Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Retained Reflexes and Learning and Growing

A couple of years ago, I received a copy of The Well Balanced Child by Sally Goddard Blythe to review. When Wheel was born this past winter, I pulled the book out again and reread it. It was like reading it with new eyes. At the heart of the book is looking at the reflexes that babies are born with. Having an infant to hold and watch while reading through the book again gave me new insight into the information.

I learned lots about what are appropriate types of movement for early childhood. I made notes for Wheel and Li:

0-3 1/2 years

  • swinging-front to back and side to side
  • rocking
  • riding in a stroller horizontal and semi-upright
  • riding in the car
  • being on their tummy and back
  • swimming
  • listening to books, songs, and nursery rhymes

1-3 years

  • push along toys
  • climbing
  • rocking horses
  • wheel toys to sit on
  • playing with balls, wheel toys, blocks, and sorting


  • riding toys pedaled and floor
  • sliding, spinning and circle games
  • putting actions to songs and nursery rhymes
  • playing with dolls, blocks, wooden trains, sand and water
  • playing make-believe, dress-up
  • modeling with plasticine, play dough, sand
  • rolling down hill, leapfrog and jumping
  • free movement, handstands, somersaults, cartwheels, handstands
  • trampolines and bouncy castles
  • bouncy balls, rotary boards, and wobble boards
  • bikes and scooters
  • sew saws
But another thing that stood out to me is how children retain reflexes. Blythe has spent lots of time studying how reflexes effect babies and how those reflexes retained into childhood influence learning and development creating patterns of behaviors. 

Retained reflexes explained lots of things like handwriting trouble, motion sickness, late potty training, messy eating, issues with certain subjects, lisps, the list goes on.

So one of the next things I did was look for tests I could do at home to see if the kids had retained any reflexes. I came upon this retained reflexes test. The results were interesting. All 3 of my older children had some reflexes that were retained. None of their reactions were infant style obvious, but the reflexes were there none the less.

Then I wondered if the reflexes that showed a response with each child aligned with the things that I had wondered about with them. So I started researching which reflexes were attributed to certain behaviors.

Oh, can I just tell you, my dear Jo-Jo is a tornado when she eats. Food ends up in her hair, on her clothes, on the table, on her chair, and on the floor. With. No. Exception. Ever. The older she gets, the bigger the mess. So this one, I looked up first. Did she have a response to the reflex that tended to attribute to messy eating?

Look how joyful she is!

You bet she did. For that matter all of the things that I kept wondering why the kids did (late potty training, motion sickness, etc.), the things that made me a bit crazy trying to help them through, matched the exact reflex they responded to.


That started me wondering how we could help them to stop the impulsive muscle patterns they had developed. What is there to do about those retained reflexes?

Blythe has a story in the back of the book that involves exercises that would allow children to use those reflexes purposefully. The exercises help children reintegrate the reflexes properly. Interesting.

So I researched further and found exercises that matched the retained reflexes. They are all basic stretches and take about 20 minutes total to run through.




Crossing Twist


We also use the Child Pose in Yoga for this one.



Snow Angles

Back Rub

Babinski & Plantar
Ball exercises

We also do a toe squeeze with these.

Sucking and Rooting
Face Rub

Ball Squeeze

After several months of doing these exercises for about 4 days a week. I have noticed changes. Not earth shaking, one day cure, but gradual changes. The funny thing is I notice when we haven't done the exercises in a few days even more. Things I hadn't realized were much better, seem more obvious when they backslide on the exercises!

Another thing I did find was that my children don't like doing the exercises that help with the reflexes they've retained. I'm not sure why...maybe reversing the muscle behavior?  

And one last thing, I've not rushed baby Wheel from one thing to another. I've let him spend time on the floor, moving through the rolling, scooting, army crawling stages and everything inbetween, without interference. No proping up for sitting, very little forced tummy time before he did it himself. Just a boy on a blanket with a cloth ball or wooden block. And I've noticed how he naturally moves through some of these exercises without my interference. In a few years, I will test his reflexes and I'll be interested to see how many he's naturally integrated.

Wishing you homeschool blessings,

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