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

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.

 

 

Let’s Make it Harder!! Playing and Learning in the Flow

A trampoline makes a fun jumping spot.

A trampoline makes a fun jumping spot.

The brain loves the challenge of a new adventure. However, making a healthy effort that calls for moving and thinking in new ways is quite different from the strain of trying—of working beyond our means and ability. I recently had a good reminder of this when my grandchildren were here for a family visit.

As often happens, the 5- and 10-year old soon got busy building an ever-more elaborate obstacle course. End-to-end, they laid out cushions, large stones, yoga blocks, half-domes (we like to use them with the tipsy side up), a Wiggle Seat (Balance Cushion)—all things that work well for such purposes. The children quickly created an intriguing pathway across the rumpus room and back. The two of them clambered along the uneven trail, as I followed along. “Let’s do it again,” they’d say, and so we did. Soon, though, they began chiming: “Grandma, how can we make it harder?!!”

The Brain Gym® activity cards

The Brain Gym® activity cards

A smooth rock makes a welcome stepping stone.

A smooth rock makes a welcome stepping stone.

Little by little, we shifted the path to make way for an imagined story behind our journey—small “hills” and hurdles for crawling over (a toy chest,  footstool, and trampoline), and a “river” (a pool noodle) to cross. Over the course of the afternoon, with the wish to make it harder still, we added stations: a place for throwing sock snowballs at snowmen* faces that we had crafted, and a spot for pulling a Brain Gym® activity card** and doing the pictured activity as part of our play. As we became more sure-footed, we also improved our balance, strength, agility, and more. I enjoyed seeing the children creatively challenge their motor skills, while connecting through movement and play.

We rolled socks into snowballs and drew snowmen faces and hats on paper cups.

We rolled socks into snowballs and drew snowmen faces and hats on paper cups.

In the Edu-K Learning Flow, Paul and I identify two phases of learning that ideally work together, like the two sides of a Lazy 8, in a continual interplay. We call these the “Getting it!” and “Got it…” phases of the learning state. In the Getting it phase, learners identify the patterns of an experience (such as the shape, weight, texture of items in our obstacle course) that give rise to new habits of function (in this case, how to find our balance with each item as we walked and moved). Through language and picture symbols, learners code the experience sequentially, breaking it down into steps and planning ways to do it again. All of this phase takes turns moment by moment with the satisfying Got it! of practice and repetition that provides a learned, safe context of familiarity, connectedness, and big picture synthesis. The interplay of these two phases evokes skilled learning that feels anchored to the safe and familiar while inviting new explorations. Our grandchildren were living out these phases through their requests of “Let’s do it again” and then, “Let’s make it harder,” as the cycle repeated itself during our play.

Many people, when they consider what it means to learn, think only of the Getting it aspect of analysis and one-step-at-a time information processing. This stage of “breaking things apart” has its place in the learning flow, yet observation of how toddlers and young children naturally learn through whole-body movement and big-picture play reminds us that it’s teaching to the Got it! stage of movement, association, and whole-to-parts thinking, that keeps learners in an exploratory mode. They then, automatically–on their own–enter the Getting it phase that makes new learning quick, stress-free, and immediately familiar, repeatable by its coding through language and motor planning.

In the early 1980s, we began helping learners to notice when they fall out of the learning state into a “stuck” or stressed experience, such as feeling upset, bored, scared, tense­­—wanting to quit, or not being able to stop (or sometimes even to get started!), and how to get back to the continuum of Got it! and Getting it that anchors learning to movement and the senses. Although one might learn some bits of information in the stuck, unintegrated states, the high level of stress ensures that not much real learning can happen here. The brain needs access to memory, association, and the senses in order to code new information and make it applicable, for now and for later, through movement.

We invented "hills" and other imaginary elements to make the path more challenging.

We invented “hills” and other imaginary elements to make the path more challenging.

It’s the integration of the Getting it and Got it! phases­­ that provide the Aha! of discovery—the thrill and joy of learning­­ that is exhilarating and euphoric. Learners soon get bored if they stay in the Got it! phase too long, repeating the same experience without novelty (as quickly happened with our obstacle course). Similarly, when learners keep cycling through the Getting it phase and are unable to apply what they imagine and create by achieving the physical mastery of Got it!, they become stressed and anxious. It’s during the Getting it phase that the brain sustains attention by seeking out the details and nuances that deepen, expand, and internalize the learning by making it ever more challenging. While many school programs anchor learning to the Getting it state of analysis and expect children to learn by coding and remembering information alone, the learning cycle is only really complete when thought becomes action through the Got it! phase. 

When we learn through movement, our physical patterns provide the Got its! of the familiar and known information—the procedural knowledge and motor skills that we must build upon for new applications. The declarative knowledge of Getting it!—the pausing to think, step-by-step to figure it all out or to add new information—then occurs within the context of movement and exploration. For active learners, this weaving together of Got it! and Getting it . . . occurs almost simultaneously in a continuum of growth, imagination, and creativity.

 

*Click here for instructions on how to make the Snowman Slam game, from writer Crystal Underwood of Growing a Jeweled Rose.

**The Brain Gym activity cards: For our obstacle course, we used only the cards for the Cross Crawl, the Thinking Cap, and the Energy Yawn—three of the simplest activities. We also sometimes use cards from the Vision Gym®.

Note: Additional stations that we sometimes use include: a place from which to aim and throw soft small balls into a basket, and a spot from which to, with our toes, pick up scarves or ribbons and drop them into a container.

The Brain Gym® activities are from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, ©2010; for more about the Learning Flow, see pages 18-19.

For more about this view of the brain and its functions, see Dr. Ian McGilchrist’s book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (2010); or this RSAnimate review.  See also Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Basic Books (2008). We credit the work of pioneering educator Maria Montessori for first pointing us toward this understanding of the self-initiating learner.

© 2013 by Gail 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.

Movement Grows the Brain

Hey, kids! Here’s a picture for you to take a look at.

dreamstime_m_18894695

Do you know what this picture represents? Yes, it’s the brain—a very important part of the body.

What does the brain do? By itself, not much. You could say it’s a kind of memory-building machine that helps you learn from your experiences.

The brain functions together with the spinal cord (inside your backbone) so you can play and explore the world. Your brain helps you think, and also tells your muscles (via motor neurons) to move however you are able, so you can dance, kick a ball, hold a pencil, or balance on one foot. It builds new memories by helping you remember things you do and create language to code that experience.

Did you know that your brain is always changing? It is constantly sending and receiving messages from your senses and muscles. Every time you see, hear, touch,…move in a new way, you actually grow your brain. Every time you solve a new problem and do something different, you’re expanding your brain.

Do you remember ever learning a new song, like “Row, row, row your boat”? What happened the next time you heard “Row, row . . .”?  Yes, you started humming the tune or singing the words, because it was there in your brain from when you first heard it. This is how the brain grows. It grows memories. One memory builds on another, and memories are connected—by sight, sound, touch, and movement.

When you learn an important new skill, like reading or writing, you use memory pathways that connect different parts of your brain. These pathways are called neural networks, or nerve networks. Like the freeways your parents drive on, these memory connections get more and more familiar and comfortable the more you use them.  Every time you move, your muscles create a flow of nutrients—of oxygen and glucose—that feeds every part of your body. Every time you draw a picture, tell a story about something you did, or read someone else’s story, you connect what you’re doing now with things that you did before—your past experiences.

As a teacher, I developed “Brain Gym”—26 simple activities—to give my students fun ways to see, hear, touch, and move that would enhance their learning. Your brain has pathways to your whole body; when you use your body, you’re using and growing your brain. Do you want to grow your brain right now? Let’s stand on one foot. Are you wobbly? Can you stand on one foot and count to five? Can you do it and count to ten? What about the other foot?

Paul does the Thinking Cap

Paul does the Thinking Cap

Now let’s do the Thinking Cap from the Brain Gym activities. Gently pull back on your ears and slowly unroll them, three times, from top to bottom. Now stand on one foot again. Are you less wobbly this time? Can you stand on one foot and count to a higher number? What about the other foot? Did you feel a difference, even a small one? If not yet, experiment with slowly doing another Brain Gym activity, such as the Cross Crawl, then check your balance again.

You just grew your brain for the skill of balancing, and you can use movement to help grow your brain for other skills too. Remember, learning is a process, and the best learning happens when we can match what we want to learn with how we want to move once we’ve learned it. Next week, or next month, you’ll probably remember even better how to hold your balance. And maybe by then you’ll be doing even more things with your improved stability, like balancing better and better when you ride your bicycle!

 

Photo Credit: ID 18894695 ©  | Dreamstime.com

The Thinking Cap is one of 26 Brain Gym® activities described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010.  An experiential, movement-based approach to learning, including the Edu-K balance process and the 26, are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life. 

© 2013; 2016 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.

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

A Celebration of Thanks Giving through the Decades

dreamstime_m_23150638Last year at Thanksgiving time, Gail and I entered a new phase of our lives. We’d enjoyed thirty years of traveling and teaching in the real, sensory world of direct contact with learners, helping them let go of the stress reflex that shows up so visibly in the body and discover what it’s like to learn with more pleasure and ease, with engaged senses. Then, last November, at our family’s encouragement, we did something we never thought we’d do: we jumped into the world of social media and began exploring movement-based learning in a virtual space! And now, one year later, we’re so grateful that the social media have come into our lives.

Yes, we’re still traveling, teaching, and writing books. And we’re also giving back now in a new way—connecting with parents and educators from a new and expanded vision of movement-based learning, through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and our new website, Hearts at Play: Move, Learn, Bloom. What a joy it is to join virtually with Brain Gym® Instructors and like-minded parents and educators from around the world! We so appreciate these new means of growing, staying in touch, offering videos and skills updates, summarizing related research, and providing new thinking about how to cultivate innate intelligence and the pleasure of learning through the Edu-K, Brain Gym®, and Vision Gym® work.

In reflecting on my life during this time of giving thanks, I’m aware of so many people who have, through the years, reached out to me with generosity and support. I’m thinking back to the early 1970s, my USC studies, and the tribute I received for my dissertation on the relationship between thinking skills and beginning reading achievement; to the five developmental optometrists who mentored me, and with whom I shared office space at my nine Valley Remedial Group Learning Centers; and to the optometric in-service training I received that sparked my interest in learning through movement.

In 1979 I was blessed to study Touch for Health with Dr. John Thie and Gordon Stokes. Shortly after, I discovered Dennison Laterality Repatterning, the unique process that has benefitted so many people worldwide by drawing out innate intelligence through movement. As I envisioned a new way of teaching, my ideas on moving to learn continued constellating. During this time I offered my first Edu-K workshop for beginning reading to 15 private school teachers. Then, enthusiastic reception of my work by adults with learning disabilities prompted me to broaden my focus to include education of the adult population—work that, in time, has reached both adults and children of all ages and abilities. That year I studied natural vision improvement techniques with the late Janet Goodrich, who in turn studied with me and became a dear friend, wholeheartedly including a chapter on my work in her first book, Natural Vision Improvement.

In 1981 I published my first book: Switching On: The Holistic Answer to Dyslexia, and taught the first basic workshop in Educational Kinesiology (later to become the Brain Gym® 101 course). In July I presented Edu-K at the Touch for Health annual meeting, receiving warm encouragement for my work. Gail Hargrove was among the crowd giving me a standing ovation.

In 1982 my work was well received as I began teaching widely across the United States, while concurrently developing the Educational Kinesiology in Depth course. In each experiential workshop and private session, I saw adults and children alike make formidable breakthroughs in their goals, including improvements in reading, writing, math, whole-body movement, and pain relief. Parents and educators appreciated the specificity of the activities, the immediacy of results, and the knowhow to teach for transfer, along with the overall playful and celebratory nature of the courses.

Now, in this time of gratitude and thanks giving, Gail and I celebrate our 30-year creative partnership, which began just before Thanksgiving of 1983*. One year previously, on a September weekend, she and I happened to be the only Touch for Health instructors in attendance at a Live and Learn conference for local holistic health and bodywork practitioners. Our meeting and discovery of mutual interests initiated a deep friendship. That year, I had taught my first two Educational Kinesiology in Depth workshops, and Gail was a student in the second. In October of 1983 we two began a correspondence to create a language and body of literature that would make the Edu-K work more available to the general public. In December a friend in Germany, Wolfgang Gillessen, sponsored me in traveling to Berlin for the first of what has become more than 50 international lecture tours on five continents. That first Berlin class was attended by future International Faculty Members Alfred Schatz, Susanne Degendorfer, and Renate Wennekes.

Meanwhile, the readership of Switching On grew with its translation into Dutch in 1982, then into German, French, and Spanish. To my delight, this was followed in subsequent years by the further translations of what would become the Brain Gym® 101, Optimal Brain Organization (OBO), and Edu-K in Depth courses, the books Edu-K for Kids and Brain Gym®: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning,  and, in 1986, the Creative Vision manual and the Movement Dynamics handbook, and so on. During this time, the children at my nine Valley Remedial Group Learning Centers were being mainstreamed into regular classrooms. Periodic balances and the Brain Gym activities were sustaining their learning so that they no longer required tutoring. I began to gradually reduce the number of my learning centers.

And so it has gone through the years:

1984 – Gail and I were falling in love, and entering a time of rich creativity and abundant work. We began writing, traveling, and teaching Edu-K together. With Gail’s contributions, the In-Depth work emerged as a beautifully interwoven system for honoring the learner and drawing out new learning. Combining our knowledge of dance and kinesiology, we developed the Integrated Movements. In September we co-taught in Germany, Holland, and Norway. In November we published the first edition of Edu-K for Kids. And in 1984 I closed the last of my reading centers.

1985 – In January Gail and I were both invited to join the Touch for Health faculty, and we both accepted. In July we published the book Personalized Whole-Brain Integration. Gail added her favorite moves, along with innovations on the Double Doodle and Belly Breathing, to mine, as the movements now known as the Brain Gym activities began to take on a character all their own. Together we refined these simple activities and begin teaching them in a two-part course that would later become Brain Gym® 101 and OBO. In the fall, we two taught our newly developed Creative Vision course in Germany and the Netherlands. In this course we introduced some innovative vision work with great success, including the Dennison Cover Test for Crossing the Optic Chiasm (“the Cover Test”) and Gail’s Homolateral Reflex Balance. On the last day of December, my birthday, Gail and I joined our lives and families in marriage.

1986 – Early in the year, Gail began writing the Visioncircles Teacher’s Training manual for a course in perceptual development that included the Vision Gym® activities she had created. In March we took the Educational Kinesiology in Depth course to Australia and New Zealand and begin training faculty members Glenys Leadbeater and Barbara Ward there. In April we published the book Brain Gym®: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning. Envisioned as a “homeplay” manual, it soon became a bestseller beyond our wildest expectations. In June, researcher Ji Khalsa presented the first experimental study on Edu-K: The Effect of Educational Kinesiology on the Static Balance of Learning-Disabled Students, with statistically significant results for the intervention of the Brain Gym activities. This quantitative research would be followed through the years by more than a hundred pilot studies and anecdotal reports.**

In July of that year, Patti Steurer and Colleen Carroll-Gardner of the United States joined us as Edu-K in Depth Faculty Members, while Barry Summerfield, Gillian Johnson, and Tania McGregor of Australia and Coby Schasfoort of Holland became overseas Edu-K in Depth faculty members. In August a group of creative educators joined us in establishing the Edu-Kinesthetics Advisory Committee to disseminate research, provide networking, and support professional growth. In November Gail and I taught the first Visioncircles workshop, with activities offered in an Action Balance format, in San Francisco. Gail and I also taught a basic Edu-K course in Pasadena, and I had the inspiration to teach a laterality balance and a three-dimension balance, which Patti and Colleen would later name the Wonder Balance and the X-Span Balance. In this year Patti and Colleen, along with George Gardner and Gabrell Carroll, begin working closely with us to follow the Visioncircles template and distill the basic Brain Gym material into easy-to-learn Action Balances.

1987 – To this day, I’m grateful that others recognized the value of my action research, and encouraged me. In January we established the nonprofit Educational Kinesiology Foundation (now Brain Gym® International), a 501(c)(3) public-benefit corporation. In April course co-developer (with Colleen Carroll-Gardner) Patti Steurer and new Faculty Member George Gardner taught the first version of a Brain Gym Teacher Practicum. In June the first edition of Brain Gym Magazine was published, with Gail Dennison as its editor. In July the first annual Educational Kinesiology Gathering was held at California’s Murrieta Hot Springs, with more than a hundred people from around the world in our opening circle.

1980 to 2013 – Through the decades, we’ve continued to be blessed to work together with many remarkable people who have shared our vision of a world where learners are free to move and discover sensory integration and self-initiated learning. I want to name some of these visionary educators: The late Dorothy H. L. Carroll, Azasha Lindsey, Marilyn Lugaro, Rose Harrow, Don Wetsel to cite just a few of the early pioneers, freely gave of their time and imagination to help build a community, to set up the Brain Gym® trademark and balance together for the qualities it would represent, to envision how the work might be carried forward,  and to support me in opening the work to the world in more than 80 countries and forty-some languages. Our work was furthered by the the insight of biologist Carla Hannaford, author of Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head and several other books on learning and movement, who has been a long-time advocate, and taught us the physiology of Edu-K. Behind the scenes, John Hargrove is our art director and the graphic designer of our beautiful charts and posters. We thank him for designing our new Hearts at Play website and making it user-friendly. And for more than 20 years our editor, Sonia Nordenson, has helped polish and clarify our writings.

Now, in 2013 at this annual time of Thanksgiving, Gail and I give thanks for our partnership, the gift of this wonderful and eclectic work, and our many blessings. Most important, we’re thankful for the opportunity to use the balance process daily in our own lives, and with our grown children and our grandchildren. During this season of rest, restoration, and community, we join together with our dear friends, family members, and associates to remember, honor, and appreciate each other, and to commemorate the challenges and difficult times as well as the rewards and bountiful harvest of so many of our dreams and efforts.

The Edu-K work of movement-based learning has continued to be my mission for 40 years now, and has continually connected Gail and me with a higher purpose. What a life! We have joyfully held the vision, celebrating as people from a multiplicity of cultures have come together regularly in courses and at conferences to play and balance, sharing their enthusiasm for learning through movement. Gail and I are grateful for the hundreds of service projects that instructors have offered in their own communities through the years, projects that have touched the lives of so many—from Croatia to Ecuador, from Indonesia to Poland, from Russia to S. Africa, and also for the gift of time that we two regularly offer as volunteers, so that others who follow us may benefit from the joy possible through movement-based learning.

We invite each of you to join with us in a space of promise and gratitude. Let’s keep expressing our love, kindness, understanding, compassion, and playfulness—our authentic selves—through the gates of thanks giving.

Gail and I send a big thank-you to each one of you for your valuing and participation. We wish you an amazing Thanksgiving Day, full of love, laughter, and gratitude for all that is and can be.

 

*For more about the story of how Paul and Gail met, click here.

**These statistical and anecdotal studies were compiled primarily by educators—independently, voluntarily, and without benefit of grants. Few of these were peer-reviewed. The intent of making them available was to evoke interest from researchers to do more scientific studies. (To date, there is little research on the relationship between specific motor skills and/or alignment, and sensory ease for academic learning.) Click here to download the Brain Gym®  Studies Packet; scroll down the FAQs on this page to read about additional, more recent studies; click here to see further newsletter reports.

ID 23150638 ©  | Dreamstime.com, used with permission.

An experiential, movement-based approach to learning, including the Edu-K balance process and the 26 Brain Gym® activities, are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life. 

© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.

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

Life Begins with a Joy of Learning

dreamstime_m_31251723For newborns, life begins with a joy of learning. Parents can see that, for the infant, everything is new and absorbing. Fresh discoveries are made moment by moment. Although a newborn’s brain weighs only about 25 percent of its eventual adult weight, by age three it will have produced billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of synapse connections between these cells. 

Never is the learning curve so steep as it is in the first seven years of life. During these formative years, a child will follow an innate impulse to move their whole body, to creep or crawl, to walk, to skip, to speak a language, to relate to others, to communicate feelings and needs, and to explore and interact with his environment using his eyes, ears, and hands in a total focus of his absorbent mind. His ability to make choices and to move autonomously in relationship to the pull of gravity happens concurrently.

What is learning, then, and how do children actually learn best? Is there any research to show that children learn effectively sitting in a chair at a desk and reading textbooks, or answering test questions, focusing on information, without any apparent personal motivation beyond that of a grade?

