Learning is defined as the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, practice, or study. Learning depends on the ability to not only take in new information, but to also successfully transfer it from one subject area (such as spelling) to another (such as reading), and even to completely new territory (perhaps story writing), an ability that depends on skills of movement. Yet only recently are educators coming to recognize movement as the learning vehicle that it is. Educational programs have overemphasized declarative knowledge, which focuses mainly on the taking in of information, as learning itself. Without procedural knowledge—learning that is movement based—students are unable to apply what they know to new situations.
Most often, any academic program at school has been separated from physical education. One essential task of skilled teaching is to join and create harmony between the mental and the physical—between declarative and procedural knowledge. Learners access declarative knowledge by use of words . . . by reading, thinking, and conversing. Yet it’s the procedural knowledge that gives us the physical maps to practice, experiment, and bring the new learning into our muscles and movement patterns.
In Edu-K, we emphasize the procedural and start with the physical. We use simple physical activities as the primary context for acquiring new experience, as well as the vehicle for transferring new learning. These are purposeful activities, most taking about 30 seconds to do; not simply exercises or random movements. Most can be done while sitting, or when standing by a desk. Once children learn the movements, they can use them on their own, as needed. For example, we might do the Thinking Cap from the Brain Gym® activities, unrolling the ears from top to bottom three times, to teach the auditory skill of making a spelling distinction. When both ears are open, the sound of the spoken word pen will be more distinct from the sound of pin. We might then use the Thinking Cap again to help learners transfer that skill of auditory discrimination to better enjoy the sounds of language when reading. Having both ears open allows for a greater sense of the lyrical flow of words, along with their meaning. Once again, we can scaffold this learning by having students listen to their thoughts while writing creatively. In other words, movement-based learning uses physical function as a way to bring learners’ attention to an experience of their senses as they engage in the learning process.
The educational theorist Jean Piaget described the learner’s cognitive structure as beginning with concrete operations, then moving to image-making, and finally to abstractions. In Edu-K, we find that the learner’s development of an internal map of the body gives the concrete experience essential to ease of function. This internal map includes feedback from proprioceptors, the “brain cells” in the muscles, an awareness of the relationship of joints to bone, an internal awareness of balance and directionality, and an ability to stand aside and notice or observe these functions. The learner is asking, in a pre-cognitive way: Where am I in space? Where is one thing in relation to another? The answer to these questions is given only through movement. The answers pave the way for explorations of What are these different elements of the world around me? And who am I in the world?
In A User’s Guide to the Brain, clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School John Ratey, M.D., informs his readers that “. . . the brain’s motor function affects so much more than just physical motion. It is crucial to all other brain functions—perception, attention, emotion—and so affects the highest cognitive processes of memory, thinking, and learning.”
Through movement, the learner discovers how to notice, cultivate, and enjoy his own sensorimotor patterns instead of overriding them, abstracting his experiential learning into image and words. He begins to initiate and integrate his own self-directed learning, developing skills of feedback, feed-forward, and self-control. Integration of procedural and declarative knowledge results in knowing how to learn.
**Ratey, John J. A User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain. New York: Vintage 2002, p.175.
***For more information about the Thinking Cap, as well as the other Brain Gym activities, see Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Paul and Gail Dennison, © 2010.
This movement-based, experiential approach to learning, as well as the 26 Brain Gym® activities, are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life, and other Edu-K courses.
© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.