“Bicycle,” by Rhydonia Anderson, captures the whimsy and expressiveness of two-handed doodling.
Rhydonia Anderson, Ed. S.
As a Brain Gym® Instructor, I’ve had many remarkable experiences using the 26 Brain Gym activities—first as a therapist at an alternative school, and later as a School Counselor.
I was initially drawn to the the Brain Gym concept of basing new learning on learning that is already familiar to the student. I also quickly came to appreciate the educational model of “drawing out” rather than “stamping in”—a playful mindset encouraging growth. Both of these Brain Gym perspectives are consistent with what I later experienced in my studies at graduate school, qualifying as a Marriage and Family Therapist.
My husband, Virgil, and I, now “officially” retired, have continued to teach one of our favorite Brain Gym courses, Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision* to those who work in schools and developmental therapy centers. As former teachers, we’re comfortable with these professionals. We don’t want to bore our audiences (like we’ve sometimes been bored in staff development meetings); so it works well that Double Doodle Play is filled with activities that keep everyone moving. In the workshop, participants discover how to draw and paint with both hands (bilateral drawing), as they explore their visual experience of color, shape, texture, depth, movement, and more.
“Lighthouse Study,” by Virgil Anderson, offers an example of negative space
Three busy pairs of arms create a Double Doodle group mural.
A student completes a Double Doodle butterfly design based on the Nines game.
In vision as in artistic composition, the white or empty space that surrounds an object—the background—can become just as important as the object itself—the foreground. Double-doodlers are sometimes surprised at how, without any effort, these shapes of “negative space” naturally emerge in a bilateral drawing to define the boundaries of positive space (the object, or foreground), bringing it into balance.
The Double Doodle Play emphasis on process and spaces reminds me of my training in Marriage and Family Therapy, which was also oriented to spaces and to process, more than product. I learned a systems model of relating, which taught me to attend to the space between myself as a therapist and the client, rather than identifying the client as “separate,” and to stay in the process of interacting.
Once, when Virgil and I presented Double Doodle Play at a staff in-service, we were at the school all day, with the teachers, therapists, and aides coming in during their conference periods. A school director later asked me, regarding a couple of the teachers in particular, “What did you do? Those two aren’t usually so settled.” What we’d done that created such a good effect was to guide them through a combination of Hook-ups and the Positive Points, the two Brain Gym activities oriented to self-calming.
Partners enjoy Mirror Doodles as they reflect back one another’s movements.
Virgil invites an elementary student to do Iso-Doodles (photo was taken in the therapy room, thus the swing).
“Waterfall Study” by Virgil Anderson
Two students enjoy the “give ’n’ take” of the Iso-Doodles activity. If we all pull together . . .
The success of that in-service led to our largest audience yet—70 parents, staff members, and special ed teachers, all seated at those little elementary cafeteria tables. We didn’t keep them sitting long; they were soon standing, moving, playing, and doing bilateral drawing—in the air and on paper. At the end of the workshop, one woman told me that this was the most useful in-service she’d ever attended.
Several years ago, when Sylvia Sue Greene, a Faculty Member of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation, first offered the Double Doodle Play workshop, I was interested but doubtful. I emailed her that I couldn’t draw, and Sylvia responded, “You can use both hands, can’t you?” Since I knew her to be recovering from a stroke and still teaching, I felt humbled by her question and chose to take the workshop.
Virgil had taken one Brain Gym 101 workshop; he’d driven me to a class I co-taught, and simply took the class since he was already there. His goal, he said, was to get a deer; he considered this “a joke,” since he didn’t put much stock in it—until he got a deer the next time he went hunting! With some encouragement, he then agreed to attend a basic day-long Double Doodle Play workshop. The teacher, Gail Dennison, was impressed by Virgil’s creativity and mentoring spirit as an educator, and invited him to accompany me in attending—the following day—the Teacher Practicum for Double Doodle Play. He’d be qualified to teach the Double Doodle Play workshop once he completed the prerequisites, which he did!
The one-day Double Doodle Play includes movement, drawing, and painting activities, done solo, with a partner, and as a group. It serves as a fun introduction to Brain Gym—with tools for maintaining and improving everyday visual and movement skills. People often make gains in their visual responsiveness as they play together in ways that engage seeing, tactility, or tool-holding abilities, while learning to notice both one-sided and whole-body habits of moving.
