Meeting the Young Learner’s Needs

Parents can support young learners in discovering their needs and gifts.

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.

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 AssociationVolume 78, Issue 10 , Pages 542-549, October 2007. © 2007 American Optometric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc.

For more research on interpersonal synchrony and its effects on social bonds, see:

Cirelli, Laura K., Kathleen M. Einarson, and Laurel J. Trainor. 2014. “Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Prosocial Behavior in Infants.” Developmental Science: This study of 14-month olds  “. . . support[s] the hypothesis that interpersonal motor synchrony might be one key component of musical engagement that encourages social bonds among group members, and suggest[s] that this motor synchrony to music may promote the very early development of altruistic behavior.”

Shaw DJ, Czekóová K, Chromec J, Mareček R, Brázdil M (2013) Copying You Copying Me: Interpersonal Motor Co-Ordination Influences Automatic Imitation. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84820. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084820

Hove MJ, Risen JL (2009) It’s all in the timing: Interpersonal synchrony increases affiliation. Social Cognition 27: 949–960. doi: 10.1521/soco.2009.27.6.949 PubMed/NCBI

Photo Credits: ID 16450697 and 17770996 © Yuri Arcurs | Dreamstime.co

© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

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

A Soothing Double Doodle Heart for Kids of All Ages: A Short Tutorial

A Double Doodle HeartThe Double Doodle, one of 26 Brain Gym® activities, is a drawing made using both hands. You can do a Double Doodle in the air, on paper, or even on someone else’s back (it’s calming, relaxing, and comforting!). There are many kinds of Double Doodle*, but most of them are created by drawing a symmetrical design, with the hands mirroring each other side by side.

The heart-shaped Double Doodle design shown here is a simple and easy doodle with which to start exploring the fun and benefits of making mirror-image marks. If you are new to the Double Doodle, I suggest standing and using a large sheet of paper—on a flipchart or taped down vertically on a tabletop. In Brain Gym, when possible we connect with a whole-body (proprioceptive) context for using our hands and eyes. So before beginning, do a few repetitions of  the Cross Crawl. By letting your arms swing freely as you move, you can use the Cross Crawl to relax your arms and hands for a more free-flowing Double Doodle.

Next, center your body in alignment with the vertical midline of the page (if you need to more clearly distinguish the midline, you can make a vertical fold in your paper).  Now place both hands near the vertical midline of the paper. Notice how your hands are now automatically centered with your body and also with the page. Now let your hands move slightly up and out, as if to make two large circles, then down, in, down some more, and around, circling in the opposite direction to finally come to rest in the inward spiral. Let go of any need for yours to look like this one. Most often, Double Doodles are unique to the individual. Let your drawing surprise you!

Notice how the brief and expansive upward and outward shape of the movement gently balances the downward and inward spiral. Using large motor movement in gravity like this, the shoulders and elbows easily relax as we let our hands flow alongside one another in their natural movement: down the page on the flip chart, or toward us on a flat surface—the entire motion taking only seconds to complete. Notice also how doing the Double Doodle engages your large muscles in a smooth motion (there is almost no motion at the wrist), without the strain or tension on fingers and wrists so often associate with drawing or writing. Many people feel their eyes relax, as well. Even though the spirals at the bottom of the heart go in opposite directions, they seem to help one another flow, and here on the right is the counterclockwise motion that starts the letter “o” that children often struggle to make.

After drawing the shape, people often want to begin again at the top, or sometimes to draw it from the bottom up, in which case you’ll most likely complete the final stroke with your hands opposite your sternum. From here, for a moment, there’s nowhere to go, nothing to do. It’s a good place to pause—a place of completion and new beginning. For fun, I added small tapping marks around the shape.

This simple heart shape that you’ve just drawn, with its spiraling base, is common to much American folk art. To make it more elaborate, you can add flourishes, additional spirals of various sizes, or a slightly larger shape to mirror and encompass the first. And now that you know how to make this basic heart template, you can also adjust it in size or shape to create many other heart-shaped structures.

A Little Background on the Double Doodle

Paul first learned to do bilateral drawing in the early 1970s when he read developmental optometrist G.N. Getman’s book How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence, an insightful classic that is still available and full of great suggestions for parents. Paul began using “bilateral drawing,” as Getman called it, with the students at his Valley Remedial Group learning centers. He found that the activity helped learners develop essential skills of tactility (you can experience that by tracing your completed drawing with your fingers), hand-eye coordination, and directionality, as well as visual discrimination for reading.

