Barbara Pheloung, B.A., Dip.Ed.(Spec.Ed.), was a resource teacher, born in Canada, who spent over 35 years specialising in working in the field of special education in Australia. Frustrations encountered while trying to find help and support for her daughter who struggled with hyperactivity and Learning Difficulties (LD) inspired her to set out on a quest to find a solution for these struggling children. Like many dynamic ideas pioneered and devised by women, Barbara’s vision found its birthplace in the home. After returning to university and acquiring her Bachelor of Education, she began working in her own garage with children who had learning difficulties. Her students were often those that the educational system had all but given up on, the strugglers who were so far behind that it didn’t seem possible for them to ever catch up.
In 1987, armed with the belief that any improvement would be a benefit, she gathered what knowledge was available and collaborated with other like-minded teachers and therapists to set up a specialised treatment centre in Manly known as ‘The Beach House’. This was a private centre for those with Learning Difficulties and Hyperactivity in which Teachers, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and a Physical Education Teacher worked together sharing their expertise. Barbara’s team proved that by working together, starting with the professional who met the most basic needs of a particular child, results could be quick and permanent. The success of The Beach House also demonstrated that similar centres could be set up in any community and with a minimum of financial support.
In 1993 Barbara was given the opportunity to work in Oxford Falls Grammar School in Sydney, to set up a new approach to handling Learning Difficulties in a school setting. This was done in conjunction with Robyn Taylor, Educational/Clinical Psychologist, who used the results from this 2 year project, along with the results from another project conducted in a school in Wollongong, for her research to measure the benefits of a sensory integration movement program to academic performance.
Barbara went on to become a pioneer in the field of learning difficulties; authoring four books, producing two educational DVDs and working with thousands of students, parents and teachers across the world. While ‘The Beach House’ is no longer in operation, her work goes on, and answers are beginning to clarify.
Part of the complexity of the problem with these children was, and still is, that a child can be struggling for a number of reasons. Some have undiagnosed problems with their eyes or ears, some are trying to focus when their little bodies are already well and truly overloaded with allergic irritation and most have underlying neurological immaturities that are slowing down their ability to receive and process information. Concerned parents have often had to endure hours of frustration, and great expense, taking their children from specialist to specialist in an attempt to pinpoint the specific problems troubling their individual child. Barbara’s first book, ‘Help Your Child To Learn’ was written to address this problem, providing a simple guide for parents to help them to identify their child’s problem areas.
Diagnosis, however, is only the beginning, and while problems with eyes, ears and allergies may be addressed by appropriate specialists, neurological immaturities often remain a problem.
Gradually, Barbara and her associates discovered that certain specific activities or movements seemed to help to mature specific neurological immaturities. The results were both startling and very encouraging. Children who had been labelled ‘hopeless’, began to overcome their learning difficulties and reach normal levels of learning potential.
Over the years Barbara and her associates refined and perfected these movements into a sequential movement program. It can be done with an individual, a small group or with a whole class, (15 minutes a day, 5 days a week), and requires little in terms of training or equipment. The movement sequences seem to act as a ‘neurological kick-start’, helping children to reach learning readiness and removing the obstacles that had blocked them in the past. Significant results have often been seen to occur within 2 to 3 months.
Barbara was understandably excited and encouraged by these results. ‘My vision is to get this movement program into every school, so that every child can receive the help they need’, she used to say, smiling warmly, her eyes still glowing after over thirty years of tireless enthusiasm, ‘It’s quick. It’s simple. The whole class can benefit, and it will save the government a lot of money in the long run in terms of remedial education.’
In 2004 Barbara was nominated for Australian of the Year.
Thousands of children have been helped by Barbara’s program and have gone on to complete their education and achieve high standards of literacy and numeracy. Her insights into learning have produced a totally unique approach which has inspired many hundreds of students, parents and teachers. Her vision to empower parents, teachers and other involved professionals to turn around the lives of their own children and students has steadily come to pass.
Barbara, who passed away in March 2015, was a visionary. She was an inspiration to everyone who has had ‘an idea’, but has felt daunted by its enormity or niggling little feelings of ‘who am I to do this’? While her enthusiastically generous spirit is deeply missed, her vision lives on in her body of work, in the many children she has helped and in the growing group of teachers, therapists and parents who have adopted her methods and have gone on to help and influence thousands more.