Mother and me with “Bogie” at the soda shop in Garden City, Kansas, a place she remembered from her teen years.
I always knew my mother to be a dynamic person who could accomplish anything she set her mind to. A Kansas native who grew up during the dustbowl days and came to California in her twenties, she had an indomitable spirit. Along with being a loving wife to my dad, she created a warm home environment where she was primary caregiver in the raising of my three younger siblings and me.
Mom looked for opportunities to bring beauty to the world. As an artist, she always had a project going. From trimming everyone’s hair to climbing onto the patio roof to prune the avocado tree to shaping myriad plants into a veritable botanical garden; from sewing clothes for us children to refinishing furniture, repainting the house inside and out, and painting murals on the living room walls, she was forever finding ways to add some esthetic quality to life. Mother was my first teacher, evoking a love of reading and drawing early on, always engaging me in projects, and genuinely seeking out my thoughts and ideas.
My mother in front of one of the many murals she painted for various family members. This one of a magnolia branch was a gift for her brother and his wife when they were newlyweds.
Since I saw my mother as a strong woman and creative thinker, it was hard for me to acknowledge certain changes in her as she grew older. When others expressed concerns about her memory, I didn’t see what they saw. Since I know that change is constant, and since (through my Edu-K experience) I know that learning is available no matter the age or situation, I looked for what new learning I could support in her.
We had always liked to sing or paint together, or to take walks around the house and yard, and I saw that often when she thought she wasn’t up to it, after doing just a few minutes of simple movements with me—the Cross Crawl, the Thinking Cap, the Owl, and Movement Reeducation for feet* were some of her favorites—she would be happy to engage in one of these ways. In her later years, I was grateful to be able to facilitate Edu-K balances: helping her to make small improvements in her vision, release neck or shoulder tension, and stabilize her equilibrium in the context of a playful goal. I valued how, many times after doing a few of such activities, she immediately responded by letting go of frustrations, reminiscing more, and participating more playfully with me.
Mother and me when she was 80, in front of the elephant exhibit at the Kansas City Zoo.
Yet we lived some distance apart, and as time went on I saw that my visits with my mother weren’t frequent enough to offset her now-sedentary lifestyle: after my dad’s death, the challenges of living alone in a rapidly changing world (and later, the challenges of having a care-giver nearby), and the stress of keeping up the house and garden.
In our phone calls, Mom often seemed stressed, distant, or disheartened, and sometimes she couldn’t seem to recall the conversational topic from a moment ago.
In her aging process, my mother went through a period of frustration and feistiness related to all the losses in her life about which she could do nothing—in particular, she talked about her loss of the strength and resources to be as self-sufficient as she had once been. Then she suddenly stopped talking about her problems or saying anything about how various family members should live their lives. She seemed to retreat and become more of a quiet onlooker. I couldn’t tell if she was having difficulty remembering or was simply no longer able to attend to a structured conversation. I was grateful to be able to do balances** to maintain my own wellbeing, and I found that these brought me continued new ways to connect with her.
After a while, Mom seemed to become an accepting observer of her own suffering, and perhaps the suffering of others as well. She began to empty herself of her everyday concerns and put her attention on something larger—perhaps on the wholeness of her life and the lives of her children.
I asked her once about this change, and she responded, “It’s not something I can tell you about, Gail. But you’ll see for yourself as you grow older.” It has made me wonder how much of memory loss is a choice to behave in a new way—a choice that may not be understood or supported by family members.
Mom, with her brother’s assistance, delightedly climbed into the old John Deere combine and looked off into the distance, as though across the wheat field, as I knew she’d done with her dad countless times in her childhood.
Mom often asked about her family in Kalvesta, Kansas, and for her 80th birthday my son and I decided to take her to her early home for a visit. We had a rich and fulfilling experience, enlivened by Mom’s stories and recollections from every aspect of her childhood. We all enjoyed visiting with relatives and taking some great photos, like the one of Mom pretending to drive her dad’s old combine. I could picture her as a freckle-faced 10-year old, playing with her siblings and friends, and helping her folks maintain the farm.
Yet, on a phone call just days after our return, my mother implored me to take her on a visit to Kansas as though we had never gone. In that moment, perhaps due to my staying centered with such activities as Hook-ups and the Positive Points, I was able to override my inclination to correct her and respond instead by saying, “Mom, you want to spend time in Kansas, and I like to write. Let’s write a book together about your experiences growing up in Kansas.” I think I imagined that I would hear a story or two that I hadn’t yet heard. Without hesitating, Mom responded, “Okay. Well, it should begin like this:”
What I remember most about growing up in Kansas is looking out over the vast, vast country, as far as I could see, and watching the fields of ripe wheat blowing back and forth. The wind would sometimes push the wheat till it lay right down on the ground, and then lay it down the other way, or blow it in circles—the golden tassels just whirling in the wind.
The wind was always an important presence in our lives—blowing our hair, our hats, and our dresses. For people who have never seen Kansas, a state right in the center of the United States, it might be hard to believe what it was like there in the 1920s and 1930s. Not everybody could understand Kansas, and many wouldn’t like it.
The golden wheat fields of Kalvesta, Kansas, after the fall harvest. Post-harvest, when everyone gets to relax, proved to be a good time for our visit.
Tears filled my eyes as I scribbled verbatim notes as fast as I could write. Remarkably, for this moment my mom was no longer withdrawn or at a loss for words. She had apparently been waiting to tell this new version of her story, and she told it as quickly and eloquently as if she were reading it aloud.
The windmill at Mom’s childhood home.
After this, each time I called my mother I would do some Brain Gym activities, with the intention of being able to stay present with her and draw out more of her story. I would briefly catch her up on family events. She might at first seem not to remember about the book, yet as I read back to her some of what we had written and held that attitude of inquiry, she would most often continue her narrative with enthusiasm.
Within a few months we had completed a small, wonderful book—one that I treasure still as one of Mom’s great gifts to the family. Even more valuable to me was the bond that we deepened as she shared her thoughts and stories.
On one of her visits with me, Mom had some difficulty in walking, and needed to lean against me in order to get around. I figured out that her medication was affecting her equilibrium, and asked the doctor if I could wean her off of it. He agreed.
In the few days of her visit, we did Brain Buttons, the Thinking Cap, Balance Buttons, and Hook-ups together, as well as a lot of cross-crawling. Without the medication, Mom had some difficult moments of anger, despair, and irritation. Yet, each time, I was able to assist her in using the activities to calm herself, access greater strength and balance, and put any concerns into words. Within the first half a day, she was walking with a steadiness and vigor that I hadn’t seen for a while.
I also discovered that if Mom sat on a stool with her back to me, in front of the chair I was sitting in, I could wrap my arms around her, crossing her arms over her chest, and rock her very slowly from side to side in the My Little Boat*** movement. She found this soothing and restorative, and would sometimes hum as we rocked, as if she were rocking me. We would both quickly became more centered and connected; sometimes she would doze off and I would simply hold her hand.
Over the next couple of years, this activity became one of my favorites to do with Mom. It offered us many restorative moments, and afterward our visit would be characterized by the kind of conversation and relating that we both found so fulfilling. ♥
* The Brain Gym® activities mentioned here are from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, (c) 2010; Movement Reeducation for feet is from the course Educational Kinesiology in Depth: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence.
**An Edu-K balance offers five steps to easy learning. The balance process, along with 11 Action Balances and the 26 Brain Gym® activities, are all taught in the introductory course Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Live (see instructor link below).
***The My Little Boat** activity is one of the twelve Integrated Movements from Educational Kinesiology in Depth: Seven Dimensions of Intelligence.
© 2013 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.
A spotted dog stands on the rocks, looking out into the distance.
The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. —Albert Einstein
About a month ago, my 10-year old granddaughter, H., came by for her Wednesday after-school visit. As often happens, we sat and talked for awhile, drew pictures, then spent some time playing outdoors. Later in the afternoon, H. became immersed in quiet yet active play in the living room, while I took the opportunity to catch up on my own things.
It seems that the dog is standing guard at a distance, keeping his eye on a thin grey cat and a fluffy white one as they meet next to a bird cage. The cats have positioned themselves atop two strange, mythic creatures (my plant stands).
The two cats face one another and stand their ground.
A day or so after this, I noticed that H. had moved several medium-sized rocks from where I had them in front of the living room fireplace, and had carefully set them up, along with the small figure of a dog, near the window seat (all things she has done before). I started to put these things back in order, but something about their specificity gave me pause. I realized that the dog was positioned to be looking at something a couple of feet away. When I stepped back to get the bigger picture, I was immediately drawn into an imaginal world. (Check out the photos above to see the key features of the scenario that H. had created, and below for those that she added just this week.)
A mythical Griffin (or a mountain?) appears to be a backdrop for the action.
I love playing with my grandchildren. I’m also delighted when I see them involved in their own imaginal play, especially when it reaches beyond the confines of toys and games, and into everyday spaces. I know that adults can support children in crossing the threshold into their inner world by providing a quiet space and making available some simple things, often from nature, that they can explore on their own. When a child can enter that make-believe realm, they discover a place belonging uniquely to them. Here, any found object can take on a new meaning.
The grey cat stands alongside a red dinosaur.
This inner place is not at all a passive rethinking of something seen on a screen. Yes, it might begin with fantasy, but it soon becomes grounded in something else—an active, connected exploration of inner feelings, sensations, and symbols; a way to bring these into greater congruency. It seems to me that it’s this love of an inner sequencing (not necessarily in words) that helps children sort their feelings and explore their place in the world. And it’s this personal “narrative” that will surely call children into the world of reading. In this case, I immediately felt that what I was seeing was the very reason this kind of play is so valuable, and an example of how children love to invent and elaborate their own stories.
Four little chicks rest in a wooden cradle.
So I left the stones and animals there. Nothing happened for awhile and I didn’t think about them. And then this week—some four weeks later—I had the honor of seeing how this timeless saga was continued, as H. played for over an hour in that same location: Here’s a cradle of tiny chicks . . . a robin, sitting at the foot of a Griffin (or is this a mountain?) and carrying a frog on her back as she looks after the chicks. The grey cat has joined a dinosaur on top of the Griffin’s sunglasses—or is that a mountain ledge? And the dog continues to gaze calmly out over it all.
A spotted frog rides on the back of the Robin, as she watches over the chicks.
I have only a glimpse of the world H. was exploring, but can see its signs in this one by the way she uses language, expresses her feelings, coordinates her movement and centralizes her vision as she organizes her play, and in so many other ways. Although all these skills can be taught, as we do through the simple movements of Edu-K and Brain Gym®, it’s also wonderful to learn them first-hand through active explorations of the world around us. I’m confident that this inner world H. is building will continue to hold a motivating fire for reading, writing, and even learning itself. I trust you’ll enjoy the glimpse as I do.
Author’s note: My thoughts on imagination began to take root in a course I developed in 1986 called Visioncircles, where participants explore eight spheres of perceptual awareness, “Internalization” (symbolic representation) being the sixth. (I borrowed this idea of Internalization from psychologist Jean Piaget, who described Internalization as the last of the sensorimotor stage, where toddlers begin to think symbolically, solve motor problems, and use language.
For more about how imagination and symbolic representation contribute to literacy, see I Already Know How to Read: A Child’s View of Literacy, by Prisca Martens.
For more about the play state, see:
Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan, 2010;
Playing by Heart: The Vision and Practice of Belonging by O. Fred Donaldson, 1993;
and the classic, Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce, 1992.
© 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 a Brain Gym® or Visioncircles 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.
For newborns, life begins with a joy of learning. Parents can see that, for the infant, everything is new and absorbing. Fresh discoveries are made moment by moment. Although a newborn’s brain weighs only about 25 percent of its eventual adult weight, by age three it will have produced billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of synapse connections between these cells.
Never is the learning curve so steep as it is in the first seven years of life. During these formative years, a child will follow an innate impulse to move their whole body, to creep or crawl, to walk, to skip, to speak a language, to relate to others, to communicate feelings and needs, and to explore and interact with his environment using his eyes, ears, and hands in a total focus of his absorbent mind. His ability to make choices and to move autonomously in relationship to the pull of gravity happens concurrently.
What is learning, then, and how do children actually learn best? Is there any research to show that children learn effectively sitting in a chair at a desk and reading textbooks, or answering test questions, focusing on information, without any apparent personal motivation beyond that of a grade?
The word education comes from the root word “educere,” meaning to lead or draw out. This is not about memorizing or “stamping in” disconnected information. The Brain Gym® approach to learning is through the joy of play and movement activities. The intent is to stabilize the physical skills of learning so that the mental skills can proceed as part of discovering how to think and solve problems within a context of inquiry, practice, and application. It’s the exploratory practice and application that makes learning real and transferable to ever-new learning situations. Such self-initiated learning questions the traditional classroom or homework approach as being inconsistent with modern neuroscience. It turns out that intelligence is not a fixed IQ score; nor is it planted firmly in the brain from birth. Rather, it forms and develops through the entire lifetime.
The fascinating science of neuroplasticity, intensively researched for two decades, shows that natural, self-motivated learning literally grows the brain. According to author, neurologist, and educator Judy Willis, neuroplasticity is best understood as the selective organization of neuronal connections. This means that when people physically practice an activity or access a memory, their neural networks—groups of neurons that fire together, creating electrochemical pathways—shape themselves according to that activity or memory. These brain pathways are like a system of freeways connecting various cities: the more “automobiles” traveling to a certain destination, the wider the “road” that carries them.
Neuroscientists have been chorusing “Cells that fire together, wire together” since the late 1990s, meaning that if you perform a task or recall some information that causes different neurons to fire in concert, it strengthens the connections between those cells. Over time, the connections become strong, hardy systems that link various parts of the brain, and stimulating one neuron in the sequence is likely to trigger the next one to fire. Thus, says Judy Willis, “When you help your child grow in skills, strategies, and higher levels of thinking, he becomes increasingly engaged in learning, in and out of school. . . . Positive expectancy changes brain neurochemistry, which increases your child’s brain growth and development.*
In advancing the Brain Gym model, I drew from the work of respected educators who had studied the growth of the natural learner for many years. Those pioneers in the field of education, including Marie Montessori, John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, John Holt, and William Glasser, all understood that the child is the curriculum, and is always more important than any subject matter to be memorized. This is especially so now, when any inquisitive child who wishes to pursue her own self-initiated inquiry can find such information on the Internet.
When young children go to school, they most often take with them their initial passion for learning. Those who have had rich experiences of whole-body movement and hand-eye exploration have an advantage over those that are less prepared to sit still and think. For children who are ready, the new knowledge and experiences that might await them there can feel like a thrilling prospect. Most youngsters want to learn and do their best in school. Some successfully maintain their enthusiasm for learning through the school years and even through life. Such students tend to become leaders who radiate their love of life.
Unfortunately, through tests, report cards, and comparisons to others, all too many lose that joy of learning, living in a constant state of fight or flight that affects not only muscular tension but also sensory abilities. They might struggle with the physical skills of sitting, eye-teaming to read, or relaxing the hand to write, and might not get the coaching they need from their parents or teachers. For various such reasons, discouragement sets in. “I hate school” becomes associated with the learning process. In a world of abundant opportunity, far too many children give up on themselves and hold back from taking the risk to do their best.
Once the stress reflex has limited a child’s natural joy of learning through movement and play, how can adults help to restore it? As parents and teachers, we need to notice the signs that children are becoming stressed or discouraged and be there for them, supporting them to restore curiosity and engagement as they move, play, stumble, get up again, and reach for the novel and stimulating experiences upon which they can build their learning. We can guide them to cultivate sensory modalities, rather than override them by excessing sitting or near-point focus. As the adults in their world, we must model for them our own love of movement and learning and the risk-taking that expands our own horizons. Are we increasing our capabilities? Are we growing ourselves and our own brains? Are we excited about life? Or have we allowed ourselves to keep repeating the same movement patterns, thoughts, and negative attitudes—just to survive? If we’re simply surviving, we might actually be moving backward rather than forward. Life is a process of growth and discovery, not maintenance of the status quo.
I envision a learning environment connected with the senses, nature, and the community, where pleasure, critical thinking, high self-esteem, and lifelong learning are honored as capabilities of each and every child. A child-centered education draws out and builds upon prior experience and knowledge. I believe that children are better at constructing their own knowledge than we will ever be at knowing how to break what they need down into subjects and sequences and lessons that they must tediously work through in order to emerge at the end educated. For this reason, play and the freedom to move and explore are paramount.
*Willis, Judy. How Your Child Learns Best: Brain Friendly Strategies You Can Use to Ignite Your Child’s Learning and Increase School Success, © 2008, Sourcebook, Inc., p. 275.
Photo ID 31251723 © Waldru | Dreamstime.com, used with permission.
© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in your area.
Learning is defined as the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, practice, or study. Learning depends on the ability to not only take in new information, but to also successfully transfer it from one subject area (such as spelling) to another (such as reading), and even to completely new territory (perhaps story writing), an ability that depends on skills of movement. Yet only recently are educators coming to recognize movement as the learning vehicle that it is. Educational programs have overemphasized declarative knowledge, which focuses mainly on the taking in of information, as learning itself. Without procedural knowledge—learning that is movement based—students are unable to apply what they know to new situations.
Most often, any academic program at school has been separated from physical education. One essential task of skilled teaching is to join and create harmony between the mental and the physical—between declarative and procedural knowledge. Learners access declarative knowledge by use of words . . . by reading, thinking, and conversing. Yet it’s the procedural knowledge that gives us the physical maps to practice, experiment, and bring the new learning into our muscles and movement patterns.
In Edu-K, we emphasize the procedural and start with the physical. We use simple physical activities as the primary context for acquiring new experience, as well as the vehicle for transferring new learning. These are purposeful activities, most taking about 30 seconds to do; not simply exercises or random movements. Most can be done while sitting, or when standing by a desk. Once children learn the movements, they can use them on their own, as needed. For example, we might do the Thinking Cap from the Brain Gym® activities, unrolling the ears from top to bottom three times, to teach the auditory skill of making a spelling distinction. When both ears are open, the sound of the spoken word pen will be more distinct from the sound of pin. We might then use the Thinking Cap again to help learners transfer that skill of auditory discrimination to better enjoy the sounds of language when reading. Having both ears open allows for a greater sense of the lyrical flow of words, along with their meaning. Once again, we can scaffold this learning by having students listen to their thoughts while writing creatively. In other words, movement-based learning uses physical function as a way to bring learners’ attention to an experience of their senses as they engage in the learning process.
The educational theorist Jean Piaget described the learner’s cognitive structure as beginning with concrete operations, then moving to image-making, and finally to abstractions. In Edu-K, we find that the learner’s development of an internal map of the body gives the concrete experience essential to ease of function. This internal map includes feedback from proprioceptors, the “brain cells” in the muscles, an awareness of the relationship of joints to bone, an internal awareness of balance and directionality, and an ability to stand aside and notice or observe these functions. The learner is asking, in a pre-cognitive way: Where am I in space? Where is one thing in relation to another? The answer to these questions is given only through movement. The answers pave the way for explorations of What are these different elements of the world around me? And who am I in the world?
In A User’s Guide to the Brain, clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School John Ratey, M.D., informs his readers that “. . . the brain’s motor function affects so much more than just physical motion. It is crucial to all other brain functions—perception, attention, emotion—and so affects the highest cognitive processes of memory, thinking, and learning.”
Through movement, the learner discovers how to notice, cultivate, and enjoy his own sensorimotor patterns instead of overriding them, abstracting his experiential learning into image and words. He begins to initiate and integrate his own self-directed learning, developing skills of feedback, feed-forward, and self-control. Integration of procedural and declarative knowledge results in knowing how to learn.
**Ratey, John J. A User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain. New York: Vintage 2002, p.175.
***For more information about the Thinking Cap, as well as the other Brain Gym activities, see Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Paul and Gail Dennison, © 2010.
This movement-based, experiential approach to learning, as well as the 26 Brain Gym® activities, are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life, and other Edu-K courses.
To read the Italian translation of this article, click here: http://tinyurl.com/nv3l3fu or https://sigridloos.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/
The photo is © Goldenkb | Dreamstime.com, used with permission.
© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.