The word education comes from the root word “educere,” meaning to lead or draw out. This is not about memorizing or “stamping in” disconnected information. The Brain Gym® approach to learning is through the joy of play and movement activities. The intent is to stabilize the physical skills of learning so that the mental skills can proceed as part of discovering how to think and solve problems within a context of inquiry, practice, and application. It’s the exploratory practice and application that makes learning real and transferable to ever-new learning situations. Such self-initiated learning questions the traditional classroom or homework approach as being inconsistent with modern neuroscience. It turns out that intelligence is not a fixed IQ score; nor is it planted firmly in the brain from birth. Rather, it forms and develops through the entire lifetime.

The fascinating science of neuroplasticity, intensively researched for two decades, shows that natural, self-motivated learning literally grows the brain. According to author, neurologist, and educator Judy Willis, neuroplasticity is best understood as the selective organization of neuronal connections. This means that when people physically practice an activity or access a memory, their neural networks—groups of neurons that fire together, creating electrochemical pathways—shape themselves according to that activity or memory. These brain pathways are like a system of freeways connecting various cities: the more “automobiles” traveling to a certain destination, the wider the “road” that carries them.

Neuroscientists have been chorusing “Cells that fire together, wire together” since the late 1990s, meaning that if you perform a task or recall some information that causes different neurons to fire in concert, it strengthens the connections between those cells. Over time, the connections become strong, hardy systems that link various parts of the brain, and stimulating one neuron in the sequence is likely to trigger the next one to fire. Thus, says Judy Willis, “When you help your child grow in skills, strategies, and higher levels of thinking, he becomes increasingly engaged in learning, in and out of school. . . . Positive expectancy changes brain neurochemistry, which increases your child’s brain growth and development.*

In advancing the Brain Gym model, I drew from the work of respected educators who had studied the growth of the natural learner for many years. Those pioneers in the field of education, including Marie Montessori, John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, John Holt, and William Glasser, all understood that the child is the curriculum, and is always more important than any subject matter to be memorized. This is especially so now, when any inquisitive child who wishes to pursue her own self-initiated inquiry can find such information on the Internet.

When young children go to school, they most often take with them their initial passion for learning. Those who have had rich experiences of whole-body movement and hand-eye exploration have an advantage over those that are less prepared to sit still and think. For children who are ready, the new knowledge and experiences that might await them there can feel like a thrilling prospect. Most youngsters want to learn and do their best in school. Some successfully maintain their enthusiasm for learning through the school years and even through life. Such students tend to become leaders who radiate their love of life.

Unfortunately, through tests, report cards, and comparisons to others, all too many lose that joy of learning, living in a constant state of fight or flight that affects not only muscular tension but also sensory abilities. They might struggle with the physical skills of sitting, eye-teaming to read, or relaxing the hand to write, and might not get the coaching they need from their parents or teachers. For various such reasons, discouragement sets in. “I hate school” becomes associated with the learning process. In a world of abundant opportunity, far too many children give up on themselves and hold back from taking the risk to do their best.

Once the stress reflex has limited a child’s natural joy of learning through movement and play, how can adults help to restore it? As parents and teachers, we need to notice the signs that children are becoming stressed or discouraged and be there for them, supporting them to restore curiosity and engagement as they move, play, stumble, get up again, and reach for the novel and stimulating experiences upon which they can build their learning. We can guide them to cultivate sensory modalities, rather than override them by excessing sitting or near-point focus. As the adults in their world, we must model for them our own love of movement and learning and the risk-taking that expands our own horizons. Are we increasing our capabilities? Are we growing ourselves and our own brains? Are we excited about life? Or have we allowed ourselves to keep repeating the same movement patterns, thoughts, and negative attitudes—just to survive? If we’re simply surviving, we might actually be moving backward rather than forward. Life is a process of growth and discovery, not maintenance of the status quo.

I envision a learning environment connected with the senses, nature, and the community, where pleasure, critical thinking, high self-esteem, and lifelong learning are honored as capabilities of each and every child.  A child-centered education draws out and builds upon prior experience and knowledge. I believe that children are better at constructing their own knowledge than we will ever be at knowing how to break what they need down into subjects and sequences and lessons that they must tediously work through in order to emerge at the end educated. For this reason, play and the freedom to move and explore are paramount.

 

*Willis, Judy. How Your Child Learns Best: Brain Friendly Strategies You Can Use to Ignite Your Child’s Learning and Increase School Success, © 2008, Sourcebook, Inc., p. 275.

Photo ID 31251723 ©  | Dreamstime.com, used with permission.

© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.

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

 

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