Our finished project: a vase of colorful flowers and butterfly!
“Grandma, can we make some flowers for springtime?” my 10-year old granddaughter, H., asked me as she settled in after school. “And a vase, too! I want to give them to my mom and dad.” I immediately set aside the plans I was considering for our play day and went looking for a suitable vase. “What are you imagining?” I asked. Soon we were both in the world of exploring ideas and materials. As we found various items, we set them out on the dining room table, and H. began choosing the items, colors, and textures that she liked. Suddenly she was going ahead with a new idea: designing a butterfly for the bouquet!
My granddaughter created this bright and whimsical butterfly.
The Items We Gathered
-a glass bottle for the vase (we used an empty mineral water bottle; first removing the label)-various colors of tissue paper for the flowers, and to create a tissue collage for the bottle
-pipe cleaners for flower stems
-white paper to make a butterfly
-marking pens to color the butterfly
-clear contact paper to “laminate” the butterfly
-a drinking straw to hold the butterfly in the vase
-a Tblsp or so of white glue (in a paper cup, and mixed with a little water), to glue the tissue decorations to the
-cotton swabs (Q-Tips would also work) to apply the glue
-a piece of yarn to tie around the bottle
-10 minutes to decorate the bottle, 10 minutes to let it dry
-10 minutes or so to draw and color the butterfly on both sides, then cut out and cover w/contact paper
-15 minutes or so to roam around outside, getting ideas for flowers
-20 to 40 minutes making the tissue paper flowers
~ ~ ~
H.’s vase, covered with tissue paper (some of the paper was patterned, as you see here).
We next began dipping our cotton swabs in the watered-down glue and covering the bottle with glue. As we worked, we tore pieces of tissue paper and stuck these onto the bottle in a jigsaw-like fashion. We put glue on top of the tissue, as well, to smooth the paper down and create a shiny finish. H. decided it needed the yarn decoration, to look complete.
The first layer of fringe to make the carnation. We twisted the bottom to make a V-shape.
H. rolled white paper into a small calla lily, tearing the edges for effect, and coloring it yellow. Meanwhile, she asked me to make a carnation. I cut a strip of pink tissue paper 3 x 12 inches and folded it into 1 1/2 inch pieces, as shown, making it up as I went along. I cut fringes and unfolded this, gathering one end into a twist, so the rest poofed out like a pom-pom. We wanted something more fluffy, so H. suggested another layer with deeper pink, which we added. Perfect!
We cut a similar red strip to make a rose, this time cutting the folded tissue into C-shaped curves. On unfolding the curves, we gathered the base into a spiraling shape—our tissue paper rose (above right). Then we walked around in the garden and looked at different kinds of flowers. We talked about flowers with a trumpet shape, like the calla lily, and how these attract more bees and hummingbirds. We talked about flowers with a 5-petaled shape, which have more wind-blown pollen. We made two of these: an orange-colored geranium (above left) and a hibiscus of maroon and magenta (below).
H. chose two colors of red to make the hibiscus (right); we used a silver pipe cleaner to make the stamen.
Because of my work in the area of sensory integration, I’m well aware that this kind of hand-eye play develops a wealth of attributes in the form of dexterity, eye-teaming, depth perception, scanning, and so on. Further, I know how happy people are when they can create from a sense of mind-body congruity. Most important, though, is that following our desire to call in springtime with our creative gifts provided the two of us with a wonderful afternoon of talking, laughter, and the deep pleasure of thinking and creating together.
(C) Gail Dennison, 2014
Youngsters benefit when we listen for what really matters to them.
Zane, age 12, was an excellent reader whose mother brought him to my office for a Brain Gym® balance to be able to write more legibly.
When we discussed his choice of a goal for our session, Zane realized that what would really mean a lot to him—even more than writing better—would be improving his soccer game. I helped him refine his goal to: “To keep my eyes on the ball and see with my mind and body as one.”
Since the writing was also important to him, we included pre-activities for handwriting. As he sat and wrote a sentence, Zane mentioned that his hand was hurting, as it often did when he wrote. I could see that he sat uncomfortably in his chair, and that he didn’t yet know how to easily hold a pen between his fingers and thumb for a precision grip, using more of a power grip(1) instead.
Most people observing Zane as he sat and stood might think, from his laid-back posture, that he was very relaxed—perhaps disinterested and not really engaged in what was happening. I could see, though, that he was struggling to accomplish the simplest movements, actually pushing forward against his own muscle response to hold back.
An example of the power grip. The hand remains static; movement is from the shoulder.
Zane’s mom had told me that his teacher included some Brain Gym activities in her classroom, so Zane had been doing the Cross Crawl and Lazy 8s daily for a while. Yet these Midline Movements(2), by themselves, were apparently not getting to the cause of Zane’s challenge.
In the late 1970s, when I began developing the 26 Brain Gym activities, I wanted to offer them in a way that would support all three of the anatomical dimensions: left-right, up-down, and back-front. Over time, I organized the Brain Gym activities into three categories for that intention: The Midline Movements, The Energy Exercises/Deepening Attitudes(2), and The Lengthening Activities, envisioning how this would give learners, whether sitting, standing, or playing sports, options they could easily use to keep themselves active and engaged. So I explained to Zane and his mother that, when we’re playing, fully participating, and doing our schoolwork, we move in three anatomical dimensions that all work together synergistically.
In those early days I knew from the research on vision(3) how important the left-right dimension is for classroom success. I’d seen (as I continue to see) that, for some people, doing only a few simple Midline Movements for this lateral dimension can be enough to integrate the physical skills and improve performance for a particular academic task. I’ve come to fully trust that, as learners do the Brain Gym activities and experience the body’s geometry, they will naturally gravitate to moving more in terms of it.
Through the years, as school routines have generally become more sedentary, I’ve seen the other two dimensions become even more important for learners to know how to access. For example, until the back-front dimension is available for mobility and forward movement, the left-right skills as taught in the Midline Movements category may not be readily accessible.
Observing Zane as he did his pre-activities, I could see that his back-front body movement (what I call the Focus Dimension) wasn’t available to him. Zane seemed to be walking and moving with his brakes on, in a casual posture that actually required great exertion on his part for any forward movement. When he lay on his back, he could experience the shortness and tightness of his hamstring muscles. He could hardly bend at his hip joints, and could barely lift either leg six inches. After doing a short series of Lengthening Activities for his Focus Dimension with his mom and me (The Footflex, The Calf Pump, The Grounder, The Gravity Glider, Arm Activation, and The Owl), Zane was able to lift one leg nearly perpendicular to the other, then repeating on the other side, now accessing hip flexibility.
The next priority was the Midline Movements. Zane chose The Double Doodle and Alphabet 8s, which I often use to help teach skills of eye teaming, fine-motor coordination, and letter formation for cursive writing.
What a difference! By the time we did the post-activity for seeing and kicking the ball, Zane was standing and moving spontaneously in three dimensions. He seemed delighted to be having an experience of trusting his body to see and move at the same time. He commented that he now felt he could move so much more quickly—that he seemed to know where the ball would be next. I could see that, with his muscles now more flexible and more organized in terms of his vision, Zane was moving with greater ease and agility.
An example of the precision grip. The thumb and fingers work together; the hand’s position is dynamic.
I noticed that, when he now sat down to write for his post-activity, Zane sat more upright and showed greater muscle tone and fine-motor dexterity. He automatically placed the paper on the desk in his center of vision, picked up the pen with a relaxed grip, wrote with ease and coordination, and, without being told how to do so, used a precision grip. His mother looked eagerly over his shoulder as he wrote and exclaimed, “I can actually read it!”
It’s sessions like these that make my work so fulfilling.
1) The Power and Precision Grip:
Hertling, D., & Kessler, R. M. (1996). Management of common musculoskeletal disorders: Physical therapy principles and methods. (3rd ed.).Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, pp 259-260.
Smith, L.K., Weiss, E.L. & Lehmkuhl, L.D. (1996). Brunnstrom’s clinical kinesiology. (5th ed.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis., pp 216-219.
2) The 26 Brain Gym® activities are described in terms of the three categories of The Midline Movements, The Energy Exercises/Deepening Attitudes, and The Lengthening Activities in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010. The Energy Exercises and Deepening Attitudes are both part of the Centering Dimension, involving up and down movement for stress release through improved organization/stabilization. While the Energy Exercises help develop a sense of vertical orientation, the Deepening Attitudes support awareness of boundaries.
3) A few references on vision and learning:
Maureen Powers, PhD, David Grisham, OD, Phillip Riles, MA. Saccadic tracking skills of poor readers in high school. Journal of the American Optometric Association; Volume 79, Issue 5 , Pages 228-234, May 2008 American Optometric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc.
David Grisham, OD, MS, Maureen Powers, PhD, Phillip Riles, MA. Visual skills of poor readers in high school. Journal of the American Optometric Association: Volume 78, Issue 10 , Pages 542-549, October 2007. © 2007 American Optometric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc.
Solan, H.A., Shelley, Tremblay, J. Larson, S. Mounts, J. Silent Word Reading Fluency & Temporal Vision Processing Differences Between Good and Poor Readers. JBO – Volume 17/2006/Number 6/Page 151.
Streff, John W. The Cheshire Study: Change in Incidence of Myopia Following Program Intervention. Frontiers in Visual Science; Springer Series in Optical Sciences Volume 8, 1978, pp 733-749.
Clare Porac, Stanley Coren. Monocular asymmetries in recognition after an eye movement: Sighting dominance and dextrality. Perception & Psychophysics. January 1979, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 55-59.
Boy with soccer ball: ID 22343505 © Spotmatik | Dreamstime.com
Example of power grip (thumb in inactive): ID 2028508 © Kateleigh | Dreamstime.com
Example of precision grip: ID 16095751 © Robbiverte | Dreamstime.com
© 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.
Susan called me to set up an appointment for her daughter Julie, age nine and in the third grade, saying that she was concerned about Julie’s cursive writing. Susan had overheard Julie arguing with her older sister about how to correctly hold a pencil, and realized for the first time how tense Julie was when she wrote. She knew that Julie was working hard to complete her handwritten math and writing assignments, but that she would really prefer to be hunting and pecking on a keyboard.
When I met Julie, I asked her to make up a sentence and write it down for me. I noticed how she held her pencil in a tight grip, thumb tucked under her fingers, making each “o” in a clockwise circle. She also sat awkwardly torqued, her weight toward her right side and her paper placed in the far right of her visual field. As she wrote “Today I went to school,” she paused several times, even in the middle of words, and twice erased letters to redo them.
Fine-motor hand-eye skills are done over time—ideally in a fluent, linear, sequence—with precision and dexterity. Through the years of a child’s concurrent sensorimotor and academic development, these skills support the maturity of higher-order thinking by developing laterality, including the abilities of both analysis and “big picture” thinking. Such writing makes a pleasurable developmental contribution when the thumb is relaxed and working with the fingers to create easy circles and loops to both the left and the right.
Since thought is much faster than movement—especially the disconnected movements of printing—fluent cursive writing is more conducive than printing to creative thinking. Cursive writing connects letters, connected letters make words, and to connect those words is to connect thoughts. Recording those thoughts by a fluid method helps them be expressed in a flowing and articulate manner. In my more than 40 years of working with thousands of learners, I’ve seen how well a relaxed hand position that allows for the reciprocal back-and-forth motion of cursive writing helps to stimulate the brain and creative thought.
When the thumb is stiff, or tucked under like Julie’s, it acts as a brake to the hand, inhibiting the back-and-forth motion needed for fluent handwriting. For a right-hander like Julie, ideally the writing would be driven to the right by the thumb’s precision; the fingers would naturally move into the counterclockwise curve of the “o“ in reciprocal response. Yet, having grown accustomed to her pencil-holding skills through the previous five years, Julie was effortfully “drawing” the “o” and “a” in a clockwise way, and wasn’t interested in learning a new hand position. She seemed quite happy to continue writing in her accustomed way.
Thumb flexibility and the precision grip it provides are gifts to be nurtured. The fine-motor skills it affords enable us to grasp and hold objects—to become comfortable interacting with and even changing our three-dimensional physical environment. Opposable-thumb development makes possible important human functions such as eating with utensils, cutting with scissors, and writing with an implement, and I see it also contributing to higher-order skills like choice making, transference of learning, and the application of ideas.
Fine-motor skills, including the coordinated muscle movements we make when we use our hands, develop as a child gains cognitive abilities, along with whole-body mobility and stability. Pulitzer Prize-nominated neurologist Frank Wilson, author of The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, states, “You can’t really separate what’s in the mind from what’s in the body. Knowledge really is the whole behavior of the whole organism,” and says that teachers shouldn’t “educate the mind by itself.” He asserts that “if lessons do not involve the hands and the body in full movement, much of the knowledge will be poorly processed and inadequately learned.”*
Maria Montessori recognized this concept more than a century ago. The core of the Montessori method’s philosophical approach to learning for children is the idea that sensory learning and hands-on interaction with objects creates a direct link to the mind. This idea was fundamental to my own thinking as, in the 1970s, I began to formulate the Brain Gym® activities.
When we think of fine-motor skills, we most often think of drawing, cursive writing, tying one’s shoelaces, or cutting paper with scissors. However, to acquire those skills a child needs several readiness preliminaries. The building blocks for such fine-motor control without distortion of the alignment include whole-body stability, bilateral coordination, and muscle proprioception.**
Doing the Brain Gym activities lets students experience the fine-motor, physical skills of learning within the context of their gross-motor skills. The concept is that, when such large- and small-motor physical skills are automatic and effortless, the mental processes of higher-order thinking can proceed without creating physiological stress.
Without asking Julie to hold her pencil any certain way or showing her how to use her thumb correctly, I asked her to choose from the wall chart some Brain Gym® activities for her, Susan, and me to do together toward her goal of thinking with ease while writing. To support her stability, bilateral coordination, and proprioceptive skills, Julie chose the following:
The Cross Crawl calls for moving the whole body in place in contralateral rhythm, using both sides of the body at the same time while maintaining balance and stability.
The Thinking Cap, “unrolling” the ears from top to bottom, helps one to turn the head left and right while paying focal attention to the task at hand.
Arm Activation (see Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition) helps learners to relax gross muscle control of the arms and become more acutely aware of the fine muscles of wrist, fingers, and thumb.
The Double Doodle lets one experience reciprocal motion of the thumb and fingers as well as crossing of the visual/tactile midline from the left visual field through the midfield, into the right field, and back.
After doing these Brain Gym activities, Julie picked up her pencil and resumed writing. She sat up more squarely in the chair, placing the paper in her midfield. She didn’t realize at first that she was holding the tool more loosely in her hand and no longer tucking her thumb. As she formed her letters, her fingers and thumb were now working together as partners. She wrote faster and more smoothly, and it was apparent to her mother and me that, this time, without having to organize the mechanics of how to write, Julie was thinking of what to write. She was experiencing what it’s like to think with fluidity and write at the same time.
*Tenner, Edward. “Handwriting Is a 21st-Century Skill.” The Atlantic, April, 2011.
**Stability is the sense of vestibular balance necessary to hold still one part of the body, such as the head, while another part moves.
Bilateral coordination is the efficient use of both of the sides of the body (including paired sensory organs—the eyes, ears, and hands). For example, one hand will manipulate a tool while the other assists. I find that the development of bilateral coordination leads directly to integrated hand dominance (right- or left-handedness).
Proprioception is the knowing of where the hands, arms, and fingers are spatially and how they’re moving in relation to the rest of the body. Noticing such muscle movement is the beginning of dexterity, by which a person is better able to use small, accurate, precise movements to stack blocks, open containers, pick up tiny objects, and practice many other skills in readiness for reading, writing, and doing mathematics.
Photo © Dreamstime, used by permission.
The activities mentioned here are from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Paul and Gail Dennison, (C) 2010.
This movement-based, experiential approach to learning, as well as the 26 Brain Gym® activities, is taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life. An in-depth exploration of sensory specialization for academic skills, including the Action Balance for Dexterity, and a balance to honor the learning profile, is offered in the Optimal Brain Organization course.
© 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 your area.
As an educator, I’ve long been interested in how simple movements can be used to prepare an individual for successfully learning specific academic or sensorimotor tasks. I developed the Optimal Brain Organization course (OBO) out of work I did with laterality in the 1970s at my learning centers. The course provides a safe place for people to notice how they’re using their eyes, ears, hands, and whole body for everyday functions, and discover greater ease and specialization for such sensorimotor skills.
A woman I’ll call Christy, a student in a recent OBO course, was a volunteer for the Dexterity Balance. Christy’s goal was to be able to find her way home. Christy explained that her husband doesn’t like to let her use the car, as he’s afraid she’ll get lost. For example, when she parks at the mall, she often can’t find her vehicle after shopping, and has had to get security to drive her around looking for it. More than once, it’s been on the other side of the mall from where she thought that she had left it.
In a pre-activity, Christy sat in a chair and pretended to drive back to her hotel from the course venue. As she thought about driving, she became confused about whether to turn right or left. In additional pre-activities for this balance, she had difficulty facing someone and pointing to their right ear, left eye, right foot, and so on, which she says commonly happens, making it difficult for her to work with students on their directionality.
I explained to the course participants that knowing left from right is more than memorizing which is your right hand and which is your left, and that finding one’s way is more than following directions or reading a map. In order to easily follow external directions, we need to have an internal map. This internal map is built through our proprioceptors—what I call the brain cells in the muscles—that give us the location of our head, hand, or eyes in relationship to other areas of the body.
Extrinsic clues or strategies can help us in finding our orientation. Yet once a person is able to feel her center from within—to identify where she is in terms of the proprioceptive map, she can feel herself moving in space, actually making an extrinsic map also more readable. Consider how an infant that is free to move spends most of his time exploring this map. Through micromovements he nourishes his 650 some muscles (with oxygen, blood, electricity), experientially coding them for further ease of movement. Yet when he (or anyone) is sedentary for long periods, the ability to distinguish features on the map may be lost.
The balance I had the privilege of facilitating for Christy included doing The Cross Crawl and The Lengthening Activities from the Brain Gym® 26 to help her sense the movement of her whole body and also activities to specialize for her one-sided (asymmetrical) movement, such as using one hand or foot at a time. After the balance, Christy suddenly discovered that she could separate the signal from her left side to her right, relaxing one side as she activated the other, which she had previously been unable to do. She could now tell her right from her left without thinking about it, and could follow directions involving one hand or foot without automatically using the other hand or foot.
Christy said she had never imagined that she could know where she was from inside her own body. I asked her to now pretend to drive to the local health food store: She turned left, right, left, right as if she were moving from a familiar, intrinsic map—aware of her body moving within the big picture of the city. What a thrill to celebrate with her and the other students this new learning about moving in space!
Note: The theme of locating oneself spatially, through the proprioceptors, is explored in all Brain Gym® courses.
© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All Rights Reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.
Today we completed a rousing Optimal Brain Organization (OBO) workshop. A primary theme in the OBO course is how, when people are under stress, they lose their bilateral integration and become more one-sided. They are then unable to cross the lateral midline or access the processing midfield, where eyes, ears, and hands ideally work together. I theorize that such a one-sided imbalance is a compensation stemming from a lack of large-motor movement developmentally (prior to school age) or during the school years. In other words, kids are sitting too much. Therefore they’re not developing the muscle tone and integrated muscle systems that would let them access both sides as a balanced context for one-sided drawing and handwriting.
Another theme of this course is that the transfer of learning is not automatic and must be taught. The course is built around playful balances that help students reconnect with their eye teaming, head turning, and two-handedness as well as symmetrical whole-body movement. Through balances, they learn to transfer learning from one area of expertise to another.
The first theme came into play with a young woman I’ll call Elizabeth, who volunteered for the Dexterity Balance. In the pre-activity she automatically wrote with a power grip, holding the pen tightly and experiencing a stiff right thumb and a painful ache in her right shoulder. I helped her notice that, as she wrote, she was placing her paper in her right visual field, avoiding the midline and midfield. Her goal for the balance was “to write with ease.” After the balance, she automatically picked up her pen with a precision grip and wrote comfortably in the midfield, exclaiming with surprise: “I can’t believe it! My thumb usually hurts when I write. I’m writing without straining my eyes and pressing hard on the paper.”
I explained that the reciprocal back-and-forth motion of thumb and fingers in a relaxed state is needed to form the fluid clockwise and counter-clockwise curves of handwriting. The students joined in a discussion about the importance of bilateral integration over one-sided processing and then eagerly explored this processing for themselves in their own balances.
Like all Edu-K courses, the OBO course is taught in an experiential, whole-to-parts approach. I have been teaching about dominance profiles since the 1970s, when I first tested for them in my learning centers. This particular course was originally built (in 1996) on the works of a number of leading-edge researchers such as Springer and Deutsch, who wrote Left Brain, Right Brain: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience (1989; 2001); Edward Le Winn, author of Human Neurological Organization (1977; 1997),and Gerald Leisman, who authored Basic Visual Process and Learning Disability (1975),along with other researchers with whose books I became familiar in the early years at my learning centers, soon after completing my dissertation. These works have translated well into the practical application we use in this course.
In teaching the OBO course in more recent years, I draw from the wisdom of Frank Wilson’s definitive book The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture. I include discussion of neuroscientist Elkhonon Goldberg’s revelations in The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind, as I believe that it’s imperative for parents and educators to be aware of the executive brain functions that are maturing in their students and to know ways to nurture such functions. And all Brain Gym® Instructors are familiar with Carla Hannaford’s informative book The Dominance Factor: How Knowing Your Dominant Eye, Ear, Brain, Hand & Foot Can Improve Your Learning, which details the linkages between the side of the body we favor for seeing, hearing, touching, and moving and the way we think, learn, play, and relate to others. In her book, Hannaford recommends specific Brain Gym activities to cultivate each learning profile.
My latest reference for this course is the authoritative book on left and right brain: The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by renowned U.K. psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist. In class, we watched the RSA Animate of a Ted Talks lecture by McGilchrist. Click here to find a summary of the animate, and a link to it.
© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.