Learning ready, school ready
November 30, 2018
What children’s drawings tell us about their brain and body development
March 5, 2019


Development of man shares a neuroscience basis irrespective of discipline or perspective from which the development of man is approached. Neuroscience can baffle most brains and for that reason we have developed a functional model of development at the Mind Moves® Institute in Johannesburg. This eclectic model has its roots in neuroscience, education, sociology and psychology.


  • The science which deals with the structure or function of the nervous system and brain
  • Neuroscience follows the pathways that data flow within the CNS (central nervous system) and tries to define the kinds of processing going on there
  • It uses that information to explain behaviour.

Christian Nordqvist

From research and simply observing the development of an embryo, fetus, baby, toddler, child, teen, adult and the elderly, it seems that development occurs in stages. These stages of human development tend to start with what is essential and evolve to the more complex, and often individual areas of specialisation.

At the Mind Moves Institute our main aim is to enable people of all ages to not only survive, but to thrive and for this reason we developed a functional model for development-, assessment- and intervention purposes.


Development tends to occur in stages that follow sequentially –

  1. Physical development
  2. Emotional development
  3. Social development
  4. Cognitive development.

Any model has its limitations and from this functional model it is easy to get the impression that these four stages each develop in totality before the next stage starts. In reality all four stages develop simultaneously, but each stage appears to be the development priority at a different age.



Physical development Conception – 14 months
Emotional development 14 months – 3 years
Social development 3 – 4 years
Cognitive development 4 – 11 years

The approximate age when each stage seems to be the developmental priority


The founder of the Mind Moves Institute, Dr Melodie de Jager, coined the idea in 2013 that developing the brain is similar to building a house. The whole house is already part of the plan, but each part of the house has a time when it receives the most attention because at that time, it is the priority.


  • Physical development includes everything a baby needs to survive: wide awake senses, an agile reflex brain and strong muscles. Some senses help a baby to learn about her body (inside senses), and others help her to learn about the environment (outside senses).
  • The primitive brain can only do what is needed to survive: keep the heart beating and the lungs breathing, adjust the temperature, enable feeding, metabolising, weeing, pooing and sleeping. Sensing and breathing are not, in themselves, enough to survive, and so the brain uses primitive reflexes to prompt the muscles into action.
  • Each primitive reflex guides the body to move in a different way, using different muscles. Once a baby can move his or her own muscles, the primitive reflexes go to rest and s/he starts to reach each motor milestone in a specific sequence.
  • The prime time, during which the brain and body develops the most, is between conception and 14 months of age. The brain and body continue to develop and change throughout life, but not at the same rapid pace as it does between conception and about 14 months.
  • In essence foundation represents regulating sensory input and motor output to provide a stable neurological base for all other skills to build on.


  • The walls represent a baby and toddler’s emotional part of the brain, energy levels, immunity, health, memory, self-worth and confidence. This is a very selfish and demanding stage when everything is about me: MY needs. MY wants. NOW. There is no sharing, waiting or understanding-mom-is-tired/busy/late in this stage.
  • Early in life, touch, familiar smells, rocking, sucking and moving are the main ways to keep the emotional brain happy. During this time love is not a feeling, says Dieter Uchtdorf, ‘love is spelled T-I-M-E’.
  • Emotional development starts before birth, continues during bonding with mom and peaks between 14 months and three years. The terrific two’s are smack bang at the height of emotional development, and that is why toddlers need hugs and loving most when their behaviour ‘deserves’ it least. The best emotional booster is to be loved for who you are, not what you do.
  • In essence the walls represent relating to ME, myself and I as well as everyone and everything in MY world. If it is not about ME and what I am interested in, I do not pay attention.


  • In time, and if the baby or toddler has had enough undivided ME-time, the safety and security that the walls offer become restrictive. Now it is time to add windows and doors to enable the baby and toddler to invite others in, and reach out and connect more spontaneously with other children of similar age.
  • The time when the brain is most ready for social development coincides roughly with a toddler’s third birthday, and this is why it was the custom for many years that children entered play school at this age. The windows and doors symbolise a shift from ME to WE and a growing readiness to talk, to wait, to share and to play with friends of the same age. A three-year-old toddler’s friends often seems to be like the three bears: not too old (so I can be the baby) or too young (so I can boss them around), but just the right age, like me. These days, many babies and toddlers go to daycare from a very young age, and if this is the case, a ratio of one adult : one baby would be the ideal for emotional development. The legal ratio in South Africa, however, is one adult : six babies. This ratio flips the natural development of ME (emotional) before WE (social) to the unnatural WE first and ME second.
  • In essence the windows and doors represent shifting from ME to WE and with it comes a sense of belonging.


  • The different levels of the brain house are connected by a lift that can only reach the roof, if the foundation and walls are solid. The lift symbolises the spine and needs to be straight if the lift is to reach the roof. The roof symbolises the clever part of the brain or Neo-Cortex that has a STOP button to control movement and emotions, and represents cognitive development. It coincides with language development, because only the ‘roof’ holds words and the ability to reason and name things.
  • While the lower levels of the brain house tend to need multi-sensory experiences and real objects in order to learn, the roof brain is more comfortable with thinking, and concepts such as colours, shapes, numbers, days of the week, names for positions in space (such as ‘in front’ or ‘in between’); mathematical concepts such as ‘more’ or ‘less’, ‘first’ or ‘last’; perceptions and the names given to all the sensations that the skin, nose, mouth, ears and eyes send the brain and enables him to say: ‘The yellow lemon is sour’.
  • The thinking brain is present long before birth, but it goes through an intense growth spurt between a child’s fourth and 11th birthdays. Children wire their ‘lift’ and thinking brain while spending many hours hopping on one leg, running, and skipping with a rope − and in so doing transform gross motor movement into fine motor movement ready for more accurate drawings and paintings, glueing and other creative art expressions, before learning to write and read. Cognitive development grows by leaps and bounds once a child has learnt to regulate sensory input; to STOP moving and concentrate for an age-related time and to speak clearly.
  • In essence the roof represents reasoning – spatial reasoning, non-verbal and verbal reasoning.

Just like building a house, brain development is a process that takes time, follows a sequence and needs to consolidate to stand the test of time. Brain development cannot be rushed.

De Jager, M & Victor, L. 2013. PLAY LEARN KNOW. Welgemoed: Metz Press.

De Jager, M. 2014. Ready to learn, ready for school. Welgemoed: Metz Press.

De Jager, M. 2017. PLAY LEARN GROW. Johannesburg, Mind Moves Institute Publishing.


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