Help! There are holes in my child’s bucket!

The Importance of the Vagus Nerve on Development and Learning
September 25, 2023
Help! Daar is gate in my kind se emmer!
September 25, 2023

by Amanda Wepener

Johan was so excited to be going to ‘big school’. His mother clearly remembered the excitement of buying his school uniforms and stationery. He felt clever and so grown up. He felt so proud. She felt so proud as well.

Now, 3 years later, Johan is in Grade 4. He no longer feels excited. He doesn’t feel clever. He isn’t proud anymore. His Mom looks at him and just can’t understand what has happened! He IS clever, she knows it! He works so hard at home, but what he knows…just isn’t coming out!

Well, the truth is, Johan is, indeed, very clever! He has a ‘bucket’ full of talents and skills…But, his bucket is full of ‘holes’. He can’t concentrate and just doesn’t remember what he has learned. He doesn’t do well in the exams and he feels so disheartened. Gone is his motivation to learn for the next assessment. What good does it do anyway? It just isn’t right! What you learn should be able to come out…but this is the reality for Johan!

There are many ‘Johans’ in our classrooms! Perhaps you even have a ‘Johan’ in your own home and you are frustrated and feel like pulling your hair out daily! As a parent, you can see his potential but his school report does not reflect it. How do you help a person like Johan – who is clever – but his ‘bucket’ is full of holes?

The answer is simple. Begin at the beginning. As long as there are ‘holes in his bucket’, it doesn’t matter what we put in, it is just going to flow out. We have to close those holes/gaps. However, it does not help if we close those ‘holes’ at the top. We need to begin with the lowest ‘holes’. Just like when we build a house, we don’t begin with the roof, we start with the foundations – and we need to start by looking at Johan’s foundations.


Foundations = physical development.

Whenever there is a weakness in a child’s physical development, their ‘house’ is built on unstable foundations.


Untreated or repeated ear infections cause 94% of all learning problems (De Jager & Victor, 2013)

According to Dr Paul Maclean’s Three-In-One Brain Theory, the 3 parts of the brain consist of:  the Survival brain, the Emotional brain, and the Cognitive brain (De Jager, 2019).

Within the Survival brain, there is a whole reflex system that we have no control over. This reflex system is responsible for the development of our senses, brain, and muscles.  Dr. Melodie de Jager calls this Reflex System the ‘invisible parent’ (De Jager, 2011).

It is this ‘invisible parent’ that oversees each reflex’s development and ensures that the primary reflex goes ‘to rest’ in order for more specialized development to occur. This’ invisible parent’ follows a very specific, sequential, blueprint for the development of each sense, parts of the brain, and muscles.

It is of cardinal importance that each sense, part of the brain, and muscles are fully developed and hard-wired in order for learning to take place.

The reflex system works similarly to a relay race where each runner runs and ‘hands over’ the baton to the next runner. Each reflex is similar; it has a beginning, develops, and then passes the responsibility for continued development on to the next reflex. However, if one reflex doesn’t do its job properly (for example, the relay runner drops the stick) there is a ‘breakdown’ in the flow, and then the entire system is affected.

Our senses develop in the following order:

  1. Touch
  2. Inside Senses
  3. Smell
  4. Taste
  5. Hearing
  6. Sight

The inside senses are proprioception, the vestibular system, and kinesis.


Underdeveloped inside senses are often the cause of ADD and ADHD (De Jager & Victor, 2013)

If for some or other reason a reflex does not fulfill its task properly, then it cannot go to rest. It will cause cracks in the foundation. The house is now built on an unstable foundation that may later lead to cracks in the walls and may even cause the roof to fall in.

We see these cracks as SOS signals– they struggle to concentrate, have poor memory, low muscle tone, and anxiety. These indicate there are holes in their bucket.

When a child struggles at school with concentration, reading, or even letter recognition it can look as though the ‘roof’ needs some attention. People will then often work on the ‘roof’, but the problem in many cases, lies within the foundation. The cracks may well go up along the walls, right up to the roof. The roof issue will not be properly sorted out, however, until the foundational problem is addressed.

It is difficult to fix a fault in the foundations. Just like you can’t ripen an avocado pear quickly, it takes time to fix the foundations.

But how do we fix those ‘cracks’? How do we close those ‘holes’? We go back to the beginning…to our Foundations. From a Mind Moves perspective, we look to see if any primitive reflexes are still active and THEN follow a home-based movement program to inhibit the reflex.

In this way, we can fix the foundations step by step and build other skilled connections.

The following Mind Moves exercises (De Jager, 2009) are a good starting point as they help to inhibit an active reflex. Do them at least twice a day:

Antennae Adjuster

Massage both ear lobes simultaneously from top to bottom using circular movements. Repeat 3 times.

Mind Moves Massage

Let the child stand up straight with both arms held 90° to the side of the body. Stand behind the child and firmly trace the outline of the body from head to toe. Hold the feet for a moment before repeating 3 times.

Rise and Shine

Fling the arms wide open while breathing in deeply and slowly. Close the arms over the chest in a hug then breathe out deeply and slowly.

The parent may simultaneously hug from behind. Repeat 3 times.

So, what now for Johan?

There is hope for him…in fact for every ‘Johan’ out there.

Don’t give up, have patience with all those ‘Johans’ with challenging behaviour, especially those that just do not make any sense to you.

When you feel frustrated over the fact that your child has  ‘holes in his bucket’ – stand back… take the roof off…take off the walls… go down to the foundations. That is where you begin. Hold on and hold out until Johan is as proud of himself as he was 3 years ago.


De Jager, M. 2008. Mind Moves® Mind Moves – removing barriers to learning Welgemoed: Metz Press.

De Jager, M. 2009. Mind Moves® moves that mend the mind. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute.

De Jager, M. 2011. Brain development MILESTONES and learning – BabyGym & Mind Moves. Johannesburg: BabyGymInstitute.

De Jager, M & Victor L. 2013. PLAY LEARN KNOW – a child is a work in progress.. Welgemoed: Metz Press.

Moves that Mend the Mind


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