Wind and Water, a partner Doodle game, delights players as they discover a relaxed use of the hands for mark-making.
There’s much laughter as students draw with eyes closed, in the Wind and Water game.
The simplicity and variety of the Double Doodle activities encourages participation. I especially love the partner activities, such as Mirror Doodles and the cooperative Wind and Water (see photo above and at left). I see Wind and Water as a great relationship-builder—taking turns being the wind and the water can increase awareness of and ameliorate any power struggles, as well as help release the need to be “perfect.”
We also enjoy the cooperative games, which quickly build a sense of community. For example, in one class, we had teachers sit four to a table, with two crayons for each person. We gave one person a sheet of paper, and when I said “Start!” that person began drawing a Double Doodle (I had Virgil’s help in monitoring the groups, in case anyone needed materials). After a few seconds, I called “switch!” and the drawing would be passed to the next person to be continued— a process that always generates a lot of laughter. After all four people had each had three or so turns, I called “Stop.” We have sometimes done this Cooperative Drawing game to music—each person drawing a shape to represent the music. At yet another school, when we stopped, we had each table’s group make up a story for their picture. The day ended with each group sharing their story while displaying their picture.
Daniel’s Natural Bridge, drawn after visiting the bridge, in Clinton, AK.
Barbara’s Wolf, a student drawing done with crayon and colored pencils
Close up of “Field of Dreams,” by Virgil Anderson
Students form a Double Doodle Train, simultaneously exploring shape-making while enjoying tactility.
Another cooperative game is the Double Doodle Train. I like to call this a “Tactile Train”—a fun, alliterative name. I have students compare the tactile message they receive at the “start” to the one they receive at the “end,” which is never the same! (Like the “Gossip” game, where a message is whispered from one to the next around the circle, then compared at the end to the original message.)
For our internship, Virgil and I spent a day teaching Double Doodle Play at the school where I’d been a counselor the previous year. The art teacher commented about a boy in junior high who’d done Mirror Doodles with Virgil, saying that he didn’t ordinarily mix much with classmates but had really participated on this day.
When I spoke with that teacher the following year, she reported that, due to scheduling difficulties, she now had 8th graders and seniors together in one class, and that the 8th graders—who had experienced Double Doodle Play for just one class period the previous year—were actually more creative than the seniors!
She later wrote to me: “I want to thank you for giving me another key to helping my students. Colored paper and the Double Doodle have especially helped one of my students. [This] student was very disruptive, so I let her Double Doodle one day. She loved it and settled down. Within a week she was writing complete sentences. (The sentences were just her thoughts, and not answers that she should have been giving, yet an important baby step.) She is becoming part of the class rather than being a problem in the class. At the beginning of the year she was always angry. She now seems to enjoy the class, and takes part in class activities. Thank you so much for your help.”
~ ~ ~
*The Double Doodle activity expands on the bilateral drawing work of G. N. Getman, O.D., from his book How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence, ©1962; 1992. The Double Doodle was first included in Brain Gym®: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©1986, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. The games and activities described here are from the course manual Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision, by Gail E. Dennison, © 2006; 2007; translated into nine languages.
For a Spanish translation of this article, go to ¿Por qué me encanta enseñar el Doble Garabato…? -1- and -2-
For more about Double Doodle Play, check out these blog posts:
Double Doodle Play Brings Emotional Harmony Following a Stroke
A Soothing Double Doodle Heart for Kids of All Ages (a basic tutorial on the Double Doodle)
Children’s Double Doodle Halloween Drawings (1 min video)
Double Doodle Holiday Play (a tutorial of Christmas and winter images)
Rhydonia Anderson, Ed.S.
Rhydonia Anderson, Ed. S., of Arkansas, a licensed professional counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist, is a former specialist in school counseling, now enjoying retirement. Rhydonia’s career experiences include serving as a home economics teacher, an outreach therapist for a mental health clinic, and a counselor in an alternative learning environment for students who had difficulty in regular school. She identifies herself as a lifelong learner. Rhydonia’s husband Virgil Anderson, M.S. Ed., taught life sciences in junior and senior high school and is also now, along with Rhydonia, experiencing the “freedom of retirement and housebuilding.” He loves to hunt, fish, and do woodwork, including timber frame.
