Build a Robot Dog! Literacy in Action: A 5-Year-Old Shows Us How

The Robot Dog, as my grandson built him.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

4. Tape a straw to the TP tube.

 

Your Robot Dog will look something like this as you complete steps 1 - 4.

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.

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).

After making the head and ears (5, 6).

6. Use scissors to make your Robot Dog some ears.

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.

7. Make your dog a tail.

 

Blue construction paper makes a great pom pom for the tail (7).

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).

8. Add 3 dots (the instrument panel).

9. He’s ready to go for a spin!

9. The completed Robot Dog, ready to roll!

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.

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.

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.

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.
―Albert Einstein

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.

 

Five Double Doodle Flowers for Spring

Playful flowers, leaves, and curlicues drawn with two hands at once make a colorful design.

Playful flowers, leaves, and curlicues drawn with two hands at once make a colorful design.

Flowers are always fun to draw, and especially welcome in the springtime. Their shapes can be quite soothing and relaxing to make when using two hands at the same time. Whether you want to make a card or picture to express your gratitude to someone special, or to simply reflect on and celebrate such qualities as playfulness or beauty, this project is a great way to connect with nurturing feelings. All you need is some paper, marking pens (crayons or paint can also work), and a few minutes time, to create a cheerful or whimsical image. (See the photo at bottom right for a suggested layout of your tools.)

In the image that you see here, I’ve included five distinctive radial flower shapes that I often use in my workshops with teens and adults of all ages. I’ve taught the more simple shapes to children as young as five (though please be sure they can do one shape easily before showing them more). People generally find the making of Double Doodle flowers to be a calming and reflective activity—one they are often surprised that they can do.

Begin by taping your paper to a smooth surface. Then take a moment to relax yourself, especially your arms, by doing a few strokes of the Cross Crawl, all of PACE, or perhaps Lazy 8s or the Arm Activation, if you’re familiar with these. This will help you orient yourself to the page in terms of your center—your sternum—while simultaneously feeling the reach of your arms and symmetry of your hand motions. I made the above left image while standing at a table, as I often do. Or you might want to work on an easel.

You might begin with a dandelion-like design.

You might begin with a dandelion-like design.

An image like this does not require working on the midline of the page, but calls for us to see the midpoint and midline of each individual flower-shape that we draw. You might begin, as I did, with a different colored marker in each hand, with the marker tips resting next to one another in the center of your visual field. I first drew a dandelion-like design: With both hands on the center point of your dandelion, create outward strokes away from the middle to make the shape. Add more dandelion shapes to your bouquet, as you like.

The first petal motion for the Looping Flowers.

The first petal motion for the Looping Flowers.

Next I drew the three looping flowers in the upper-middle area. These are fun to do in one flowing motion: the first petals are made as your hands move up, down, and then
loop back up; the second petals move down, then loop up and out diagonally, the third loop out to the sides, and so on.

A completed Looping Flower shape with six petals.

A completed Looping Flower shape with six petals.loop (see the image at left); the 2nd petals are made as your hands move out to thesides, in toward the middle, and then loop; the 3rd petals are similarly made with a downward, then upward motion.

The first two petals for the Heart-Petal Flower.

The first two petals for the Heart-Petal Flower.

The third flower has tiny heart-shaped petals (see image at right). Simply draw two hearts at once, side-by-side, to make the top two petals, then continue with the side and then the bottom petals. You can walk around your paper or draw the hearts upside-down. Again, this is most fun to do in a smooth, flowing motion. As you work, let yourself—your movement and looking—be more and more from a place of comfort and soft focus. Doing the Double Doodle invites relaxation of the eyes and hands, so if you feel yourself tensing up with old movement patterns, pause and do more large motor movement before continuing.

A Heart-Petaled Flower.

A Heart-Petaled Flower.

Next, I made two playful roses at once, by first drawing the calming outward spiral, then encircling it with two or three rounded waves to suggest the thick and sensuous petals .

