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.

Reclaiming the Big Picture: How I Improved My Vision

Paul Dennison, reading specialist.

Paul Dennison, reading specialist.

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. —Hellen Keller

I received my first pair of glasses after repeating the fourth grade because I’d failed to learn how to read. The eye doctor told my mother and me that my nearsighted vision was hereditary, and that I could expect it to get worse every year. My mother, an artist with excellent vision, didn’t understand the prognosis, as no one in our family had ever worn glasses. She said she suspected that it might have something to do with my long-time struggle in learning to read.

After I got my glasses, I did finally learn to read. The stronger lenses helped me to point my eyes on words, one at a time, and to focus primarily at near point (what I now refer to in my work as overfocus). In order to read with my corrective lenses, I inadvertently tuned out my “big picture” distance and peripheral vision. Years later, to improve my eyesight, I would need to relearn these and other important visual and motor skills.

Wearing glasses to school wasn’t easy. Other children taunted me, calling me “Four Eyes,” and I daily dreamed of seeing without my glasses. In high school I bought The Bates Method for Better Eyesight without Glasses,©1940, by Dr. William Bates, which inspired hope and gave me a view of vision that was more oriented to relaxation and process. I did the suggested exercises as best I could, yet didn’t perceive any changes, as I still needed my glasses to see.

At age 12, Paul was unsuccessful in improving his eyesight.

At age 12, Paul was unsuccessful in improving his eyesight.

Throughout my school and university career, I needed stronger and stronger glasses, as predicted by that first optometrist. In 1967 I became a reading teacher, and in 1975 I completed my doctorate in education. Around this time, I came in contact with several developmental optometrists who further influenced my understanding of vision as dynamic, rather than static.

It was the optometrist Gerald N. Getman(1), a remarkable man I had the pleasure to meet, who said that vision is “a learned skill of attention.” Dr. Getman made the distinction for me between eyesight and vision, noticing that such skills as identification, association, spatial relationships, and the ability to derive meaning and direct our thoughts or movement to act on that meaning, all occur in the brain, not the eyes.

In 1978 I attended classes with author and natural vision improvement teacher Janet Goodrich(2), who taught the Bates method that I had attempted, years earlier, to do on my own. Janet wanted her students to remove their glasses, yet I couldn’t do this because it made me dizzy.

While working with children and adults who had reading challenges, I found myself focusing on the physical skills of learning, such as eye movement, head turning, pencil holding, and sitting comfortably. I discovered specific physical movements (later to become the Brain Gym®(3) activities) that helped students to organize information in terms of their body’s midline (the sternum), and so learn to read and write without neck tension or visual stress.

Since the early 1980s, when I began to develop my Educational Kinesiology (Edu-K) work, many students have made spontaneous improvements in visual acuity after experiencing Edu-K balances(3) and such Edu-K processes as Dennison Laterality Repatterning. Yet, when I first met my wife and partner, Gail, I was still dealing with severe myopia.

To give you a sense of what this means, the healthy eye can instantly adjust to either a small or an extended focal length (using what’s called the power of accommodation), and so has the ability to view objects at great variances in distance. At that time, my prescription was -8.00 diopters, which meant that without my glasses I could see clearly only at a distance of up to 0.125 of a meter, or about five inches (at -3.00 diopters, a person would be unable at 20 feet to read any line on the Snellen Eye Chart, the traditional method of measuring acuity). Put more simply, my loss of visual acuity was considered severe.

Paul, from the inside cover of his first book: Switching On: The Whole-Brain Answer to Dyslexia.

Paul, from the inside cover of his first book: Switching On: The Whole-Brain Answer to Dyslexia.

In order to see distant objects, the ciliary muscles of my eyes would need to relax so that each lens could return to a flatter shape, yet the muscles no longer had that flexibility. At that time, I never removed my glasses and didn’t feel comfortable eating or even talking without wearing them (see the photo of me, at left, wearing that prescription).

I told Gail that I didn’t believe I could improve my eyesight. Although I was helping many people discover ways to improve their visual acuity, I believed that any such help was too late for me. Gail encouraged me to become an explorer of my visual experience, and we did a balance for the goal “To succeed in life with my natural vision.” The learning menu was what we now call Total Core Repatterning, and included pre-activities that challenged my acuity at various distances. We followed the body wisdom and also did some vision training from the course Educational Kinesiology in Depth: The Seven Dimensions of Intelligence.

Standing after the balance, I couldn’t believe that I could see without my glasses! I had an immediate vision improvement that was quite profound, and my habits of moving also went through a remarkable shift for the better. Gail and I ran up and down the street—me without my glasses, excitedly reading to her as license plates and street signs came into focus.

The challenge then was how to continue work when my eyesight had improved but it wasn’t yet clear enough to let me read or work comfortably without any lenses. Luckily, I had an old pair of glasses with a lesser prescription that I could wear to function. Meanwhile, I did Brain Gym activities every day, as well as Positive Point Palming and other Vision Gym® activities(4). Within two days, I was seeing clearly enough through my old glasses to put the newer ones aside for good.

Through the years, I’ve continued to balance, sometimes using the In Depth or Creative Vision work. Each time, there’s a substantial improvement, after which I use my older glasses (I’ve kept them all in a box!) or go to a developmental optometrist for new 20/40 glasses, for which I then balance until my vision is further improved. In other words, I use the old glasses as a pre-activity for “learning” to see clearly at that prescription level. I nearly always make an immediate leap in motor skills as well, and usually feel completely at ease with the older glasses prescription within a day or two.

Today, my vision continues to improve. I wear glasses for night driving, but for most daily-life activities, including reading and looking at horizons, I can see without any lenses or glasses.

Achieving the perfect visual acuity of 20/20 or 6/6 (the metric measurement) isn’t my goal. Just as shifts in movement habits can affect the visual system, every small vision improvement supports shifts in my ease of movement, also relaxing and expanding my thinking. When I notice myself thinking in too linear a way, I can now call on the more naturally integrating whole-to-parts approach to problem solving.

Studying and teaching vision has awakened both Gail and me to the need to make lifestyle changes by way of daily habits. Some of the important shifts we’ve made are:

  • making vision a priority
  • using Brain Gym or other activities to provide a whole-body context for movement of the eyes
  • relaxing the eyes and enjoying beauty
  • crossing the visual midline and centralizing in the midfield
  • looking near, far, and all around
  • taking more vision breaks, all day long, to do the above

I love my eyes and vision, and I take care of my eyesight as I would a precious gift. Having reclaimed the joy of good vision and the multi-dimensional perspective that goes with it, I wouldn’t want to return to corrective lenses that limit my range of focus and my flexibility to move and play. Cultivating my vision is an ongoing process, and I invite all who want to see without glasses and to see the big picture to explore that process with me.   

 

(1)    Gerald N. Getman, O.D., Your Child’s Intelligence.

Note: The optometric research over the years has consistently shown, for better and lesser readers alike, a relationship between reading difficulties and vision challenges (which are not always hereditary); a connection that I validated time and again using my own work with students. Another clarifying point, a person is considered legally blind if their vision is 20/200 (or worse) in the best eye with the best available correction.

(2)  Janet Goodrich, Natural Vision Improvement.

(3)  The 26 Brain Gym activities are described in Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010. The 26, Dennison Laterality Repatterning, and the Balance process are taught in Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life.

(4)    The video “Move to See with Vision Gym®” offers descriptions of the 34 activities we do regularly to maintain and improve our vision. A Vision Gym kit is also available.

A translation of this article into Italian is available here: LA LETTURA E’ UN MIRACOLO DI PAUL DENNISON

A translation of this article into Chinese is available here.

© 2014 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.

 

Learning Calls for Physical Skills: The Role of Movement-Based Teaching

dreamstime_m_15847073Learning 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.

To read the Italian translation of this article, click here: http://tinyurl.com/nv3l3fu or https://sigridloos.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/

The photo is © Goldenkb | Dreamstime.com, used with permission.

© 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.

 

Taking “Whole Brain” Vision to Moscow

Paul_Flowers2Although I’ve taught in more than 20 countries during the past 35 years, mid-July of this year I experienced my first trip to Moscow. In the 1980s biologist and educator Carla Hannaford of Hawaii first took the Edu-K work to Russia. She was followed there in the 1990s by educators and Brain Gym® instructors Joan Spaulding of Colorado and the late Dorothy H.L. Carroll of Pennsylvania, who taught hundreds of students. Psychologist Svetlana Musgutova, a resident of Moscow at the time, became a Brain Gym International Faculty member and continued to develop the community there for many years. Today, the major leaders of Edu-K once living in Russia have moved on to other locales. So Elena, my sponsor for this trip, requested that I bring my latest thinking to the Brain Gym Instructors and new enthusiasts there.

I found Moscow to be a sprawling city with a multitude of beautiful botanical gardens. On my first day there, Elena and her daughter, Knesia (also my translator), took me walking in the beautiful Tsaritsyno, the Queen’s Garden. On day two my dear friend of many years, Renate Wennekes from Germany, a Brain Gym International Faculty member, arrived to co-teach with me. That evening, we four enjoyed dining on the Moscow River cruise ship and sharing stories about our experiences teaching through movement.

Another evening Renate, Elena, Knesia, and I enjoyed seeing the rousing Russian National show “Kostroma!”* which includes vigorous Cossack dancing—something I’ve always loved to watch. Yet another time we walked around the city center seeing Red Square and the Kremlin, along with its red walls and towers. I was delighted to see St. Basil’s with its unusual architecture of four palaces and four cathedrals—many topped by golden or multicolored cupolas—which I had long heard about.** Wherever we went, I met people who were vigorous and robust, and who seemed typical of suburbanites everywhere, busy pursuing their day-to-day lives.

Active Independence or Passive Compliance 

For me, the real excitement of this journey began when I gave a public introductory talk at the Alpha Hotel. I noticed a woman whom I’ll call Ruth, sitting with friends in the center front row of the conference room. Through translation during the question and answer period (the participants spoke little English), I learned that Ruth was a 2nd grade teacher who had been using the Brain Gym activities with her elementary school students. Ruth expressed anger and frustration as she asked me why doing the activities hadn’t helped one seven-year boy in her class. This student, she said, refused to read his history assignment because it was on the topic of war. Even after he did the Brain Gym activities, he still refused.

I explained that the purpose of doing the Brain Gym activities is not to control someone’s behavior. Instead, it’s to give individuals the tools they need to become . Each of the specific 26 activities teaches a physical skill needed for classroom learning, such as sitting, head-turning, hand-eye coordination, and accurate use of tools—for example, how to best hold a pencil for writing and how to access eye-teaming skills when holding a book for reading. I elaborated that when the stressors around the mechanics of functioning are addressed, the natural mental acuity needed to learn is more available. I told Ruth that I think it’s wonderful for a seven-year old child to feel that he can choose what he will or will not read. This shows an active independence instead of the passive compliance we see in many schools and societies. Ruth nodded in understanding and agreement.

The Joy of Eye-Teaming

The next day, with Renate assisting, I began teaching my two-day course: The Dennison Approach to Whole-Brain Learning. I especially enjoy sharing this introduction to my Edu-K work with teachers, as they recognize the challenges to learning and can appreciate seeing people overcome them. It’s thrilling to watch students as they discover their learning profile and then use simple Brain Gym activities to access the learning midfield and make immediate and significant improvements in reading, listening, and writing skills.

One experience was especially meaningful for me. During the opening circle for the course, the participants introduced themselves, again through translation. When I asked who would like to improve their reading, Ruth (from the previous day) eagerly volunteered and told the group that, as a child, she had been told she had a lazy left eye and could do her best with her “good” eye. I had Ruth read aloud. She slowly and precisely read the Russian text left to right, focusing from her right visual field and carefully pronouncing every word. Afterwards, I asked her to say something about what she had read. She could not verbalize any of the content. I checked her ability to track, which requires crossing of the visual midline and seeing in the midfield where the left and right visual fields overlap. She was unable to access this skill.

I encouraged Ruth to choose from the Midline Movement category whatever Brain Gym activity she felt called to. Together, she and I did about 30 seconds of Belly Breathing as the first part of the Learning Menu. Suddenly, Ruth joyfully exclaimed: “I cannot believe it; I can see with my left eye again!” We continued the menu by doing the Lazy 8s and the Cross Crawl.

As a post-check, I asked Ruth to track across her visual midline and focus in her midfield, which she was now able to easily do. She then read a new text, with ease and fluency. She was able to put the text into her own words without difficulty. I could see that Ruth was able to move her eyes smoothly over the words while listening to herself say them–that is, she was able to think while looking, and so access her comprehension.

Ruth said, “Now I understand what you mean by the physical skills of learning. Now that I can see without straining my eyes, I can hear myself thinking and I can trust my eyes to see the information I need.”

Although during the course the translation into Russian had sometimes sometimes presented a challenge, I felt that for most of us that day the language of movement transcended any linear thinking.

 

*See a segment of this dance on YouTube.

**See our facebook page for a photo book from Paul’s trip.

To discover more about Paul’s approach to teaching, see Brain Gym® and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, by Paul E. Dennison, © 2006.

See also Discovering the Reading Midfield

Research Nugget: Visual Skills and Reading

Reading a printed page presents its own issues, as there is much more to reading than simply looking at an object. Experts have said that the eye muscles can move nearly 10,000 times in an hour of reading; that means the eyes must be able to refocus effectively in order to take in information without backtracking. http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/muscles.html

© 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.

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