On June 20 of 2015, Rhydonia and Virgil will be co-teaching the introductory workshop Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision in Peoria, Illinois. The Peoria workshop is approved for 8 CEUs for educators and also for 8 CEUs for health professionals and allied health professionals, through the University of IL College of Medicine in collaboration with the Continuing Education Institute of Illinois. To register, or for more information, contact Helen Cox, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rhydonia welcomes your comments, questions, and feedback, and can be contacted at email@example.com.
© 2015 by Rhydonia Anderson. All Rights Reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.
The Robot Dog, as my grandson built him.
Our five-year-old grandson recently visited, and we were enjoying all kinds of good play. At one point, he and I looked at the pictures in a book he had about robots, and we saw a colorful drawing of a robot dog. My grandson and I like to make paper crafts that move (automata), and this looked like the perfect thing. “Do you think we could make our own robot dog?” I asked. “We would just need a wheel—maybe a lid from something . . .” He nodded enthusiastically, so I opened the craft box and began sorting through the recycle items; asking him what he thought would work for a body, a head, and so on. He looked up thoughtfully and said: “Oh, I know how Grandma! Do you have some white paper? First I have to write the instructions.”
I know it’s important for youngsters to be able to carry their own creative projects through from the concrete to the abstract, and back again to the concrete. So I quickly put my own ideas aside, letting him guide the project. I got the paper and sat down next to him, listening intently to see how (or if) I would be invited to participate. My grandson began scribing some strange marks on the page. In a few minutes, his “writing” was complete (see his numbered schematic, below).
My grandson’s schematic for the Robot Dog.
He held up his instructions and pointed to each step as he thoughtfully explained it. (Below, I’ve written out my version of his verbal “instructions,” next to the photos of how he implemented them):
Steps 5 & 9, somehow omitted from my above photo.
1. First you need a lid to make the wheel. Use a scissors to poke a hole in the lid. (He found two apple juice lids in the craft box; we put them back to back. Since the scissors wouldn’t work for poking a hole through metal, I got to do that job with a hammer and nail.)
1. Wheel (lid); scissors (upper left) to poke the hole.
2. Next, use a cardboard tube for the dog’s body. Make a slit to put a bendy stick (pipe cleaner) through.
2. Use scissors to make a slit in a cardboard TP tube.
3. Poke the bendy stick through the hole in the wheel and through the slit in the cardboard. (My grandson later changed his mind about the slit, and simply wrapped the pipe cleaner around, instead).
3. Use a bendy stick to attach the wheel to the cardboard tube.
4. Scotch tape 2 straws to his body: one for his neck; one for his tail. Use tape and construction paper to cover one of the holes in the cardboard roll.
4. Tape a straw to the TP tube.
Your Robot Dog will look something like this as you complete steps 1 – 4.
5. Make the Robot Dog’s head out of construction paper; tape it to the straw. Use scotch tape and construction paper to cover the hole at the other end of the cardboard tube.
5. Make the Robot Dog’s head. Add a paper to cover the holes in the TP tube.
6. Make his ears (construction paper).
After making the head and ears (5, 6).
6. Use scissors to make your Robot Dog some ears.
7. For your dog’s tail, use construction paper to make a round circle and tape it to the straw.
7. Make your dog a tail.
Blue construction paper makes a great pom pom for the tail (7).
8. For your Robot Dog’s instrument panel, make three dots on one side of his body.
8. Add 3 dots (the instrument panel).
9. He’s ready to go for a spin!
9. The completed Robot Dog, ready to roll!
Later, my grandson made a bone and bed (below) for his Robot Dog.
Every dog needs a bone.
My grandson told me that he has a new pet goldfish, Rennie, that he won at the fair. “And now,” he said, “I have two pets: Rennie and my Robot Dog!”
A bed for the Robot Dog.