Directionality means knowing one’s orientation in space—knowing where up, right, left, and down are in terms of the center of one’s own body. As you can see and experience, the body’s midline isn’t something imaginary, any more than the midline of a page is an approximation. And the exactitude of the body’s midline, immediately identified through movement, supports the accuracy of the bilateral motions of the eyes needed for reading and writing, supporting as well all the turning motions of the head.

When Paul later met Dr. Getman, they discussed what was then 30 years of optometric research on learning that had yet to be implemented in the classroom (it’s now been 70 years, and this research is still largely overlooked today). They also talked about how children’s perception depends on their movements that define their orientation, location, and differential manipulation, and how learning disabilities in basic school subjects are wholly preventable through the effective teaching of movement of the body, eyes, and hands. And when you did the Double Doodle, were you aware of moving in new ways by letting one hand mirror the movement of the other? Today, research is further investigating how novel, voluntary movement supports cognition and neuroplasticity.

When Paul and I began selecting the Brain Gym® activities to use in our 1986 book: Brain Gym®: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning, we had already been teaching our own free-form variety of two-handed drawing, as described above, that we called the Double Doodle (Getman’s original bilateral activity was more structured). Classroom learning tends to emphasize one-sided movement of eyes and hands, yet we see every day how doing the Double Doodle for even a few minutes helps learners experience two-sided (bilateral) integration with hands and eyes working together in synergistic collaboration.

*The Double Doodle is one of 26 Brain Gym activities from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, ©2010. The introductory course Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision offers a full day of exploration built on mirror-image mark-making and painting. The Double Doodle and other Brain Gym activities are taught in Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life. 

** See Research Nugget: Visual Skills and Reading.

© 2013 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of a Brain Gym or Double Doodle instructor near you.

You might also like:

Double Doodle Play Brings Emotional Harmony Following a Stroke

Why I Love Teaching Double Doodle Play

Five Double Doodle Flowers for Spring  (a tutorial)

Double Doodle Holiday Play  (a tutorial)

Children’s Double Doodle Halloween Drawings (1 min video)

Halloween Magic with Two-Handed Play!

Make Double Doodle Pumpkin Faces for Halloween Fun (a tutorial)

 

 

 

Stand Up . . . Sit Down . . . Can You Do It?

Paul_0511_web3Michael had heard about my work helping people achieve improved balance and coordination, so he brought his father, Joe, to see me. In the last few years, Joe, 85, had become almost completely sedentary. His recent fall had prompted increased concern about his condition. Whenever he got up to walk, he was using two canes to keep his balance.

When Joe arrived at my office, he seemed tired and preoccupied, and made little eye contact. He needed assistance to seat himself. As Michael and I began to talk with him, Joe immediately closed his eyes, lolling his head sleepily to one side.

With Michael’s help, I facilitated the setting of a goal with Joe: “To move, laugh, and enjoy life.” From the learning menu we chose Dennison Laterality Repatterning (DLR), a simple movement process at the heart of my work.

Lying back on a massage table, Joe was at first unable to raise his arms or legs without assistance. So I asked him to look up to the left as we helped him do the contralateral Cross Crawl movements, alternating in the lifting of each leg and opposite arm. At first the process was difficult for Joe. Yet after some repetitions he suddenly began to lift each leg and opposite arm by himself. “Good job!” we said, as Joe reclaimed the movement pattern and participated with increasing vigor.

When the repatterning was complete, we all three laughed as Joe looked around the room, boldly slid off the table, and walked across the room without reliance on his canes, moving in a rhythmic gait and swinging his arms reciprocally. I asked if he could seat himself without help, and he did so. “Now stand up,” I requested, and he easily rose to his feet.

I told Joe that the best exercise he could do for himself was to stand up and sit down again often throughout the day, finding his balance, walking from place to place, and looking into the distance for destinations to move toward. I also gave him a few Brain Gym® homeplay activities to help him integrate the new movement patterns.

Michael and I were happy to help Joe “wake up” to more movement, laughter, and enjoyment. For the restoration of his whole-body movement map, Joe’s repatterning seemed a strong beginning. He now seemed better able to keep his balance, locate himself spatially, and hold up his head as he moved his eyes to look around.

