Learning is about doing. Children become self-initiating learners when they connect or re-connect with the movement patterns that call them into action. As a reading teacher once indoctrinated in the idea that learning is a mental activity, I first wrestled with this paradoxical point of view in the early 1970s. I saw struggling learners at my reading centers make their biggest leaps in reading, writing, and processing language, not through repetition and memorization, but by mastering physical (sensorimotor) skills related to the integration of perception and action.
Over time, I developed a system, Educational Kinesiology: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence*, based on a simple principle: Create learning opportunities so that students can connect with the physical skills.
I helped learners discover how to integrate their movement patterns in terms of left-right, up-down, and back-to-front directions. I further found that by prioritizing these dimensions I could more readily create a teachable moment for engaging skills of centralization, spatial awareness, holding a tool (like a pencil) effectively, and so on.
I asked my friend and colleague, Gail Hargrove (later to become my wife), to help me organize my processes into a course manual. We soon found that it was our great joy to teach the work together. In the early 1980s, Gail and I began teaching throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. We often stayed over for a few days in one location to give private consultations.
We would end each session by showing a few self-help activities from our repertoire that would take just minutes to do and serve as reminders of the goal, drawing stick-figure illustrations.
We chose movements that re-enforced any skills of balance, coordination, eye-teaming, and centralization learned in the session. We found that repeating these each day helped students to anchor new habits of movement, learning, playfulness, and self-calming.
Danny Discovers Reading
One afternoon in the spring of 1986 we had the good fortune to work with a woman, her husband, and son Danny*. Danny’s mother expressed her goal for him to improve his reading. When asked what he would like to learn to do more easily, seven-year-old Danny said that he wanted to be able to catch a ball better (he had been diagnosed with a mild cerebral palsy, and his movements were somewhat restricted).
While we were doing the Edu-K in Depth menu with him, Danny improved his hand-eye coordination with his right, previously shortened and “useless,” arm, which through muscle-relaxing activities now extended to the same length as his left.
Along with his mom, we joked around with him as we played catch with a crumpled paper “ball” and asked Danny to write his name and draw a picture. By the end of the session, Danny’s eyes had come to life and he read fluently and with comprehension for the first time. His mother listened with tears streaming down her face. We laughed and chatted with Danny, confident in our good rapport, for we had become pals.
Then I mentioned “homework” and Danny promptly got up and left the room, not to return. It was at this moment that Gail and I, realizing that our movements deserved a more playful name, coined the term “homeplay.”
My thoughts continued in this vein. In the context of the educational system of the ’70s and ’80s that referred to learning challenges as “minimal brain dysfunction,” and perhaps anticipating the ’90s and “the decade of the brain,” and further, given my understanding of cognitive science and the relationship between learning and movement, the name “Brain Gym” came to me. Gail and I both immediately liked the name.
“Brain Gym” clearly speaks of what our work is all about: bringing together the thinking intelligence and the coordination of the body.
Gail and I envisioned putting our best activities into a small book that we could give away to students as “homeplay” after a private session, and began working on that project. Our booklet, Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning included 26 easy-to-do physical movements that enhance learning.
A few weeks later, we sent our paste-up version to the printer, just as we boarded a plane to teach our first courses in Australia and New Zealand. A draft of the booklet went with us, and as we shared it with students, we suddenly saw that these quick and simple activities could become as important as our in-depth work. Soon after, we reworked some of our course material into what is now Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life, which included the activities.
We didn’t then imagine that our “little orange book” would eventually be translated into 20-some languages, used in more than 80 countries, and, thirty years later, still be bringing play and ease to the learning process for people of all ages and abilities. ∞
*Educational Kinesiology in Depth: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence, uses a priority
system to explore left-right, up-down, back-to-front directional movements, as well as motivation, breathing, self-regulation, and cranial movement (habits of teeth and jaw).
**Danny is not his real name. This story is excerpted from Brain Gym and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, by Paul E. Dennison,©1986.
***The Brain Gym activities are described in depth, along with suggested applications, in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. Inspiration for the activities was drawn from many sources, including Developmental Optometry, dance, long distance running, child development, the postural work of F.M. Alexander, the Touch for Health process, and our own inventiveness. More and more, we realized the value of this collection of movements that so effectively facilitate learning, enhance the enjoyment of daily life, and help individuals attain more of their potential.
Photo Credits: Boy reading – ID 1158000 © Michal Bednarek | Dreamstime.com
© 2016 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.
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