Pen Portrait: Sally Goddard Blythe

A renowned author, lecturer and Director of The Institute for Neuro Physiological Psychology (INPP) in Chester, 1988.  The author of 7 books on aspects of child development, including professional manuals for health practitioners, parents and teachers. The 8th title is set to be released in Autumn 2018 – Movement. Your Child’s First Language.

How physical development lays the foundations for learning success

Research into neuro-motor immaturity identifies that early physical experiences can impact on children’s academic achievement; it is evidenced in clinical research that certain physical immaturities might act as a barrier to children’s learning. The research goes further to explore how through a specific INPP Developmental Movement programme, the children can better access what individual schools have to offer.

The link between physical development and the ability to learn has been highlighted; schools need to support children in daily physical movement to enhance their learning.  This particularly benefits children with Dyspraxia, ADD, Dyslexia, behavioural issues, writing and reading difficulties.

The screening for 4-7 year olds which happens prior to the INPP Developmental Movement programme includes assessing;

  • Aspects of neuro-motor maturity
  • The presence of primitive (baby) reflexes
  • Visual perception and visual motor integration

This programme champions the importance of balance and supports the correct alignment of the body.

Current practice

Childhood obesity and physical activity are still a high priority on the government agenda. Interventions such as INPP could be  a valuable addition in education establishments across the country. The Genius of Natural Childhood, argues that school readiness is built on physical foundations which should be established in the early years. Goddard Blythe argues the importance of physical experiences for children is becoming an educational responsibility as many parents are “unaware of the importance of physical development and the role of movement music and interactive play in the early years for building the foundations for later learning” (Goddard Blythe, 2011, p.2).

Supporting the continuation of physical development in schools is the Movement for Learning project. This is a 15-20 minute daily intervention run over four weeks in addition to the physical education currently offered. Participants are required to be bare foot and practise a range of warm up activities with the aim of improving the quality of each movement over the 4-week period. The founders of this programme, from Loughborough University, include Professor Patricia Preedy who is also a member of the INPP.

Research shows the importance of the primitive reflexes as a core element of neuro-motor immaturity. Primitive reflexes are located in the brain stem. They are needed for survival and should be inhibited (put to sleep) by 14 months and replaced by the postural reflexes in the cerebellum. Primitive reflexes then return in old age or in circumstances of extreme danger/trauma. Retention of the primitive reflexes beyond the age that they are required can inhibit learning.

The following example demonstrates how neuro-developmental delay impacts the child’s pencil grip and ability to draw simple shapes.

Balance the oldest sense

We understand that a person has a range of sensory systems; hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell. What is less well known is that balance (the vestibular system) is the oldest of our sensory systems. Unlike other senses balance has no real sensation of its own, however if there is disruption in the vestibular system a person can experience an array of difficulties including vertigo, confusion, fainting  and even vision disturbance (Mayo Clinic 2018).

Although a well- developed sense of balance is key to establishing solid orientation and postural behaviour, it is not something we automatically have, instead it is something that we engage in continuously.

Balance does not begin when we learn to stand on our two feet toward the end of the first year of life; rather, the upright stance is the product of repeated movement opportunities during the first months of life that have resulted in the development of muscular strength against gravity and training of balance in many different positions in preparation for upright posture. (Goddard Blythe, 2005, p. 14)

From birth an infant must contend with the new force of gravity (not required in the womb), which requires the development of muscle tone, postural control and integrated skills that incorporate all other senses.

How is balance trained?

Babies’ earliest movements are uncontrolled but with exposure to certain movements and practise these early uncontrolled movements become more precise.

Gentle vestibular stimulation is required for infants with limited mobility. Primary carers almost instinctively provide opportunities here as they soothe and calm babies by rocking them to and fro. Lullabies, songs and rhymes where there is an element of whole body movement would facilitate opportunities here.

Playground equipment such as slides, swings, see-saws etc. were designed to support balance. In addition, the up and down movement opportunities provided by resources such as trampolines are helpful in the development of the vestibular system.

Spinning activities such as carousels and/or activities where children roll, dance and complete somersaults expose children to centrifugal force which further promotes good balance.

Play ground activity promotes vestibular development.

Interestingly, studies have shown a correlation between regular vestibular stimulation in the first months of life and a later acceleration in motor skills.

Signs and symptoms which may suggest balance difficulties

Although presentation of the following signs and symptoms could have many different origins, adults supporting children should consider that problems may lie within the vestibular system:

  • Frequent falls
  • Clumsiness – dropping things or bumping into things
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty learning to ride a bicycle
  • Inability mentally to rotate or reverse objects in space, e.g. learning to read a clock.
  • Excessive fear of heights (hypersensitive vestibular functioning)
  • Excessive rocking or spinning (the bodies attempt to stimulate an underactive system).

(Adapted from Goddard Blythe 2005)


Goddard Blythe, S. (2005) The Well Balanced Child. UK: Hawthorn Press.

Mayo Clinic (2018) Balance Problems [Online] Available at: [Accessed 24. 08.2018].

For more information on Sally`s work, please access the following links: