Teaching in Dubai ~ Finding Balance in Wonderland

 

 

Paul Dennison and Anna Mitchell, Dubai course sponsor, demo the partner version of the Calf Pump.

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.

I was amazed to see Ski Dubai firsthand—a snowy indoor ski lift and slope within the Mall of the Emirates—one of the world's largest shopping malls.

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.

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.

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.

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 enjoy the benefits of the partner Calf Pump.

A student and I enjoyed the benefits of the partner Calf Pump.

I do the partner version of the Grounder along with a student.

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.

Doing the Elephant to relax the neck and shoulders and connect with our depth perception.

We did the Elephant to relax neck and shoulders, and connect with our depth perception.

Enjoying the rhythm and flow of the Alphabet 8s; learning to see the letters as more alike than different.

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 notice differences in their reading fluency before and after doing a balance.

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.

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.

Graduates of the Total Core Repatterning workshop.

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.

 

*Brain Gym courses are based on the balance process: Five Steps to Easy Learning. The Brain Gym activities are described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. 

**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.  

© 2016 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. 

You might also enjoy these articles by Paul Dennison:

Why I Chose Action Research Over the Ivory Tower
Learning Calls for Physical Skills: The Role of Movement-Based Teaching
In Celebration of Handwriting

 

 

Reading Is the “Hearing” of Written-Down Language

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.

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.

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 few Brain 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

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.

 

*The Brain Gym activities are described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. 

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolfe, © 2007, HarperCollins.

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.

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, © Iain McGilchrist, 2012, Yale University Press.

Photo Credits:
ID 55829126 © Dmitry Kalinovsky | Dreamstime.com
ID 61438275 © Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Dreamstime.com

© 2016 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. 

You might also enjoy:

In Celebration of Handwriting

A Message Across Time

Why I Love Teaching Double Doodle Play

Double Doodle Play Brings Emotional Harmony Following a Stroke

The Magic of Attention with DIY Fairies

Two flower fairies frolic among the play scarves with their fairy dog.

Two flower fairies frolic among the play scarves with their fairy dog.

“Each fairy breath of summer, as it blows with loveliness, inspires the blushing rose.”—Author unknown

I recently lifted the cover of my piano to find a row of pipe-cleaner fairies (some pictured here) resting on the high-note keys, with their “leaf wings” removed and carefully laid at their sides. I’m not sure what the story was, but the possibilities made me smile.

Optometrist G.N. Getman once said, “Vision is a learned skill of attention.” Since I have a passion for facilitating visual skills, I like to remind students that vision is primarily a habit, and that to shift our habits, we must choose to see something new out of the countless possibilities that call our attention every moment. Being outside is a wonderful way to rediscover our vision, as myriad points of light shimmer and dance over moving leaves and plants.
And another way is to imagine the fairy realm. Simply reimagining the landscape as one in which fairies move, dance, and glide from one thing to another, hovering or alighting, (as our eyes ideally do) gives us pause to see the microcosm of nature—to soft-focus our eyes and look anew at the rich and variegated world of shape, color, texture, form, and motion.

My two granddaughters (the youngest then 8) and I began making these wonderful fairies a few years back using fabric scraps and other things we keep in our craft box. Ever since, making and playing with these homemade friends has provided one way to deepen our imaginative play together as well as providing them with hours of creative pleasure on their own.

I find that when a child plays with such a calming and butterfly-like personage, especially one they’ve made themselves, they don’t need to be taught anything in particular about visual skills. They’ll naturally make hand motions that engage the eyes in tracking side-to-side, up-and-down, at diagonals, and near-to-far. They’ll relax their eyes as they centralize their play around the body’s midline (rather than off to the right or left, as they might do for reading or writing). I can see how, as they glide the fairies around, they engage their soft focus and the fluid, saccadic eye motion that helps balance modern demands of eye-pointing or overfocus common when reading or doing computer work. Not to mention that playing with the fairies invites that restorative inner world of self-motivated attention and exploration. Here are photos of our fairies and instructions for making:

Two rose petal flower fairies (with wings made of lamb's ear and camellia leaves).

Two rose petal flower fairies (with wings made of lamb’s ear and camellia leaves).

At right: A mother flower fairy cradles her infant (wrapped in a leaf) while a girl and boy fairy look on. The mother's sash, made of fabric scrap tied in the back, helps to hold the petals in place. For this photo, they are not wearing their wings.

At right: A mother flower fairy cradles her infant (wrapped in a leaf) while a girl and boy fairy look on. The mother’s sash, made of fabric scrap tied in the back, helps to hold the petals in place. For this photo, they are not wearing their wings.

Smaller fairies with (at left) ficus-leaf wings; (at right), succulent-leaves.

Smaller fairies with (at left) ficus-leaf wings; (at right), succulent-leaves.

A close-up of the mother and infant.

A close-up of the mother and infant.

Back view of mom's leaf head dress.

Back view of mom’s leaf head dress.

If you would like to make your own fairies, here’s how we did it:

Basic items for making a "bendy-stick" leaf fairy.

Basic items for making a “bendy-stick” leaf fairy.

The Simplest Version – Ages 7 and up

You’ll need:
– bendy sticks (also known as pipe cleaners)
– wooden beads for heads
– colored pencils (or non-smear pens) to draw the faces
– pairs of leaves (we used camellia, lamb’s ear, and a succulent, at right, or you can use fabric leaves* as in the photo below)
– glue (to secure the pipe cleaner at the top of the head)

How to do it (most likely, if you show the children a photo and give them materials, they’ll figure it out):
1. Fold a bendy stick to form a torso and legs and feet (fold the legs back on themselves for thickness); or omit the legs and coil another bendy stick around the body to make a skirt; fashion a top if you wish.
2. Use a second bendy stick to make the arms (also folded back); leave enough of the stick on which to place the wooden bead.
3. Leave a little bit sticking out as a neck, on which to place the bead head.
4. Draw a face on the wooden bead (we didn’t always like the faces, so some of these were turned to the back or new beads used so we could redraw).
5. Secure the head by bending a 1/8″ or so piece of the bendy stick across the top of the head (you may wish to glue this)
6. Coil a bendy stick to make hair20151220_153250(0)

Options for Those with More fine-Motor Skill
– fabric rose petals*
– yarn for hair (glue on, or leave more length at the top of the pipe cleaner and use it to fasten the hair; see photos above). Unravel the yarn to create waves or curls.
– string (we used green and brown) for tying the petals on to the skirt
– needle and thread (not shown) for hand-sewing the petals on if you’re so inclined
– long-nosed pliers (I love to show children, when they’re ready to adhere to safety tips, how to use this
wonderful tool. In this case, the long-nosed pliers can be used to cut the pipe cleaners if you want to make them shorter.)

 

Three flower fairies with their fairy dog (all sans wings at the moment).

Three flower fairies with their fairy dog (all sans wings at the moment).

If you make fairy dolls, I would love to hear how you and your children play with them.

*We bought the fabric petals and leaves, along with the wooden beads and pipe cleaners, at Michael’s Craft store: www.michaels.com/

For a translation of this article into Spanish or Catalan, click here.

Gail Dennison is the co-creator, with her husband and partner Paul Dennison, of the Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym® programs. She has also written the courses Visioncircles, Double Doodle Play, and their teacher training—courses that focus on natural vision improvement through movement and play. 

Brain Gym® is the registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International, Ventura, CA, www.braingym.org. To find a Brain Gym, Visioncircles, or Double Doodle Play Instructor in your area, click here .

Why I Chose Action Research Over the Ivory Tower

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D.

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D.

I recently taught a hundred parents, educators, and occupational therapists in Austria and Germany, and this month I’ll be teaching in Australia and Indonesia. Yet, when I started my career—as a public school teacher and certificated reading specialist in Los Angeles—I had no idea I’d ever teach abroad in a score of countries. As one who’d experienced many early learning challenges, I was aiming only toward a doctorate in education so that I could give support to struggling young learners.

Starting in 1968, I taught first- and third-grade classes at the Malabar Street School in East Los Angeles. There, I was privileged to be one of a select team of teachers doing daily in-service training as an assistant to Dr. Constance Amsden, a professor at Cal State Los Angeles, in her innovative three-year research program, “The Malabar Reading Project for Mexican-American Students.”

Joining the faculty at Malabar Street School was a pivotal experience for me. It was there that I first observed, while working with children, how true learning can always be identified by the satisfaction it brings. At Malabar, I saw the value of sensory learning. I also realized that the most effective teaching acknowledges learners where they are, and then fosters in them an intrinsic motivation to explore the new and unknown.

Later, drawing on my grounding in pedagogy from Cal State (thanks to my mentors there, Dr. Amsden and Dr. Roderick Langston) I arrived at the University of Southern California at the top of my class. My professor and doctoral advisor, Charles M. Brown, encouraged me, telling me: “Your understanding of the philosophy, psychology, and process of teaching is the best I’ve yet seen. Paul, you know more about reading and the reading process than anyone I have previously met. I love having you in my classes—love what you bring to the discussion.”

Under Dr. Brown’s guidance, I went on to complete my doctorate in education, and received an award for outstanding research on the relationship of covert (silent) speech, or auditory processing, to beginning reading achievement. Although auditory processing ability is important, my research suggested that other modalities were also essential for reading acquisition.

My advisors had recommended that I continue my research into early reading, and I at first considered doing so. Yet I soon saw that even important new research is rarely effectively applied in the classroom. I realized that I didn’t want to be stuck in an ivory tower, conducting studies whose findings might never be implemented. I wanted to make a more direct contribution to the lives of young learners.

A Big Aha!

In 1970 I opened a reading center in the San Fernando Valley, and, while completing my doctoral studies and continuing to teach at all grade levels, I met and worked with several developmental optometrists. I began reading the extensive research gathered by the Optometric Extension Program, and recognized how this clarified my own dissertation studies and findings. Thanks to my optometrist associates who used movement experiences in their vision-training work, I realized with a big aha! that it’s the lack of specific physical skills related to focal attention, rather than language development, that disrupts the early reading process. I saw that many learners are not able to move their eyes together into the left and right visual fields, or to move their eyes separately from the movement of the rest of the body. Movement is the missing link that prepares beginning readers to achieve.

Learners experience less stress and greater ease when they can work in the midfield, where the two visual fields overlap.

Learners experience less stress and greater ease when they can work in the visual midfield, where the left and right visual fields overlap.

As I applied my studies in the classroom, I continued to see, from observing the children, that learning to read requires many abilities—not any one alone. The best beginning readers were skilled not only in silent speech, but also in the visual, kinesthetic, and tactile modalities. To verify that the skills of reading can be readily acquired through a multidisciplinary approach, I initiated my own “action research” with students of all ages and social backgrounds.

In this endeavor, I used each five-step lesson plan (called a balance) to convey the learning as something specific, relevant, measurable, and transferable. The students learned to ready themselves for learning (an early version of what is now known as the PACE  process), and then noticed their baseline skills, determined for themselves the next appropriate steps in their learning process, experienced how movement provided them with more resources for accessing the learning, and enjoyed their immediate improvements.

The best advice I have for helping students to learn is to ask them what’s going on for them. For example, during that time I volunteered to tutor many youngsters—including eight-year-old Javier, who was in the ESL program at Malabar Street School and wasn’t yet learning to read. Everyone assumed that his reading delays were due to his lack of English language skills. Yet one day I asked him what was going on for him, and he answered that the words on the page were “jumping.” http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-boy-reading-book-image22692063

I used the new Edu-K work I was developing to give Javier a balance for using both eyes together as he crossed his visual midline, a skill necessary for reading with ease.  As he picked up his book a second time, only minutes later, he could point his eyes steadily at each word. He now read with fluency, and with an ease and comprehension that his mother and I hadn’t heard from him before.

Bilateral Learning

As a classroom educator, I soon learned that two hands are better than one, two eyes are better than one, and a whole body moving is more ready to learn than one sitting and staring. I call this whole-brain integration.

I support children (and adults) in experiencing how to “locate themselves” in space through proprioception. Spatial orientation is the ability to represent the location of objects with respect to oneself. I find that the inability to do so is evidenced by such signs as an avoidance of the body’s midline, where the left and right visual fields overlap. Imbalance also shows up as chronic difficulty in sitting in a chair, a twisting of the hips, an inclination to avoid using the non-dominant hand, a tilting of the head, and various reading and learning challenges.

Yes, youngsters can easily avoid the midline and still learn in a one-sided way. They can even get good grades that way, yet they’ll do so under needless strain. I see that, although not yet well recognized as such, the challenges that show up, now or later, in the form of stress or health problems often stem from an inability to maintain sensory integration during the learning process.

Students having difficulty in the classroom can develop their innate abilities by learning how to cross the midline and work in the midfield, using both left and right sides to process visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic experiences. I see daily how learners who reconnect this way with whole-body movement patterns discover a natural love of learning.

Realizing the importance of whole-body movement, I went on to develop Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning*, processes that have helped thousands to better coordinate whole-body movement with eye movement. I also used these processes to help integrate the asymmetrical and symmetrical tonic neck reflexes and other infant reflexes** that, when unintegrated, can otherwise pull us out of structural and focal alignment.

I believe that the visibility of my last thirty plus years of innovative work with learners worldwide has stimulated some good research*** supporting my move-to-learn premise as well as many other premises of my work, and that time will reveal the commonsense basis of Edu-K thinking.

Meanwhile, I see my consultation time as an opportunity to show each learner how to let go of fixed ideas he might have about his abilities and discover learning as an active process. I love being in the moment with students, helping them move, learn to play, and learn to learn.

As I reflect on my life thus far, I can say that I’ve never regretted not choosing a career of research design but following one of active, experiential teaching in which I’m privileged to make a difference in the lives of so many individuals.  Δ

 

*The intention behind the Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning processes is to make habits of movement easier and more efficient, and so to free thought for choice, expression, and creativity. These simple processes are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life.

**The Edu-K work also addresses asymmetrical and symmetrical tonic neck reflexes in the Total Core Repatterning course.

*** See Research Nuggets. See also this landmark study on invented spelling by Ouellette and Sénéchal, 2017.

Credit for Boy Reading A Book Photo: ©Wavebreakmediamicro | Dreamstime.com

© 2015 by Paul E. Dennison; updated 2017. All rights reserved.

Click here for a translation of this article into Chinese.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. Note: There are more than 100 action research studies, done independently (though not peer reviewed), on the effectiveness of various Brain Gym® activities. Click here to see years 1988 – 2000 in the Research Studies Packet, the balance are listed in the FAQs (same link) and Brain Gym Journal and Global Observer archives

School Readiness = Sitting Readiness!

Each of us can benefit from even small improvements in our ability to access positions of dynamic sitting. Although this article was written in response to a question about a four-year old, the markers described below, along with the Brain Gym activities, will be useful at any age.

Question from a Reader:
My grandson is four years old. He has been accepted into a public preschool program. One of the problems with this is that he would be on a school bus two or more hours per day, though the program is only two and a half hours long. The other option is to continue his private preschool classes three times a week. In determining which program is better for him, his mother is open to suggestions. At this point, he shows no problems except that it’s hard for him to focus, especially on things he’s not interested in, such as art.

My response:
 The Edu-K work is based on the concept that the more learners can integrate their basic sensorimotor skills for ease of whole-body balance and coordination, the freer will be the whole brain—especially the prefrontal cortex, the “Executive Brain”—that is needed for focusing on cognitive skills. Otherwise, as a child learns, he may always be keeping a partial focus on the challenge of how to sit, balance, walk, hold a pencil, or otherwise be comfortable as he moves. For a four-year-old, exploration of the three-dimensional world through play and movement is the best way for him to organize himself in his world—to discover how to relate happily to his surroundings with both mobility and stability while focusing his attention.

So how can your daughter best ensure that her son is actively engaging his sensorimotor skills as he begins school?

A child who is developmentally ready for tasks involving hand-eye coordination will be able to sit with ease and stability.

A child who is developmentally ready for tasks involving hand-eye coordination will be able to sit with ease and stability.

Our suggestion to her (or to any parent with similar concerns about their child of any age): Watch the child at play for 20 minutes and make note of how many times they change position. Then observe the child while he or she sits. Will they know how to stay comfortably upright on a long bus ride?

There’s a world of difference between active (dynamic) and passive sitting. So note how frequently a child’s seated movement comes into vertical alignment with gravity (active sitting); that is, his sacrum and occiput are in sync, allowing the spine to move freely without slouching. Sitting with knees level with hips (or slightly lower) protects the neck and spine. If a child’s chair doesn’t properly fit him, sitting on a rolled towel or wedge most often gives immediate access to good alignment, as indicated by the following markers:

  • He or she is sitting on their sacral platform (sitz bones), allowing for a natural lumbar curve.
  • The hips, torso, and head are stacked, with a vertical axis in gravity; he doesn’t tend to tilt his head or twist his torso to either the left or right.
  • The child’s head is balanced over his or her torso, rather than thrust forward or bent down (for each inch that the head tilts forward of the shoulders, the neck muscles must support about eight pounds of added weight).
  • The movements of his sacrum and occiput are generally in sync (a good connection between the sacral and occipital areas provides stability for development of the neck muscles, jaw and eyes, and overall head-turning ability).
  • He moves his spine freely, without collapsing into a C-shape curve.

Noticing of these markers can help a parent to recognize when a child is developmentally ready to sit for any length of time, as they’ll surely be required to do in a school classroom, or as would be necessary for a bus ride.

Parents might also consider how likely it is that the time on the bus will teach a child to become inactive, for the 2½ hours is time he or she might otherwise be using to do gross-motor play like running, jumping, or taking a walk with his family. Or the child might be doing fine-motor arts and crafts, or learning to socialize with friends—any of which can support sensorimotor coordination and even the initiative to move. How much will excessive sitting dampen down the child’s motivation and aliveness?

By the time your grandson is in kindergarten, he and his peers are likely to find themselves in a classroom hierarchy largely based on how well they pay attention, including how well they sit still. Yet it sounds like these are two things he isn’t quite ready to do. The stress of a two-hour bus ride is more likely to inhibit than support his connection to the motor skills that will help him prepare for classroom ease. There is probably little your grandson can gain in even a high-quality preschool classroom that will justify his sitting inactively in a school bus for more than two hours per day.

Regarding the Brain Gym activities, it will also be helpful to teach him (little by little) the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, a few Lengthening Activities**, and some Energy Exercises—especially the Energy Yawn, the Thinking Cap, Earth Buttons, and Space Buttons, as these can support his motor skills, centralization in the visual midfield, and general learning-readiness, and can help to release motor compensations. Knowing these activities, and the comfort they can bring, can also empower him to know what he needs to keep his eyes, ears, and whole body more active—either in the classroom or on a bus. To benefit a four-year-old, the Brain Gym activities will ideally be done to music and as a fun family activity.

Our preference is always to increase children’s playtime and to support movement patterns (playful Cross Crawling and many long walks) until a child’s freedom of focus becomes the leading energy. This can take minutes, days, or weeks.

Gail Dennison, co-author of the Brain Gym program and movement educator

This situation can also be a wonderful opportunity for you, as a grandmother, to share with your daughter what you know through your years of hands-on experience, as well as through the book and research links that I’ve included below. Although the decision is ultimately up to the boy’s mother, I believe we all hunger for a deeper connection with the wise elders in our lives. I have many times used Edu-K balancing to step into that role, and have found this to bring me great joy.

A Postscript
I received this thank-you note: “I think the article you wrote is wonderful. Just thought you’d like to know that my daughter and her husband have agreed to NOT send my grandson to the public school. My daughter appreciates your thoughts in the article, and it probably made an impact on their decision.” Δ

*For a detailed description of these and other Brain Gym activities, see Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, 2010, by Paul and Gail Dennison.

For a translation of this article into Spanish, click here: Preparados para la Escuela = ¡Preparados para sentarse!

Links to other books, research, and articles on sitting alignment that we reference:
Kathleen Porter’s Sad Dog, Happy Dog: How Poor Posture Affects Your Child’s Health and What You Can Do About It, searchable at http://tinyurl.com/n7wzrk3 #parents

“The Vestibular System Goes to School,” by Mary J. Kawar, MS, OT/L, PediaStaff: http://www.pediastaff.com/blog/the-vestibular-system-goes-to-school-362

Research study results, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, showing that children who did not spend time outdoors after school failed to reach the recommended amount of daily exercise. The same children also spent an additional 70 minutes per day in sedentary behavior, compared to children who reported spending most of their time outdoors after school. Peer-reviewed journal reference: Schafer, Lee, et al. 2014. “Outdoor Time Is Associated with Physical Activity, Sedentary Time, and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Youth,” The Journal of Pediatrics (early release)


“Kids Still Getting Too Much ‘Screen Time’”: CDC, HealthDay, US News and World Report.

“A Surprising Hazard of Sitting All Day” by Michelle Schoffro Cook, link here.

Photo Credit: ID 19548117 © Rimma Zaytseva | Dreamstime.com

© 2014, 2017 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym®  is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.

 

 

Reading Is a Miracle

Paul E. Dennison, Reading Specialist and Developer of Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym®

Paul E. Dennison, Reading Specialist and Developer of Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym®

In my 45 years as a reading teacher, I’ve never sat next to a child and listened to him decode symbols or sound out words. And that’s because, for me, this would be making the code more important than the language it represents.

At my learning centers, the children were always busy making books—telling stories that I wrote down for them that they then drew pictures for. Sometimes they would listen to these books, or to other descriptive literature and poetry, as I read aloud. Or they might be learning cursive handwriting while writing down their own life stories for themselves. These children were actively exercising their visual, auditory, motoric, and tactile skills, and constructing ways to integrate these into their own functioning.

A big part of what makes us human is our desire to tell stories and otherwise express ourselves. Language is something not to take apart, but to put together—something by which we create connections with our world. Through our planet’s long history, our ancestors drew pictures that later became an alphabet, in order to record, recall, and communicate their experiences. Reading is the miracle that resulted from these marks and symbols. Codes were created and agreed upon that could later be decoded by others in order to pass on the culture to the next generation. Every child who learns to read and write recreates this miracle.

Yet humankind has long assumed that reading capability is inherent to all children. We forget that reading isn’t a natural function to which we’re born, but one that must be learned. A child identified as having dyslexia, a perceived difficulty in learning to read, doesn’t have a medical problem—he has simply not yet experienced the relationship of language to his own drawings or marks on the paper. He hasn’t yet discovered how to invent his own reading and so create his own miracle.

Reading, the decoding and neural encoding of written alphabetic symbols for their meaning, is a human invention that reflects how the brain rearranges itself in order to process written speech. “Human beings were never born to read,” writes Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and child development expert, in her remarkable book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, who goes on to explain how reading evolved over millennia—from the decoding of cave drawings, to symbols that became an alphabetic code, to the complex sentence forms that we read today.

Wolf understands reading as we do in Edu-K—as the creation and mastery of a lexical symbolic code that represents experience for later recall or re-imagination. Reading, a totally man-made ability that has helped create the human brain of today, entails much more than focusing on linear input, one word or phoneme at a time. Wolf suggests that “the evolution of writing and the development of the reading brain give us a remarkable lens on ourselves as a species, as the creators of many oral and written language cultures and as individual learners with different and expanding forms of intelligence.”

The brain has no center or location for the function of reading as it has for seeing, listening, moving, and touching. The miracle of reading requires the interconnection of many separate and specific neural locations. Through an engaged exploration of symbols, each child teaches himself as his brain automatically makes these connections.

Not all children learn in the same way, and learning to read seems easier for some than for others—just as methods to teach reading work better with some learners than with others.

Xavier, age 8 and in the third grade, appears bright and curious, yet was not keeping up with his classmates at school. When his parents took him to be privately evaluated, he tested as being more than a year behind grade level in reading, writing, and spelling. On a referral, they brought Xavier to see me. Reading for me at my office from his school reading book, he pointed to one word at a time and sounded it out, pronouncing each syllable carefully as his classroom teacher had instructed him to do. When asked to recall and relate what he had read, he was able to remember only one or two isolated words.

An 8-year old boy discovers how drawing, writing, and moving to learn can help him read more easily.

An 8-year old boy discovers how drawing, writing, and moving to learn can help him read more easily.

During his session, Xavier chose from a wall poster the Brain Gym activities he wanted to do. Together we did the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, the Calf Pump, the Footflex, Arm Activation, and the Gravity Glider. In the process, his parents and I watched him shift from a passive posture to a more active way of carrying himself and speaking.

To help make reading more meaningful, I invited Xavier to make friends with 15 of his own favorite words. His parents and I shared his excitement as he thought of the words and I wrote them down for him on index cards: elephant, popcorn, airplane, zebra, and so on. Xavier agreed that every day he would trace the letters for each word with his fingers as he said the word aloud and thought about its meaning. By the time he said goodbye that day, he already recognized the words elephant and zebra by sight.

After two weeks of tracing his words and doing Brain Gym activities with his parents, Xavier returned to my office ready to read for me again. I could see by the way he sat and held his book that he was now experiencing a better sense of balance. He was now able to move his eyes to track horizontally across his visual midfield without excessive head movement. He was reading fluently, in the same way that he spoke, rather than focusing on separate phonemes, without effort and with enthusiasm and full comprehension—my definition of reading comprehension. We celebrated a miracle, as Xavier was now able to report back what he read in his own words. How, his parents wondered, did a few simple movements and activities help Xavier to read so much more effectively?

Because learning means adding the new to the old, the natural flow of learning to read begins with the recognition of what we already know. It requires simultaneously holding what is already familiar (stored as a verbal code) and relating new information, coming in, to that associated experience. Reading is first and foremost a flow of communicative language. Visual skills such as pointing the eyes to each word are, though important, incidental to the mental process of reading, and need to be so automatic and stress-free that the auditory-language processes can proceed without inhibition. Meaningful speech must always lead—never follow—the visual analysis of the code.

Effective reading of the code for meaning requires, just as it did for our forebears, the skillful integration of the auditory (say it), visual (see it), kinesthetic (write it), and tactile (feel it) areas of the brain, as well as the ability to interpret such received information as meaningful by relating the new to prior experiences.

When students like Xavier seem dyslexic, analyzing a linear progression of disconnected sounds one word or syllable at a time, and not yet able to immediately recognize those symbols within an expressive language context, they’re lost in the details of deciphering the code and are not even hearing the content. In my work with children diagnosed as dyslexic, I emphasize that reading (and, in fact, all of the language arts skills, including writing and spelling) be experienced on the visual midfield, where the left and right brain hemispheres can be accessed at the same time, for both immediate recognition of the new and the subsequent, almost simultaneous, neural breaking of the code to make it into familiar language.

The miracle of reading requires an instant recognition of new information in a meaningful context, followed by confirmation of the symbols or code, not the other way around as it’s usually taught. Thus the natural flow of learning requires a fresh perception within a context of previous experience. We learn the symbols so well that we hardly ever notice them.

As stated by psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist in his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, “the first apprehension of anything is by the right hemisphere while it remains new . . . soon taken over by the left hemisphere where it becomes familiar. Knowledge of the whole is . . . followed by knowledge of the parts.”

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolfe, © 2007, HarperCollins.

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.

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, © Iain McGilchrist, 2012, Yale University Press.

Editor’s note: Through his review of the literature of approaches to teaching reading, Paul is well versed in the work of Russell G. Stauffer: The Language-Experience Approach to the Teaching of Reading©1970 and Teaching Reading as a Thinking Process,©1969, Russell G. Stauffer.  

*In Edu-K we keep phonics separate from experiences with reading. For more about our whole language and move to read approach, see: 5 Minutes to Better Reading FluencyIndependent Reading: A Path to Self-Initiated LearningDiscovering the Reading Midfield

To read the Italian translation of this article, La Lettura è un Miracolo, click here.

© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.

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