice of appropriate exercises.
It takes dedication to do these exercises daily, but when we weigh the time and energy spent on them, against the benefits that children gain from them, and we consider how much a mature nervous system can spare the child from problems and failures in life, the balance clearly tilts in favor of the exercises.
The speed of development depends on various factors, including the child's age, the nature and severity of the problem, the child's ability to cooperate, and the creativity of the parent in motivating the child to engage in the daily 15-20 minutes of exercise that can make their life easier. One thing is for sure: regularly and precisely performed exercises yield the fastest results.
In summary, you must exercise. You must move. Movement matures the brain and the nervous system!
I wish every child a successful, balanced, and, above all, happy school year! Please perform appropriate targeted exercises! Time is passing, and problems very rarely resolve all on their own.