The fifth flower is simply made by drawing two 6-pointed stars at once: Your two (fine-point) markers touch at the midpoint, then quickly brush out and away to make three radiating lines. Can you find my ten tiny Star-Flowers?IMG_4309

Finally, you can add leaves, curling vines, or curlicues, to fill the space. If you wish, go back to each flower and layer it with two (or even three) more colors, as I did. With your dominant hand, you might color in a shape or two, or add other asymmetrical touches, as you like.

I used a variety of thick and thin colored markers, as well as two colored pencils.

I used a variety of thick and thin colored markers, as well as two colored pencils.

I’m confident that you’re final image will surprise you with the joy of coordinating your hands and eyes, and the beauty and mystery of asymmetry that seems to accompany the Double Doodle process.

For more information on the Double Doodle, read A Soothing Double Doodle Heart for Kids of all Ages.

The Double Doodle is one of the 26 Brain Gym® activities, from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Dennison and Dennison. To find an instructor of the workshop Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision, developed by Gail Dennison, click here.

For a translation of this article into Spanish or Catalan, click here or paste http://kinemocions.com/ca/primavera-cinco-flores-con-dobles-garabatos/.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International. For more information, or to find an instructor in your area, go to www.braingym.org.

(C) 2014 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

 

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.

5 Easy Keys to Happy Eyes for Your School-Age Child

dreamstime_m_18030319Now that summer’s over and they’re back in school, most children are sitting more and moving less, and this relative inactivity extends to the eyes. Although schoolwork is highly vision-oriented, it doesn’t typically involve the range and diversity of visual skills that are called for in three-dimensional activities. And each school day may result in hours of hunching over and reading at near-point, followed by a similar scenario at night while completing homework.

Research increasingly points to movement as a basic physiological need, and today’s parents and educators are doing much to engage learners in movement breaks and outdoor activities, realizing that the visual and movement patterns they develop as they begin to do schoolwork will follow them for many years into the future. Yet not all schools or homework assignments currently reflect this thinking.

Of special concern are those children who are not accustomed to the demands of so much sitting and pointing the eyes at symbols. In an effort to keep up in the classroom, they can quickly fall into a habit of trying too hard and not looking up. During study time at school and at home, it’s especially important for parents and educators to connect through intermittent conversation and eye contact, so that a child learns to associate relaxed attention as the context for learning. Here are five simple things parents and educators can notice about how a child is using his visual skills, along with suggested Brain Gym(R) activities* that can help guide learners of any age in exploring and gaining access to a fuller range of their visual and movement capabilities:

1. Relaxed Near Focus – Does he or she squint when looking at homework, or sit too close to the television or computer screen? Some children haven’t yet learned to move their eyes together; others have yet to discover the benefits of looking up every few minutes to break a staring habit. In either case, looking away from a task or into distant vistas can help relax the focus. Option: Show your child how to do Brain Buttons (see video) while following a horizon line with the eyes by moving them side to side. Talk about the distant colors and shapes that you see, inviting him or her to explore these with you.

2. Neutral Head Position – Does she frequently tilt her head when reading or drawing? Head tilting can be due to not being able to turn the head easily from side to side, and often goes along with one-sided neck and shoulder tension or even headaches. Option: Teach your child to do The Thinking Cap as described here: Before doing the activity, help her notice how easily she can turn her head without lifting or jutting her chin. Show her how to use her thumbs and index fingers to pull her ears gently back and unroll them, top to bottom, three or more times. Have her again notice her head turning.

3. Fluid Eye Movement – Notice how he reads. If he often loses his place or says “gril” for “girl,” he may not be using his eyes as a team as he scans and decodes words, resulting in blurry or reversed images. Option: Drawing Lazy 8s in the air or on paper, or tracing Lazy 8s on his back, can help him to relax, centralize his vision, and improve his scanning skills (click for further description). In Edu-K, we find that when children learn to move their eyes, they naturally point them without being taught.

4. Left-Right Balance – Does she seem to dislike standing or walking? Children often lack a whole-body sense of left-right movement, or else inhibit this sense when they sit excessively. Yet the muscles, visual system, and inner ear must work together to provide balanced movement in gravity, even for sitting. Option: Teach your child The Cross Crawl (see video). When children get more comfortable with a rhythmic left-right movement pattern, their gross-motor activity provides a context for ease of fine-motor (including visual) movement.

5. Spatial Awareness – Does your child rarely look up or away from his book, iPad, or gaming device? Perhaps he is finding it easier to rely on a single, set visual focus than to look up and process depth and movement in the three-dimensional world. Option: Use any of the four activities described above, The Cross Crawl, The Thinking Cap, Brain Buttons, and Lazy 8s, to help activate varied visual and motor skills that will support your child’s well-being and ease of academic learning as they let him “unlock” his gaze from that book or screen.

Each playful Brain Gym® movement provides a shift in focus of 10 seconds or so–long enough for the eyes to readjust–or can provide a longer diversion as needed (as when dancing a rhythmic Cross Crawl with music). Remember also to invite frequent breaks from homework or other near-point activities to make playful eye contact.

 

*These four Brain Gym® activities, along with others that support sensorimotor skills, are described in detail in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, 2010, by Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison. 

**These and other sensorimotor skills  are taught experientially, through movement and play, in the courses Brain Gym® 101: Balancing for Daily Life and Visioncircles: 8 Spheres of Perceptual Development. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

**Many children will make a shift in these visual habits after just a few playful experiences, as described. If your child consistently experiences any of these challenges, it’s a good idea to call an optometrist to schedule a routine eye exam.

Photo Credit: © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com

© 2013 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym®  International. 

Five Minutes to Better Reading Fluency

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-little-boy-reading-book-image2627082Jared, age 8 and in the third grade, had been taught how to do Lazy 8s* in his school classroom. (One of 26 Brain Gym® activities, Lazy 8s is done by drawing a large 8 on its side, first with each hand separately and then with both hands together.) When his mother called me to set up a private session, she said that Jared initially liked doing Lazy 8s, as they helped him read better, and he had made some good improvements remembering his words. Yet over the summer, he seemed to have fallen behind in reading. Now that school and homework were beginning again, Jared was reading too slowly to keep up with his daily assignments, and he frequently complained about feeling tired or having his eyes bother him.

I asked Jared’s mother to have him bring to the session a favorite book that he liked reading, and that was easy for him. I talked with Jared about a goal to have more fun reading, and he was enthusiastic about this. I listened to him read as he carefully pronounced each word, one at a time, yet when I asked him what he had just read, he had no recall or understanding of the story content, even with help from the pictures.

Reading is a complex language skill involving the expressive encoding of speech and receptive decoding of listening modalities. Although it involves visual skills, reading is not a visual process. I have been a reading specialist for more than 40 years, and in the 1970s taught phonetic analysis and auditory discrimination daily at my reading centers. I’ve found that, for the thousands of readers of all ages and abilities with whom I’ve worked, auditory skills have rarely been the difficulty. In fact, most young people today have excellent speech and language skills. It’s the visual stress that inhibits language processing while reading.

Experts** tell us that the eye muscles can move as much as 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. When the two eyes don’t point together as they cross the midline*** from the left to the right visual field, it will be easier to avoid the midline than to work on the midfield, where the eyes might see a blur, a double image, or the letter symbols appearing to move on an unstable background.

Even though Jared had done Lazy 8s and other Brain Gym® activities in school, I could see by the way that he moved, sat, and looked around as we talked that he was still avoiding crossing the midline. I asked him to follow my pen light with his eyes as I moved it slowly and horizontally (within reading distance) from left to right across his visual field. As Jared tracked the light back and forth, I perceived a hesitation and a slight adjustment of his head and eyes each time he crossed the midline.

The body’s vertical (lateral) midline describes a specific anatomical plane that runs through the navel, sternum, neck, and center of the head. I find that when learners know how to function in terms of this midline, they experience definitive left, right, and middle visual (and auditory) fields. I understand movement habits to be task specific—changing from one task, such as reading, to another, such as writing. When children are developmentally ready to read, they’re generally able to sit upright and move their eyes left and right without distorting their body or visual field as they shift from one task to another. When they lack this readiness, they often continuously misalign their eyes or body posture in order to adjust to the specific and changing visual and kinesthetic demands of using various tools, such as a book, tablet, computer screen, pen and lined paper, or white board.

Yet I find that young people (or anyone) must discover new movement habits intrinsically, for themselves. “Sitting up straight” cannot really be required or achieved by instruction. As with many things, there’s a difference between knowing what to do and knowing how to do it.

I asked Jared to draw some large Lazy 8s on my office chalkboard. He drew the 8s very quickly and with the center of the 8 in his right visual field, keeping his head turned slightly to the right to avoid the midline. I suggested that we do Lazy 8s together. I guided his hand to help him slow the movement enough that he really needed to focus on his hand motion and align his body’s midline (his sternum) with the midpoint of the Lazy 8. I talked him through the activity, helping him to identify the exact center of the 8 and to distinguish between the image of his hand moving up and over into the left visual field and that of it moving up and over into the right visual field.

I noticed how he moved his eyes. Each time that Jared moved his hand into his left visual field, his eyes would jump or backtrack as they had done earlier when he tracked the pen light. I helped him slow down even more with the upper left part of the 8, giving him time to adjust the teaming of his eyes into the left field. After a few times around both the left and the right sides of the 8, he began to easily anticipate the movement of his hand without his eyes wavering.

Suddenly he looked around the room and said, “Wow. The room just got bigger.” I laughed and said that sometimes when we get our two eyes working together as a team, we “switch on” and see more than we did before. A big part of my work with students is helping them slow down enough to notice changes like this, which, for me, are the real aha moments of learning. Such internalizing experiences create empowered learners who understand the learning process as personal and dynamic—often occurring in a matter of seconds—rather than impersonal and static, and only about the tedious taking in of more and more information.

I told Jared that I sometimes describe doing Lazy 8s as similar to slowly tracing the frame of a pair of large eyeglasses. Tracing the frame reminds us that we have two eyes and that, when we look through left and right lenses, we see both a left and right visual field. What happens when we put the eyeglasses on? We see only one image, the midfield, as the left and right sides meet on our midline, where the glasses sit on our nose. The Lazy 8s movement helps us find the exact center of our left and right fields and how they join to become the overlapping midfield—one single field of attention. This is the bilateral midfield where information processing best takes place.

After this short experience of doing Lazy 8s with understanding, Jared had no more difficulty tracking my pen light and was able to readily identify the midline and access the midfield. When I asked him to read again, he read with expression, speaking the words, phrases, and sentences as if he were simply telling me a story he had just heard.  As I’ve seen with thousands of learners of all ages and abilities, reading is easier and more fun when the eyes and the rest of the body are working together on the midfield. I love the simplicity of Lazy 8s for teaching this skill of awareness.

 

 *Lazy 8s is one of the Brain Gym® activities, from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, ©2010.

 ** See Research Nugget: Visual Skills and Reading.

***It’s my finding that early decoding for reading instruction, before children’s visual systems and whole-body movement skills have matured enough for near-point binocular focus, can contribute to reading challenges later on. I now teach synthetic phonics only during the spelling lesson; not for sounding out during reading. I want readers to experience the sounds and meaning available through a whole language approach to reading. Although many people doing the Lazy 8s improve their reading skills as quickly as Jared did, not everyone does. Jared had the vestibular balance and gross motor coordination to support his visual system, and was ready to cross his midline for reading.

© 2013 by Paul 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 in your area.

Photo credit: © Ctacik | Dreamstime.com, used with permission

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