(1 minute read)
If you walk into a typical schoolroom anywhere today, you might think Something seems to be missing here. Is there something wrong with the children? By my understanding of the learning process, the children are just fine. There’s been absolutely nothing wrong with them—nothing that needs fixing. What’s missing, though, is so obvious that it has become widely invisible. What’s missing is movement.
For more than 40 years, as an educator with a doctorate in curriculum and instruction and as the developer of the Brain Gym learning program, I’ve been using movement to teach reading and the language arts. I daily see challenged learners spontaneously becoming capable learners, and how this happens is no mystery. Children naturally learn through movement, play, and peer interaction. My students of all ages learn without effort when I help them discover movement as the missing link in their experience.
In the 1960s, while in graduate school, I read many research studies on movement and learning that did not show positive correlations. Yet I saw the common sense of letting children move. I was exploring new territory, and I saw for myself how students at my learning centers often showed immediate and surprising improvements in focus and attention with a small intervention of eye- hand/or body movements.
In the last two years, I’ve read dozens of important new research studies* correlating movement with attention and cognition, as well as with well-being. Yet there is still little peer-reviewed research on coordinated movements like those infants do (rolling over, sitting up, creeping, crawling, . . .) and after which the Brain Gym activities** are modeled. It seems that a double-blind study might not be the most effectively ways to measure the many human variables involved in a program of rhythmic, coordinated movements.
All this can’t happen too soon in a world where the word education has come to mean analysis, test scores, and curricular objectives, losing its original meaning of drawing out. There are now so many criteria for identifying what’s wrong with a child that we too often forget the child himself. When we watch a child working from her own initiative, we can easily recognize the focused activity and movement that’s absent in so much of current educational practice.
Movement is life. Healthy children move***. And, in an environment that supports children’s active learning, the learning happens naturally and spontaneously. Sitting still in chairs for hours is simply unnatural. Our children do not have attention problems; they have a movement deficit.
I’m not talking about random or erratic movement, or about strength training or aerobic exercise. Infants and toddlers—without being “taught”—rapidly acquire skills of language and socialization while moving in highly coordinated ways. The question is: Why are they supposed to stop moving to learn? I see that individuals of any age can reclaim such natural coordination, along with a love and ease of learning, by doing simple movements, like the Brain Gym activities, that support stability, mobility, and sensorimotor skills. ∞
* Here are four very readable articles on this subject:
“‘Body Maps’ of Babies’ Brains Created” “Want to Improve Your Cognitive Abilities? Go Climb a Tree!” “Fidgeting May Benefit Children with ADHD” “New Study Takes a Stand on Too Much Sitting”
** There are more than 100 pilot studies and anecdotal reports (done independently, voluntarily, without benefit of grants), correlating the Brain Gym activities to a variety of both academic and non-academic skills. These can be found in the Educational Kinesiology Research Studies Packet and FAQs, as well as in several books written on the Brain Gym® work. To see our Hearts at Play research references, click here:
***As recently exemplified by the Let’s Move! program, in the Western world and on other continents as well, parents and teachers are now beginning to recognize the importance of movement to their children’s growth, wellness, and success. In fact, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition has updated the President’s Challenge Youth Fitness Test to reflect the latest science on kids’ health and promote active, healthy lifestyles rather than athletic performance and competition. The new Youth Fitness Program is a voluntary, school-based initiative that assesses students’ fitness-based health and helps them progress over time. has been primarily followed in terms of obesity rates, not attention or cognition.
© 2013, revised 2016 by Paul E. Dennison. All Rights Reserved.
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