My addendum: My grandson has all the preliteracy skills in place. He loves to move and play. He enjoys conversing. He loves books, likes being read to, and delights in making up his own stories. He likes three-dimensional crafts, and enjoys using his hands and eyes to explore and create things. He has an active imagination: it took him only seconds to visualize how he would make the Robot Dog, and only a few minutes to write out the sequence in his shorthand way—less time than it took to actually make the Robot Dog. He’s curious about making and translating symbols, and knows how to hold a pencil correctly. Our daughter said to be sure to mention that he plays with Legos, and likes to “read” the instructions.
Perhaps most important was that, without any help, he first got the big picture and then was able to use symbols to put his thoughts into a detailed, linear sequence for later reference. In Edu-K and Brain Gym®, this is what we mean by whole-brain learning: the ability to perceive the big picture and be challenged by it while filling in the significant details. When applied to reading, this involves giving youngsters opportunities to have meaningful experiences with language and letting them take ownership of the creative writing process (as my grandson did with his symbols), thereby building a powerful motivation for learning to read and write.
You’ll notice that, although he sometimes reverses numbers, we call no attention to it. This is normal for his age; (in the 3-D world, a chair is still a chair, whether it is facing to the left or to the right.) As he transitions to using abstract symbols for writing, if he continues to reverse numbers, when the time comes, we’ll do a few minutes of Lazy 8s or Alphabet 8s (oriented to numbers) with him, so that he can experience the left/right difference as it applies to 2-D symbols. In any event, our focus is on learning as a synthesizing experience, especially for young learners, rather than an analytic one. Generally speaking, we find it best to let learners follow their creative flow, then hold any discussion of details aside for a separate lesson (such as an Edu-K balance or activity session).
We had fun rolling the Robot Dog around, giving him his bone, and putting him to bed.
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
For more articles on the importance of movement, imagination, and visual skills to beginning literacy, see
Reading Is a Miracle
Independent Reading: A Path to Self-Initiated Learning
How Play Can Nurture the Imaginal World: A Photo Journal
© 2014 by Gail 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.
Parents can support young learners in discovering their needs and gifts.
I often hear from parents who are discouraged about their child’s learning progress. Sometimes they’ll tell me that their youngster is bright, and that he or she shows interest in learning at home during weekends or vacation time. Yet at school, they say, that same child is bored or struggling, slower than others in completing work, looking for ways to avoid assignments, and—once home—often stalling on homework or forgetting to do it.
In any case, when parents make an appointment with me for a balancing session, I tell them that the ideal situation is for me to work with the whole family on the first visit. I explain that there will be “homeplay” for the whole family to do together. Homeplay, usually drawn from the Brain Gym® activities, is not something that the child does because he has a learning problem, or that he should be required to do. The purpose of these activities is for everyone to move and play together, becoming more balanced as a family, and research shows that synchronous movement is one vital way by which we connect with our surroundings and create social bonds.
Most parents understand, and are delighted to participate. Often, during that first balance for their child the parents themselves make profound shifts in their own ability to read, write, relate, or organize—shifts that exemplify for the child what learning can be like. Through such experiences, parents gain insight into the sensory skills actually involved in the learning process, and so develop empathy for the challenges their child is facing. Often a parent discovers that he or she has the same mixed-dominant(1) learning profile as the child, and discovers how to more effectively use this pattern. I might also share with them the finding that, in a study done with 461 high school students, 80% were found to be weak or inadequate in one or more of three key visual abilities(2). Now parents can better understand why moving and accessing the whole body is essential for addressing one-sided habits, and they can advocate for their child’s gifts and abilities, as well as their own. Nearly always, the whole family discovers how much fun it is to move together, lengthening muscles or dancing around with The Cross Crawl; mirroring one another with The Double Doodle, drawing soothing shapes on one another’s backs, or self-calming with Hook-ups or the Positive Points.
I’ve found that, when the parents are aligned and in balance, the children immediately do better—even before I work with them individually. I believe this is at least in part because stress contracts muscles and restricts movement patterns, and children imitate a parent’s body posture, whether that posture appears dynamic or stressed. Most often, in one to four sessions a child will no longer feel left behind in his classroom. At schools where I’ve served as a consultant, I’ve found that, when the teachers are balanced, the students attend and focus better. If the teachers are stressed, the students will act out.
A child can do his best when he knows his parents hold a neutral space for his learning.
For more than forty years, I’ve worked with those of all ages who have been diagnosed with such labels as dyslexia, dyscalculia, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and learning disabilities—and even with children as young as nine months who were “failing to thrive” or slow to crawl. I’ve worked with children one-on-one, with their parents or caregivers participating or looking on, and also during courses, teaching the children in front of a group of adult students.
While teaching in Europe, I’ve had parents talk with me about a son or daughter who, they said, was hopelessly far behind and completely unable to learn. I’ve done balances with these same young people, teaching them simple Brain Gym, Vision Gym®, and other Edu-K activities, and have seen them discover how to learn on their own—often in that single session. Movement is a language in itself, one that somehow communicates beyond culture and instructional translation. Once youngsters realize how they can bring attention and movement to their learning process—purposefully waking up their eyes, ears, and whole body to the joy of learning—they begin to transform not just reading, writing, and math, but also how they interact with family members and friends.
Here are three of the reasons I believe the Edu-K work is so effective:
- I ask people what they want to improve. Human beings are natural learners. But when they are overwhelmed by what they can’t do, or by analysis and information, they often forget their own interests. When we can support a person in rediscovering her innate curiosity, she naturally regains the confidence and motivation to explore the world and reclaim her place as a ready learner.
- I teach from whole to parts, providing a personal, big-picture context (such as movement itself) with which to associate specifics. I engage learners through movement and play. It’s part of our innate intelligence, as seen in infancy, to learn through movement and exploration. Infants are tremendously motivated to take the micro-actions that, done repeatedly, will eventually become a visible movement such as rolling over, turning the head, reaching, or grasping. Toddlers continue to learn sensory and motor skills, best acquired with the support but not the interference of their caregivers. Pioneering educator Maria Montessori, MD, referred to such play as “the work of the child.”
- I help learners to identify a next learning step—the specific aspect of the learning process that is challenging to them, and to understand that aspect in terms of underlying physical skills. I help a child to focus on that aspect only, until it has been mastered and integrated into the child’s functioning. Learners’ joy and pride in learning a specific ability is exciting to behold. They can readily see the commonsense logic of developing the physical skills needed for learning. This approach helps alleviate the shame and blame—any perceived need for judging skills or their lack—that has so often become associated with learning. From this more neutral place, children are able to appreciate the simple movements that help them experience the physical skills of learning and that give them the time to integrate these into function.
Learning is a lifelong process. Yes, it has its accompanying frustrations and difficulties. The pleasure is in turning such challenges into capabilities. Every person has within himself all that he needs to experience success, happiness, and the joy of learning.
Through the years, I’ve developed many learning models, sequences, and protocols that support this movement-based approach. These include the Dynamic Brain (a working model of the brain), the Learning Flow (that makes visible “the high and the low gears” of learning), the 5 Steps to Easy Learning, and the 3 Dimensions and 5 Principles for Movement-Based Learning.
I love teaching parents and educators how to do what I do. There’s nothing more wonderful than seeing the light go on in a young person’s eyes—or in the eyes of any learner, at any age!
1Rowe A. Young-Kaple, MS. Eye Dominance Difference Connection to LD Learning Disabilities. World Journal of Psychology Research, Vol. 1, No. 1, September 2013, pp: 01- 09: (mixed dominance with left-eye dominant: n= 54 LD (15%); mixed dominance with right-eye dominant: n=12 LD (6%); all right side dominant: n=38 LD (12%); n=119 or 12% of the total population of n=998 were identified as having a reported learning disability (LD). Available online
2David Grisham, OD, MS, Maureen Powers, PhD, Phillip Riles, MA. Visual skills of poor readers in high school. Optometry – Journal of the American Optometric Association: Volume 78, Issue 10 , Pages 542-549, October 2007. © 2007 American Optometric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc.
For more research on interpersonal synchrony and its effects on social bonds, see:
Cirelli, Laura K., Kathleen M. Einarson, and Laurel J. Trainor. 2014. “Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Prosocial Behavior in Infants.” Developmental Science: This study of 14-month olds “. . . support[s] the hypothesis that interpersonal motor synchrony might be one key component of musical engagement that encourages social bonds among group members, and suggest[s] that this motor synchrony to music may promote the very early development of altruistic behavior.”
Shaw DJ, Czekóová K, Chromec J, Mareček R, Brázdil M (2013) Copying You Copying Me: Interpersonal Motor Co-Ordination Influences Automatic Imitation. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84820. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084820
Hove MJ, Risen JL (2009) It’s all in the timing: Interpersonal synchrony increases affiliation. Social Cognition 27: 949–960. doi: 10.1521/soco.2009.27.6.949 PubMed/NCBI
Photo Credits: ID 16450697 and 17770996 © Yuri Arcurs | Dreamstime.co
© 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.
A sponge-painted doily with a heart-shape cut out of it (allowed to dry, then pasted on construction paper)
In today’s airbrushed world, where so many things are made up of perfect lines and angles (I’m especially thinking of school and its hours of linear mark-making), sometimes we just need to have a little fun getting messily creative.
This is where the simple activity of exploring color on paper can allow young children the great experience of creative freedom. Here are three fun craft projects for Valentine’s Day. Each will take only minutes to make, and result in two decorative images: a colorful doily and a bonus valentine produced by using the doily as a stencil. Both creations can become the cover or the inside of a homemade card, or can be pasted on a paper plate as a Valentine’s Day decoration.
A second valentine is created in the sponging process. When the paint dries, help your child carefully remove the doily to magically reveal a “bonus” valentine!
What you’ll need:
- something to protect your tabletop (I used an old shower curtain liner)
- A packet of doilies
- red and white tempera paint, and other colors of your choice)
- plain white paper (such as printer paper)
Before you start, assemble your various materials.
- two small sponges (for applying the paint)
- a jar of water (to dilute the paint)
- cotton swabs (for mixing the paint)
- paper towels
- scotch tape
- paste or a glue stick
- construction paper or paper plates
Before this doily was sponge-painted, I folded it in half in order to cut out the three heart shapes.
To paint a doily, tape it on a sheet of white paper. Using both hands in the manner of Brain Gym’s Double Doodle Play*, dip the two sponges into the paint and start blotting on the color. I suggest doing the painting as a single process; your hands will stay clean as long as you don’t set the sponges down and pick them up again. Or have wet paper towels nearby for clean-up.
Allow for meandering and serendipitous mistakes!
I enjoyed using a marker in each hand to detail the edge of this bonus design—Double Doodle-style!
You can trim around the edge or use your making pens to make it more interesting.
I folded a doily into eighths, then cut it as shown.
For a decorative card, I wanted to cut out a more elaborate design (see drawing at left and photos below).
The results of my folding and scissoring!
I pasted the doily on a card, and embellished the card with heart scraps from previous cutouts—pasted only at the fold for a 3-D, butterfly effect.
For this one, I cut a scalloped edge around a bonus valentine and pasted it to a paper plate, which I then further decorated.
To make a Paper Plate Decoration, I cut a scalloped edge around a bonus valentine and pasted it to a paper plate, which I then further decorated by trailing the creases with three different markers in turn—super fun! (This one looks great on the fridge at our house.)
*The Double Doodle is one of 26 Brain Gym® activities from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, ©2010. The introductory course Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision offers a full day of exploration built on mirror-image mark-making and painting. For the name of a Brain Gym instructor, see the Foundation website, below. For a Double Doodle Play instructor, click on the link and look up 105DD under courses.
© 2014 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.
A view down the street.
My 10-year old granddaughter and I were hanging out after school. I could see that she wasn’t yet interested in starting her homework on this bright, wintry California afternoon, and I wanted to invite some movement first, anyway, as she’d been sitting all day. “What shall we do next?” I asked, starting to name some favorite out door activities: “Play ball? Make an obstacle course? Go on a scavenger hunt…”
“A scavenger hunt!” she said, lighting up. “Let’s go for a walk and find things.” I didn’t have a pre-made list, so I proposed to write out a list of 20 items for her to find. She said that she’d make 20 for me to find, as well, and I could tell by her smile that she was already thinking up some good ones.
We both laughed as we heard, outside, a crow cawing, seeming to signal a starting point. We each took an index card and pencil. On my card I wrote: A talking crow. She wrote: A long piece of grass. We wrote quickly. H paused just to ask about spellings. We glanced at each other’s cards only once or twice, then completed our lists and, in no time, were ready to go. We got into PACE*, did The Thinking Cap, and started out meandering around the block. Everything seemed fresh and new. I was looking for the first item H had written on my list: A piece of long grass! But all the grass appeared freshly mown.
“Grandma, do you see any kind of red leaf ?” H was asking. She then ran toward an ornamental pear tree to show me its luminous red and gold leaves beneath. We oohed and aahed over the colors.
A red leaf from an ornamental pear tree.
“What about a blue house. Do you know if there’s one around here?” I pointed to a bluish-gray house nearby. “No. That’s not blue enough. That one should be yours.” (My own list included a gray house, which I quickly marked off!)
From behind a fence, a dog barked. I looked at my card. A barking dog. “Can I count that dog even though I can’t see it?” I asked. “Sure!” H responded generously. “Look, Grandma. A piece of long grass!” We were now clearly partners on this particular hunt, together seeking items on our lists. We were both slowly looking high and low and all around: Our senses were heightened as we watched and listened for clues to find more items. We compared our lists:
A cat and butterfly decoration works for us both.
Next on H’s List
A talking bird
A birch tree
A flower smaller than your thumbnail
Next on My List
A white cat
A black dog
A red flower (extra points for a rose)
A white birch tree in winter.
After a fruitless search for a white cat we know, we found a silhouetted sculpture of a black cat catching a butterfly, and decided that could work for both of us.
“Grandma, where can I find a birch tree?” H asked next. I explained that we were looking for a tall, slender tree with diamond-shaped “eyes” on its white, papery bark. In the air I drew an upward arch with my hand as I described its flowing branches. Looking around, H pointed down the street. “Oh, I know. Is that one?” We walked closer to see. Yes. I told H that a birch tree is sometimes called “The Watchful Tree” because of its eyes, and is also sometimes called “The graceful lady of the wood,” though in winter, she drops all her leaves and is rather plain.
She used her thumbnail to measure a tiny flower.
Next, H crouched down to the ground and used her thumbnail as a way to measure a tiny pink flower, part of a cluster, to see if she had indeed found A flower no bigger than your thumb nail.
I noticed how, in traveling just this short distance from our house, we had slowed time down in a wonderful way. By now, we had checked off about half our items. We had experienced an array of sounds and quietude. We had explored moving and still images, shape and texture, light, shadow, and color, and near and far vistas. We could turn back toward the house now, but decided to go the long way around instead. What would we discover next?
When Paul and I began teaching together in 1983, one of our treasured references was the work of developmental optometrist G. N. Getman**. It was Getman who said, “Movement is learning; learning requires movement.” He elaborated by saying: “The fact that an infant must learn to walk and talk is fully accepted by everyone. It is most important to know that the infant must also learn to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste—the machinery for each is present, but he or she must learn to use it.”
Learning to use the senses doesn’t require being taught in a linear way. In fact, as pioneering educator Maria Montessori showed us, it’s more about being interested in learning for ourselves, while providing an environment that will engage the child’s desire to explore and discover. Actively looking around out side, as we were doing, naturally trains scanning, depth perception, eye teaming, and many other visual skills.
In 1989 I began teaching Visioncircles***: 8 Spheres of Perceptual Awareness, a course I developed in natural vision improvement. Since that time, I’ve seen repeatedly, with hundreds of students, that vision is a learned skill of attention, and that we can continue learning new visual and sensory skills throughout our lives. Further, I see that in all the ways that we teach children, we’re teaching them (for better or worse) how to see and to use their senses. Let’s take every opportunity to engage a broad range of sensory and motor skills that will support a lifetime of rich multi-sensory interactions.
* PACE, a quick and simple way to activate sensory and motor skills for learning, includes four of the 26 Brain Gym® activities. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. PACE, and the 26 are also described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010.
**G. N. Getman, O.D., How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence (1992).
***To find a Visioncircles Instructor in your area, click here. See also: The Vision Gym activities, described in Vision Gym®: Playful Movements for Natural Seeing, a card set and booklet by Gail E. Dennison and Paul E. Dennison.
© 2013 by Gail E. Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation.