It was something I’d never done before . . . holding chalk in each hand to make a variety of shapes. We followed dot-to-dot patterns, drawing both up and down, toward and away from the midline. It was the early 1970s and I was attending an in-service taught by a developmental optometrist* who explained that this “bilateral drawing” technique was used to help learners orient themselves spatially and improve eye teaming. Major improvements in math, reading, and cognitive abilities were said to follow.
I immediately added bilateral hand motions to the private reading sessions I offered at my eight Valley Remedial Learning Centers. Time and again, I saw students shift from the effort of one-handed drawing to smooth ambidexterity after doing a minute or so of bilateral drawing.
One student in particular comes to mind. Jose, age 8, would do cursive loops** with his left hand up to the middle of the page, then switch the pencil to his right hand to continue. His parents told me that he was not good at sports and was clumsy at home, always dropping things. Jose was demonstrating a lack of centralized kinesthetic awareness.
I noticed that after practicing the reciprocal hand motions, Jose’s hands became more lively and coordinated. He soon began to draw by leading with the right hand and following with the left, “mirror-image style.” After continuing to guide Jose in bilateral drawing for six weekly sessions, I was excited to see Jose now writing with the right hand only, easily crossing the midline of the page without changing hands.
Now, when I had Jose visually track a moving object, his eyes no longer quivered or jumped while crossing the midline; his eye-hand coordination was clearly becoming more skilled and adept. Around the same time, he began reading with greater ease and comprehension, and his father told me that they were now able to play catch together.
I continued to observe how my students were being freed up through bilateral drawing for better sitting, as well as more fluid writing and expression. When I met my future wife and partner, Gail, she started using the technique to create landscapes, animals, and faces. When one of our students suggested calling it the Double Doodle, the name resonated and stuck. Just think about what this answer means for education. of As they became more proficient at drawing with both hands simultaneously,
*Dr. Sowby, a developmental optometrist and close friend, had studied with Dr. G.N. Getman, the developmental optometrist who had discovered “bilateral drawing” and wrote about it in his classic How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence. Getman’s bilateral drawing was accomplished dot-to-dot style. It was during Gail’s innovation, as we developed the Brain Gym activities, that this gave way to free-form drawings.
**At the time, I had all my students do a line of cursive loops (from the Palmer Method) before writing.
Children are often surprised to understand the words as they read them after doing some Brain Gym activities.
Learning is about doing. Children become self-initiating learners when they connect or re-connect with the movement patterns that call them into action. As a reading teacher once indoctrinated in the idea that learning is a mental activity, I first wrestled with this paradoxical point of view in the early 1970s. I saw struggling learners at my reading centers make their biggest leaps in reading, writing, and processing language, not through repetition and memorization, but by mastering physical (sensorimotor) skills related to the integration of perception and action.
Over time, I developed a system, Educational Kinesiology: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence*, based on a simple principle: Create learning opportunities so that students can connect with the physical skills.
I helped learners discover how to integrate their movement patterns in terms of left-right, up-down, and back-to-front directions. I further found that by prioritizing these dimensions I could more readily create a teachable moment for engaging skills of centralization, spatial awareness, holding a tool (like a pencil) effectively, and so on.
Gail and I in 1986, during our early days of co-teaching.
I asked my friend and colleague, Gail Hargrove (later to become my wife), to help me organize my processes into a course manual. We soon found that it was our great joy to teach the work together. In the early 1980s, Gail and I began teaching throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. We often stayed over for a few days in one location to give private consultations.
We would end each session by showing a few self-help activities from our repertoire that would take just minutes to do and serve as reminders of the goal, drawing stick-figure illustrations.
We chose movements that re-enforced any skills of balance, coordination, eye-teaming, and centralization learned in the session. We found that repeating these each day helped students to anchor new habits of movement, learning, playfulness, and self-calming.
Danny Discovers Reading
Our little “homeplay” book – Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning
One afternoon in the spring of 1986 we had the good fortune to work with a woman, her husband, and son Danny*. Danny’s mother expressed her goal for him to improve his reading. When asked what he would like to learn to do more easily, seven-year-old Danny said that he wanted to be able to catch a ball better (he had been diagnosed with a mild cerebral palsy, and his movements were somewhat restricted).