Scott McCredie, in his book Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense, hypothesizes that the sense of balance is so essential to human survival and functioning that we have evolved with three distinct balance systems: (1) the visual, for locating ourselves in space; (2) the vestibular of the inner ear, for monitoring our head movement as we turn left and right; and (3) that of muscular proprioception, for continuous awareness of body movement in space. Good balance, says McCredie, depends upon the interrelationship of these systems.

When, in 1981, I had the inspiration to create the DLR process, I was focused not on how to activate vestibular balance but on helping an adult nonreader learn to read. Yet today I believe that one reason DLR is so effective is that it helps coordinate vision, proprioception, and vestibular balance for cross-motor as well as one-sided movement. I also see how, after doing DLR, people are better able to access coordinated movement, visual flexibility, and clarity of cognition. It makes sense to me that organized sensorimotor programs help free the eyes and mind to seek new information, rather than be always seeking balance.

 

See more about Scott McCredie’s book.

© 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.

 

Discovering the Reading Midfield

young boy readingWhen I first met Connor, age 11, he read for me one word at a time, carefully keeping his eyes in the right visual field and pointing them to each separate syllable, pronouncing it perfectly as he had been taught to do. When I asked him to relate to me what he had just read, Connor was able to repeat only one or two words that he barely recalled. He did well at breaking the printed code into discrete parts, yet had no understanding of reading as language, as a way to grasp the big picture being conveyed by the author.  I invited him to do some playful Brain Gym® activities with me before continuing.

After doing PACE, we used Brain Buttons again, along with Earth Buttons and Lazy 8s, to help Connor discover how to track, to use his eyes as a team to cross his visual midline, and to work in his visual midfield where the left and right fields overlap. It was fun! When Connor read a second time, less than half an hour later, he read with ease, enthusiasm, and full understanding.  Connor was now able to report in his own words what he had read, using intonations to add meaning as he spoke.

It’s important for parents to realize that many children can appear to read well, receive good grades, and excel at school yet be pointing their eyes primarily in the right visual field, where they separate information into small parts or bits. Reading this way, they may get tired, read slowly, get headaches, have eye strain, or lose depth perception. Like Connor, they may even need to read material two or three times in order to fully comprehend it. The pleasure of reading fluently is assumed for the future, yet for many, never happens.

Having taught adult speed reading to people who have been reading in this slow way for years, I’m aware that eye pointings per line (known as fixations) increase as students struggle to use their eyes as a team, and that the number of times a person rereads the material (called regressions) also increase. For youngsters, when grades are good, this one-sided way of reading is accepted as normal, since most people don’t recognize the visual stress and don’t question what seems to be working. Only the children who are labeled with learning challenges get special help, and even then teachers may not identify the subtle difficulty these students are having when crossing the visual midline1, let alone know that it can be easily addressed with a few minutes of doing such activities as Lazy 8s and the Double Doodle.

As stated by UK psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist2,  “the first apprehension of anything is by the right hemisphere while it remains new” but is soon “taken over by the left hemisphere where it becomes familiar. Knowledge of the whole is . . . followed by knowledge of the parts.” For reading, this means that the skilled learner takes in at a glance (through the left visual field and right hemisphere), the meaningful context and picture clues that help him guess where the story is going. He simultaneously confirms his hunch (through the right visual field and left hemisphere), by pronouncing the words.

From my perspective as a reading teacher, it’s easier for learners to read with both eyes working together on the midfield than to rely mainly on one eye for information.  In any case, reading with both eyes and a singleness of vision is more functional and less stressful. Having helped thousands of people to learn, through effortless movements, the simple, mechanical, physical skill of eye teaming, I know that most readers can readily get beyond the visual stress of word analysis  to enjoying the auditory language experience of listening to the story as they read it, which is what reading really is.

 

1David Grisham, O.D., M.S., Maureen Powers, Ph.D., Phillip Riles, M.A. Visual skills of poor readers in high school. Optometry – Journal of the American Optometric Association. Volume 78, Issue 10 , October 2007.

2Iain McGilchrist. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World Yale University Press; Reprint edition: 2012.

© 2013 by Paul E. 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.

Movement and the Brain

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.

 

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