Now that summer’s over and they’re back in school, most children are sitting more and moving less, and this relative inactivity extends to the eyes. Although schoolwork is highly vision-oriented, it doesn’t typically involve the range and diversity of visual skills that are called for in three-dimensional activities. And each school day may result in hours of hunching over and reading at near-point, followed by a similar scenario at night while completing homework.
Research increasingly points to movement as a basic physiological need, and today’s parents and educators are doing much to engage learners in movement breaks and outdoor activities, realizing that the visual and movement patterns they develop as they begin to do schoolwork will follow them for many years into the future. Yet not all schools or homework assignments currently reflect this thinking.
Of special concern are those children who are not accustomed to the demands of so much sitting and pointing the eyes at symbols. In an effort to keep up in the classroom, they can quickly fall into a habit of trying too hard and not looking up. During study time at school and at home, it’s especially important for parents and educators to connect through intermittent conversation and eye contact, so that a child learns to associate relaxed attention as the context for learning. Here are five simple things parents and educators can notice about how a child is using his visual skills, along with suggested Brain Gym(R) activities* that can help guide learners of any age in exploring and gaining access to a fuller range of their visual and movement capabilities:
1. Relaxed Near Focus – Does he or she squint when looking at homework, or sit too close to the television or computer screen? Some children haven’t yet learned to move their eyes together; others have yet to discover the benefits of looking up every few minutes to break a staring habit. In either case, looking away from a task or into distant vistas can help relax the focus. Option: Show your child how to do Brain Buttons (see video) while following a horizon line with the eyes by moving them side to side. Talk about the distant colors and shapes that you see, inviting him or her to explore these with you.
2. Neutral Head Position – Does she frequently tilt her head when reading or drawing? Head tilting can be due to not being able to turn the head easily from side to side, and often goes along with one-sided neck and shoulder tension or even headaches. Option: Teach your child to do The Thinking Cap as described here: Before doing the activity, help her notice how easily she can turn her head without lifting or jutting her chin. Show her how to use her thumbs and index fingers to pull her ears gently back and unroll them, top to bottom, three or more times. Have her again notice her head turning.
3. Fluid Eye Movement – Notice how he reads. If he often loses his place or says “gril” for “girl,” he may not be using his eyes as a team as he scans and decodes words, resulting in blurry or reversed images. Option: Drawing Lazy 8s in the air or on paper, or tracing Lazy 8s on his back, can help him to relax, centralize his vision, and improve his scanning skills (click for further description). In Edu-K, we find that when children learn to move their eyes, they naturally point them without being taught.
4. Left-Right Balance – Does she seem to dislike standing or walking? Children often lack a whole-body sense of left-right movement, or else inhibit this sense when they sit excessively. Yet the muscles, visual system, and inner ear must work together to provide balanced movement in gravity, even for sitting. Option: Teach your child The Cross Crawl (see video). When children get more comfortable with a rhythmic left-right movement pattern, their gross-motor activity provides a context for ease of fine-motor (including visual) movement.
5. Spatial Awareness – Does your child rarely look up or away from his book, iPad, or gaming device? Perhaps he is finding it easier to rely on a single, set visual focus than to look up and process depth and movement in the three-dimensional world. Option: Use any of the four activities described above, The Cross Crawl, The Thinking Cap, Brain Buttons, and Lazy 8s, to help activate varied visual and motor skills that will support your child’s well-being and ease of academic learning as they let him “unlock” his gaze from that book or screen.
Each playful Brain Gym® movement provides a shift in focus of 10 seconds or so–long enough for the eyes to readjust–or can provide a longer diversion as needed (as when dancing a rhythmic Cross Crawl with music). Remember also to invite frequent breaks from homework or other near-point activities to make playful eye contact.
*These four Brain Gym® activities, along with others that support sensorimotor skills, are described in detail in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, 2010, by Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison.
**These and other sensorimotor skills are taught experientially, through movement and play, in the courses Brain Gym® 101: Balancing for Daily Life and Visioncircles: 8 Spheres of Perceptual Development. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.
**Many children will make a shift in these visual habits after just a few playful experiences, as described. If your child consistently experiences any of these challenges, it’s a good idea to call an optometrist to schedule a routine eye exam.
© 2013 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International.