Learning to Read: The Magic of Words on Paper

HeartsatPlay_ResourceSite_HomePage_workinaction_cross-crawlJosie, age nine and in the third grade, is an attentive student who loves sports, art, and to play outdoors. Reading came late to her, and she has never found it easy. She was tutored early on by her grandmother, Jane, who listened patiently and pronounced for Josie any new word she didn’t recognize. It was Jane who called me to set up a private session for Josie when she noticed that her reading had become more strained this school year.

When we met, I asked Josie what she liked about school. She responded in a halting, stilted way, saying that she liked playing with her friends. Josie then read a paragraph from a book she’d brought with her. I noticed that she read methodically, one word at a time, in a dull, flat monotone.  She knew most of the words, yet struggled along with little apparent enjoyment of the process.

A closer look revealed that Josie was holding the book in her right visual field. I checked her eyes for left-to-right tracking across the visual midfield, where the left and right visual fields overlap and the eyes converge for binocular integration.  Each time we crossed the midline, Josie lost sight of the target, unable to maintain her focus.

For beginning readers, the natural flow of informational learning starts with auditory perception as a child listens to people talking, or to fascinating stories being read or told. Like language, reading is first and foremost a verbal and auditory process. Relating it to prior experiences in memory benefits from integration of the auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile areas of the brain and the ability to interpret such received information as meaningful.

Learning to read requires simultaneously holding what is familiar (stored in words as a verbal code) and relating new information to experiences held in memory. It’s imperative to the learner’s long-term thinking success that the wholeness of language and its meaning is not broken into small, disconnected information bits as he reads. Eye-movement patterns are necessary, yet incidental, to the mental aspect of reading, and need to be so fluid, automatic, and stress-free that the auditory-language processes can proceed without inhibition. Language and meaning must always lead, and never follow, visual input.

Yet, for many, reading is about focusing on linear input, one word or phonetic sound at a time. This is a lesser aspect of reading, and one that, in its overemphasis, teaches excessive eye-pointing and an inaccurate idea of the reading process. This fragmenting of language can affect not only the way a child learns to think, but even their everyday way of speaking, as it had for Josie.

I invited Josie and her grandmother to do some enjoyable movements with me. I played some music, and the three of us put on our Thinking Caps, rubbed our Brain Buttons, did the Cross Crawl, and explored some slow Lazy 8s and the Double Doodle. We completed with Belly Breathing. After about fifteen minutes of the activities, Josie was able to track a moving target of focus with ease and facility, both left to right and right to left, across her reading midfield.

I asked Josie if she felt ready to return to her book, and she started to read again from where she’d left off.  It was like listening to a different person. Josie was now relaxed, and was telling us the story in her own natural speaking voice, with fully animated expression and obvious comprehension of where the narrative was headed.

“What was that about?” I asked. This time, Josie was able to answer without hesitation, easily turning her thoughts into fluent and meaningful language.

Jane was amazed. “How long will this last?” she asked. I told her that, like all physical skills, if this new way of reading is fully learned and becomes a new habit, it will last indefinitely. Josie will now prefer to read by staying in the midfield instead of avoiding it.

To reinforce the new skill, I recommended as homeplay the Thinking Cap, the Double Doodle, and Lazy 8s before and after reading, so Josie could quickly orient her body to her auditory and visual midfield to assure a happy reading experience every time. When they said goodbye, Josie and her grandmother told me they were looking forward to doing the activities together at home.


See also Discovering the Reading Midfield

Research Nugget: Visual Skills and Reading

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

© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym®  International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

A Fine Day for Dancin’

St.PatrickDanceTop o’ the morning to ya, and it’s a fine day for dancin’!

In spring or anytime, I find that dance is a lovely way to increase my vigor and celebrate my day. It’s difficult to dance and not feel happy and light-hearted, plus dancing a complex pattern is great for your memory. Dance may have evolved from people’s seeking a social way to make merry after a day’s work, or to mark the end of a season. Perhaps you enjoy, as I do, such fervent dances as the Irish or Highland jig, or more choreographed forms like contra dance, English Country Dance (perhaps driven by the lilting sound of a tin whistle!), or the festive grapevine or even modern Western square dance.  Central to all such Western and European folk dances is a rhythmic and alternating left-right shifting of weight, similar to the Brain Gym® program’s Cross Crawl activity.

Once you’re familiar with the Cross Crawl*, you can vary it to do many dance steps, including a version of your own Irish Jig. You just need the right music, or perhaps you’ll sing or whistle along.

How to: You can build your Cross Crawl jig from a common jig dance step—the rising step or rise and grind. Do this first with the right foot leading, then with the left foot leading. For the right side version: Put your weight on your left foot and lift your right foot (toe pointed) off the ground. Hop once on your left foot, then hop again, bringing your right foot back behind your left foot. Then shift your weight onto your right foot, leaving your left foot in the air. Pause slightly. Now alternate with small hops, in place, from foot to foot in the pattern of left-right-left-right, ending with the weight on your right foot. Dancers use the phrase “hop, hop back” for the first three movements. The complete step is called the “hop hop back, hop 1234”. Then repeat the pattern with your right foot. To make this a Cross-Crawl step, lift the arm opposite to the lifted foot.

You might know that the real jig is done with the feet turned out, one in front of the other. However, I suggest keeping both feet pointed forward, hips-width apart, and parallel, as most of us who have been sedentary folks at some point in our lives don’t have the length and strength of posterior muscles (calves, hamstrings, hips . . .) to dance with toes turned out, which would then put a strain on our hips and back.

In all cases, (biomechanically speaking) the feet need to be pointed straight during walking in order for the ankle to actually work like an ankle (in its correct plane of motion), for the knee to work like the hinge-jointed knee that it is, and for the lateral hip to be engaged. And especially without posterior strength, walking, dancing (or even running) with feet pointed forward helps to protect us from significant stresses throughout the posterior kinetic chain, which could otherwise over time result in frustrating conditions, such as flat feet, bunions, misaligned knee and hip, and the potential injuries these can cause.

May Saint Paddy’s Day (and everyday!) find you dancing and celebrating the wonder of human mobility!


*To read about the many benefits of the Cross Crawl, see Brain Gym® Teacher’s Edition, (C) 2010. If you have difficulty doing this movement (it does require some coordination), you can easily learn it through a brief repatterning, available from Brain Gym® Instructors  (see below). Further, many Brain Gym Instructors teach the Cross Crawl in a dance-like form, or you can enjoy a whole day with more than thirty variations of the Cross Crawl offered in the Movement Dynamics course that I developed in 1990 (see course listings at the same link).

Here are more tips on how to do a jig.

See the video review “All About Your Knees” on the work of biomechanist Katy Bowman to learn more about the mechanics of foot position and how this can affect knees.

© 2013 by Gail 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.

The Comfort of Sensory Beauty

I woke up not feeling great. So, in the spirit of transitioning to a new year, I decided to do a review of some of my favorite remembrances. It was quite chilly in the house so I turned on the heater, went back to bed, and cozied up under the blankets in such a way that I could do the Positive Points (see below), one of the 26 Brain Gym® activities, while I rested. I meant to think about my family of origin and scenes from my childhood, but really had nothing particular in mind except self-regeneration.


Almost the moment my pulses started to synchronize, I saw a sweeping, crystal-clear image of the San Gabriel Mountains that day after day came into view for me as I looked out the dining room windows of my childhood home. These majestic mountains with their deep blue, brown, and white crevasses appeared to me with a larger-than-life beauty, like old friends reassuring me of their constancy. I then saw them from another angle: as I walked the few blocks to my elementary school they always danced along with me behind the tall pines on the corner.



Next I found myself looking up at the pines themselves. Completely black and swaying, they pointed upward into the summer night sky as I took my turn being pulled along in the red wagon by my mother. Then I saw our first family visit to the regional park in San Dimas Canyon. I saw Mom spreading a picnic blanket under the trees and placing my baby sister there, and heard Dad’s enthusiasm as he let us kids know that he had procured a motorboat. The canyon was filled with wonderful echoing sounds—of birdsong, of wind in the trees and the lapping of water, of nature. Out on the water with my father, sister, and brother, I felt the boat’s slow rocking, the silver ripples of the lake moving us rhythmically.




These lovely multisensory visions continued for five to ten minutes—images of the giant redwood trees, the ocean lit by a rising sun, falling stars in the desert’s vast night sky, and finally the giant eucalyptus trees that stood next door to our house. As I opened my eyes, my body was permeated by a wonderful feeling of calm nurturance and gratitude to my parents for the precious ways in which they gave me a lasting connection to nature. I’m so grateful, too, to have the Positive Points to allow me to reflect on—and deepen—my sensory memories.


To do the Positive Points: With the fingertips of your two hands, lightly hold the two points halfway between your hairline and your eyebrows, above the center of each eye. Use only enough pressure to pull taut the slackness of the skin. You may feel a neurovascular pulse at each point; allow these points to synchronize. Explore using this process to release stress, enhance memory, or build sensory images, as described above (such sensory rehearsal supports skills of comprehension).


For more information, see Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, or go to www.braingym.org to find a Brain Gym Instructor in your area.

© 2013 by Gail 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.

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