Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D.
I recently taught a hundred parents, educators, and occupational therapists in Austria and Germany, and this month I’ll be teaching in Australia and Indonesia. Yet, when I started my career—as a public school teacher and certificated reading specialist in Los Angeles—I had no idea I’d ever teach abroad in a score of countries. As one who’d experienced many early learning challenges, I was aiming only toward a doctorate in education so that I could give support to struggling young learners.
Starting in 1968, I taught first- and third-grade classes at the Malabar Street School in East Los Angeles. There, I was privileged to be one of a select team of teachers doing daily in-service training as an assistant to Dr. Constance Amsden, a professor at Cal State Los Angeles, in her innovative three-year research program, “The Malabar Reading Project for Mexican-American Students.”
Joining the faculty at Malabar Street School was a pivotal experience for me. It was there that I first observed, while working with children, how true learning can always be identified by the satisfaction it brings. At Malabar, I saw the value of sensory learning. I also realized that the most effective teaching acknowledges learners where they are, and then fosters in them an intrinsic motivation to explore the new and unknown.
Later, drawing on my grounding in pedagogy from Cal State (thanks to my mentors there, Dr. Amsden and Dr. Roderick Langston) I arrived at the University of Southern California at the top of my class. My professor and doctoral advisor, Charles M. Brown, encouraged me, telling me: “Your understanding of the philosophy, psychology, and process of teaching is the best I’ve yet seen. Paul, you know more about reading and the reading process than anyone I have previously met. I love having you in my classes—love what you bring to the discussion.”
Under Dr. Brown’s guidance, I went on to complete my doctorate in education, and received an award for outstanding research on the relationship of covert (silent) speech, or auditory processing, to beginning reading achievement. Although auditory processing ability is important, my research suggested that other modalities were also essential for reading acquisition.
My advisors had recommended that I continue my research into early reading, and I at first considered doing so. Yet I soon saw that even important new research is rarely effectively applied in the classroom. I realized that I didn’t want to be stuck in an ivory tower, conducting studies whose findings might never be implemented. I wanted to make a more direct contribution to the lives of young learners.
A Big Aha!
In 1970 I opened a reading center in the San Fernando Valley, and, while completing my doctoral studies and continuing to teach at all grade levels, I met and worked with several developmental optometrists. I began reading the extensive research gathered by the Optometric Extension Program, and recognized how this clarified my own dissertation studies and findings. Thanks to my optometrist associates who used movement experiences in their vision-training work, I realized with a big aha! that it’s the lack of specific physical skills related to focal attention, rather than language development, that disrupts the early reading process. I saw that many learners are not able to move their eyes together into the left and right visual fields, or to move their eyes separately from the movement of the rest of the body. Movement is the missing link that prepares beginning readers to achieve.
Learners experience less stress and greater ease when they can work in the visual midfield, where the left and right visual fields overlap.
As I applied my studies in the classroom, I continued to see, from observing the children, that learning to read requires many abilities—not any one alone. The best beginning readers were skilled not only in silent speech, but also in the visual, kinesthetic, and tactile modalities. To verify that the skills of reading can be readily acquired through a multidisciplinary approach, I initiated my own “action research” with students of all ages and social backgrounds.
In this endeavor, I used each five-step lesson plan (called a balance) to convey the learning as something specific, relevant, measurable, and transferable. The students learned to ready themselves for learning (an early version of what is now known as the PACE process), and then noticed their baseline skills, determined for themselves the next appropriate steps in their learning process, experienced how movement provided them with more resources for accessing the learning, and enjoyed their immediate improvements.
The best advice I have for helping students to learn is to ask them what’s going on for them. For example, during that time I volunteered to tutor many youngsters—including eight-year-old Javier, who was in the ESL program at Malabar Street School and wasn’t yet learning to read. Everyone assumed that his reading delays were due to his lack of English language skills. Yet one day I asked him what was going on for him, and he answered that the words on the page were “jumping.”
I used the new Edu-K work I was developing to give Javier a balance for using both eyes together as he crossed his visual midline, a skill necessary for reading with ease. As he picked up his book a second time, only minutes later, he could point his eyes steadily at each word. He now read with fluency, and with an ease and comprehension that his mother and I hadn’t heard from him before.
As a classroom educator, I soon learned that two hands are better than one, two eyes are better than one, and a whole body moving is more ready to learn than one sitting and staring. I call this whole-brain integration.