While we were doing the Edu-K in Depth menu with him, Danny improved his hand-eye coordination with his right, previously shortened and “useless,” arm, which through muscle-relaxing activities now extended to the same length as his left.
Along with his mom, we joked around with him as we played catch with a crumpled paper “ball” and asked Danny to write his name and draw a picture. By the end of the session, Danny’s eyes had come to life and he read fluently and with comprehension for the first time. His mother listened with tears streaming down her face. We laughed and chatted with Danny, confident in our good rapport, for we had become pals.
Then I mentioned “homework” and Danny promptly got up and left the room, not to return. It was at this moment that Gail and I, realizing that our movements deserved a more playful name, coined the term “homeplay.”
My thoughts continued in this vein. In the context of the educational system of the ’70s and ’80s that referred to learning challenges as “minimal brain dysfunction,” and perhaps anticipating the ’90s and “the decade of the brain,” and further, given my understanding of cognitive science and the relationship between learning and movement, the name “Brain Gym” came to me. Gail and I both immediately liked the name.
“Brain Gym” clearly speaks of what our work is all about: bringing together the thinking intelligence and the coordination of the body.
Gail took this photo of me in Brisbane on our first trip to Australia and New Zealand.
Gail and I envisioned putting our best activities into a small book that we could give away to students as “homeplay” after a private session, and began working on that project. Our booklet, Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning included 26 easy-to-do physical movements that enhance learning.
A few weeks later, we sent our paste-up version to the printer, just as we boarded a plane to teach our first courses in Australia and New Zealand. A draft of the booklet went with us, and as we shared it with students, we suddenly saw that these quick and simple activities could become as important as our in-depth work. Soon after, we reworked some of our course material into what is now Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life, which included the activities.
We didn’t then imagine that our “little orange book” would eventually be translated into 20-some languages, used in more than 80 countries, and, thirty years later, still be bringing play and ease to the learning process for people of all ages and abilities. Δ
*Educational Kinesiology in Depth: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence, uses a priority system to explore left-right, up-down, back-to-front directional movements, as well as motivation, breathing, self-regulation, and cranial movement (habits of teeth and jaw). For more about how Paul chose the Brain Gym activities, see Freedom in Learning: The Gifts of a Child-Centered Education.
Anna Mitchell, a licensed Brain Gym Instructor and course sponsor in Dubai, volunteering to help me demonstrate the partner version of the Calf Pump for ease of focus and attention.
The amazing Ski Dubai—a snowy indoor ski lift and slope within the Mall of the Emirates—one of the world’s largest shopping malls.
My photo of the tallest building in Dubai—the Burj Khalifa, which rises an imposing 2,717 feet to hold 209 floors.
Imagine a faraway, almost mythic place—an enormous global city with impressive skyscrapers and urban landscapes, unbelievably built in the middle of an arid desert. This growing, dynamic environment cries out for exploratory thinking and a belief in new possibilities. Now imagine a group of inspired adult students coming together to discover what it’s like to “move to learn”—to set new life goals and embody vital new ideas and habits through balance and play.
This was the context for two of my fall 2015 courses: A gathering of eager learners and leaders coming from across the Arabian Peninsula to the mysterious city of Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, situated on the southeast of the Persian Gulf coast.
Behind me, a small glimpse of the Dubai Mall Aquarium, one of the largest tanks in the world.
At the Dubai Mall—like something I’d never seen before—a sculpture of divers as part of a waterfall.
The Dennison Approach to Whole-Brain Learning was attended primarily by parents and educators, including some participants who were new to Brain Gym*. We enjoyed moving, playing, and balancing* together as students learned the 26 Brain Gym activities and experienced how each supports centralization of eyes, hands, and body on the midfield for such varied tasks as sitting, standing, walking, and academic work.
A student and I enjoyed the benefits of the partner Calf Pump.
Here, we positioned ourselves to anchor one another in the partner version of the Grounder.
Drawing on my studies in child growth and development, as well as my clinical experience, I demonstrated how each Brain Gym activity supports specific physical skills basic to ease of functional learning.
Participants then experienced for themselves how crossing the lateral midline connects the body’s left and right sides for the mechanics of communication, such as reading, listening, and writing. We next explored the relationship between up and down movements and our ability to be organized and grounded, and to manage stress. Lastly, we crossed the focus midline, moving both forward and back, to experience how our focal and ambient awareness can impact our ability to plan ahead for ease of comprehension.
Participants were delighted to discover processes that they could immediately implement for themselves, as well as with youngsters and oldsters at home and at their schools.
We did the Elephant to relax neck and shoulders, and connect with our depth perception.
We enjoyed the rhythm and flowing motion of the Alphabet 8s activity. This kinesthetic, whole-body experience of the alpha and beta letters as more alike than different also highlights letter distinctions.
Students noticed differences in their reading fluency before and after doing each balance.
Course photo for Dennison Whole-Brain Learning; I’m in the back row center; Anna is far right.
After a day off and more touring, we continued with Total Core Repatterning**a post-graduate Edu-K In Depth course focusing on integration of early motor skills. The group was made up of advanced students—some chiropractors, physical therapists, Touch for Health instructors, and numerous Brain Gym instructors who were already familiar with the educational model of creating a “big picture” context through which to draw out new learning. As a group, we identified some basic one-sided habits of movement (such as reading, writing, texting) and noticed how these interfered with eye-teaming, as well as how they diminished our work skills and structural alignment in general. We then integrated these through the repatterning process, experiencing the ease and facility possible when whole-body movement provides context and centralization for near-point activities.
During the three-days, students chose goals, partnered up, and facilitated the 5-step balance* process with one another. Our in-depth activities emphasized structural alignment. We saw the impact on centralization of the Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Tonic-Neck Reflexes, as well as TMJ misalignment. The students were delighted after each balance to experience improved postural integration, a new ease of movement, and the possibility to live into their goals with greater awareness.
What a joy to share the Edu-K work with such eager and hospitable people. There was a strong feeling of love in the room as we worked and shared together.
Our Total Core Repatterning workshop graduation photo—from our multicultural backgrounds we emerged as a cohesive community. Anna, front row center; me in the back row center.
**Total Core Repatterning is an in-depth movement process (based on the Dennison Laterality Repatterning process taught in Brain Gym 101), for integrating primitive reflexes that interfere with learning and mature motor control.
In our Brain Gym® work with early reading, we like to say that reading is the “hearing” of written-down language. Similarly, William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well (2015), points out that “Writing is thinking on paper.” Based on my 45 years as a reading specialist and movement educator, I agree, and would add that writing and reading go hand in hand. The more comfortable children are with writing (and thus with thinking and expressing themselves), the better readers and learners they’ll become.
Writing and storytelling develop thinking skills and guide children to a love of reading.
Early in my teaching experience, I realized that a big part of what makes us human is the desire to tell stories and otherwise express our experiences. Language is something not to take apart, but to put together—something by which we create connections with others.
This is why, in working with thousands of youngsters of varying abilities, I’ve never sat next to a child and listened to her decode symbols or sound out words as a reading process. For me, teaching children to passively analyze words and symbols rather than actively hear and think about the meanings they represent would be making the code more important than the language it signifies.
I first discovered this in the 1970s during my doctoral studies, when I was introduced to the work of Russell G. Stauffer, a professor of education at the University of Delaware. Stauffer cogently pointed out in his book The Language-Experience Approach to the Teaching of Reading: “Creative writing may be defined as a composition that reflects a child’s own choice of words, ideas, order, spelling, and punctuation.”
Children can learn to “think on paper” by illustrating and talking about their experiences, and by reading their own made-up stories that a grownup has written down for them, or that they write down for themselves.
For many years, at my learning centers, younger children would be busy making books—drawing pictures and then dictating autobiographical stories that I would write down for them. Sometimes they would listen, to books or to other descriptive literature and poetry, as I read aloud. The older children (eight and up) might be mastering cursive script while writing down, for themselves, their favorite words or their own imaginative stories.
As I studied with developmental optometrists, I began to understand my purpose as that of helping learners become comfortable enough in their physiology to seek out new challenges. So, before each lesson, or if a child felt stuck, we would do a fewBrain Gym activities* such as the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, and the Double Doodle to activate whole-body movement, centralized vision and eye-teaming, hand-eye coordination, and other physical skills.
Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., reading specialist and cocreator of Educational Kinesiology and the Brain Gym program
Day by day, I observed and facilitated. I saw that each of these children was actively exercising a flow of visual, auditory, tactile, and gross-motor as well as fine-motor abilities. As they wrote and read, they were learning to listen to their own thoughts and the thoughts of other writers—“hearing” the written-down language as they read it back, and so reading it with comprehension and expression. Each hour brought pleasurable challenges and ahas as they constructed ways to integrate these skills through practice and exploration.
Today, Brain Gym activities are used internationally and cross-culturally. One important use made of them is to teach those physical skills that invite a confluence of listening to the words of others, speaking one’s own thoughts, expressing oneself through pen on paper, and reading the written language of published authors as well as the writings of other students.
I Already Know How to Read: A Child’s View of Literacy, Prisca Martens, 1996, Heinemann. This valuable little book offers Marten’s insights as a professor of language education on her three-year observation of her daughter Sarah’s self-initiated exploration of reading and writing from ages two through five. This view can help us recognize the ways children (in our modern world, surrounded by written media) are naturally literate, and how they will “invent” writing and reading on their own, when given the opportunity. Informative reading and writing samples present Sarah as a natural inquirer who actively constructs symbols.
Confluence, the theme for the 2015 International Kinesiology Conference to be held in beautiful Banff, Canada, literally means to flow together. We send our hearty congratulations on the many and diverse streams of Specialized Kinesiology that will be meeting and joining together there, September 23 – 27, to celebrate mutual cooperation, body wisdom, and wellness through movement! We offer our deep appreciation to the CANASK network, Educational Kinesiology Foundation staff members, and to all who will be contributing to make this year’s conference an outstanding event.
We’re excited that you’ll be experiencing keynote presenter Dr. William Tiller, as he speaks on “The Power of Human Intention.” Dr. Tiller is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Material Science and Engineering at Stanford University and the author of ground-breaking books on psychoenergetic science.*
The program will include presentations from many wonderful leaders in the world of kinesiology, including numerous Educational Kinesiology Faculty Members (click here for names and topics).
We’re sending our wishes to participants that all will find hearty ways to celebrate throughout the five days of conference events and additional pre- and post-conference workshops. Like the rivers and hot springs that come together in Banff, may the diversity of offerings there flow seamlessly together to create a confluence of health and healing!
To update you on our own focus this year: Paul taught here in Ventura, California, as well as in Australia, Indonesia, Montreal, Brazil, and will travel (this fall) to Japan and Dubai. Meanwhile, Gail continues working on blogs and the latest book project.
As we continue to develop a Brain Gym® and Educational Kinesiology presence in the social media (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), we appreciate these avenues as a grassroots opportunity to update parents and educators with the latest research on movement, play, and learning, as well as a way to connect with so many of you. Thank you for your support!
In today’s technologically driven world that requires both near-point focus and passive sitting, the Edu-K work is becoming more important than ever—not only for schoolchildren but for people of all ages. Research daily calls each of us to action by way of bringing increased movement, play, and structural alignment to our everyday activities, and especially in the learning environment. Where Edu-K once pioneered the field of movement-based learning, there are now many “move to learn” programs. The 26 Brain Gym activities, the Brain Gym 101 course, Seven Dimensions of Intelligence, and our other fine courses remain unrivaled in scope, simplicity, and a regard for the learner through self-actualizing activities. Research in neuroscience continues to catch up with our commonsense recognition of the interrelationship of the human body and optimal brain function.
Please acquaint yourselves with our learning resource site, Hearts at Play: Move, Learn, Bloom, that offers blogposts and videos to answer many of the how, what, and why questions about the Edu-K work that you’ve asked us throughout the years. We trust you’ll find this site useful in creating immediate interest in your courses and private sessions. May your lives be touched by the “confluence” of moving to fulfill your personal and professional goals, and may we all keep moving with joy!
Love to all,
Paul and Gail
*Dr. Tiller is the author of Science and Human Transformation: Subtle Energies, Intentionality and Consciousness, Conscious Acts of Creation: The Emergence of a New Physics, Some Science Adventures with Real Magic and Psychoenergetic Science: A Second Copernican-Scale Revolution, as well as more than 150 published papers. Continuing his psychoenergetics research, he currently directs the William A Tiller Institute for Psychoenergetic Science in Arizona.