I support children (and adults) in experiencing how to “locate themselves” in space through proprioception. Spatial orientation is the ability to represent the location of objects with respect to oneself. I find that the inability to do so is evidenced by such signs as an avoidance of the body’s midline, where the left and right visual fields overlap. Imbalance also shows up as chronic difficulty in sitting in a chair, a twisting of the hips, an inclination to avoid using the non-dominant hand, a tilting of the head, and various reading and learning challenges.
Yes, youngsters can easily avoid the midline and still learn in a one-sided way. They can even get good grades that way, yet they’ll do so under needless strain. I see that, although not yet well recognized as such, the challenges that show up, now or later, in the form of stress or health problems often stem from an inability to maintain sensory integration during the learning process.
Students having difficulty in the classroom can develop their innate abilities by learning how to cross the midline and work in the midfield, using both left and right sides to process visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic experiences. I see daily how learners who reconnect this way with whole-body movement patterns discover a natural love of learning.
Realizing the importance of whole-body movement, I went on to develop Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning*, processes that have helped thousands to better coordinate whole-body movement with eye movement. I also used these processes to help integrate the asymmetrical and symmetrical tonic neck reflexes and other infant reflexes** that, when unintegrated, can otherwise pull us out of structural and focal alignment.
I believe that the visibility of my last thirty plus years of innovative work with learners worldwide has stimulated some good research*** supporting my move-to-learn premise as well as many other premises of my work, and that time will reveal the commonsense basis of Edu-K thinking.
Meanwhile, I see my consultation time as an opportunity to show each learner how to let go of fixed ideas he might have about his abilities and discover learning as an active process. I love being in the moment with students, helping them move, learn to play, and learn to learn.
As I reflect on my life thus far, I can say that I’ve never regretted not choosing a career of research design but following one of active, experiential teaching in which I’m privileged to make a difference in the lives of so many individuals. Δ
*The intention behind the Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning processes is to make habits of movement easier and more efficient, and so to free thought for choice, expression, and creativity. These simple processes are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life.
**The Edu-K work also addresses asymmetrical and symmetrical tonic neck reflexes in the Total Core Repatterning course.
*** See Research Nuggets. See also this landmark study on invented spelling by Ouellette and Sénéchal, 2017.
Credit for Boy Reading A Book Photo: ©Wavebreakmediamicro | Dreamstime.com
© 2015 by Paul E. Dennison; updated 2017. All rights reserved.
Click here for a translation of this article into Chinese.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. Note: There are more than 100 action research studies, done independently (though not peer reviewed), on the effectiveness of various Brain Gym® activities. Click here to see years 1988 – 2000 in the Research Studies Packet, the balance are listed in the FAQs (same link) and Brain Gym Journal and Global Observer archives.
Each of us can benefit from even small improvements in our ability to access positions of dynamic sitting. Although this article was written in response to a question about a four-year old, the markers described below, along with the Brain Gym activities, will be useful at any age.
Question from a Reader:
My grandson is four years old. He has been accepted into a public preschool program. One of the problems with this is that he would be on a school bus two or more hours per day, though the program is only two and a half hours long. The other option is to continue his private preschool classes three times a week. In determining which program is better for him, his mother is open to suggestions. At this point, he shows no problems except that it’s hard for him to focus, especially on things he’s not interested in, such as art.
The Edu-K work is based on the concept that the more learners can integrate their basic sensorimotor skills for ease of whole-body balance and coordination, the freer will be the whole brain—especially the prefrontal cortex, the “Executive Brain”—that is needed for focusing on cognitive skills. Otherwise, as a child learns, he may always be keeping a partial focus on the challenge of how to sit, balance, walk, hold a pencil, or otherwise be comfortable as he moves. For a four-year-old, exploration of the three-dimensional world through play and movement is the best way for him to organize himself in his world—to discover how to relate happily to his surroundings with both mobility and stability while focusing his attention.
So how can your daughter best ensure that her son is actively engaging his sensorimotor skills as he begins school?
A child who is developmentally ready for tasks involving hand-eye coordination will be able to sit with ease and stability.
Our suggestion to her (or to any parent with similar concerns about their child of any age): Watch the child at play for 20 minutes and make note of how many times they change position. Then observe the child while he or she sits. Will they know how to stay comfortably upright on a long bus ride?
There’s a world of difference between active (dynamic) and passive sitting. So note how frequently a child’s seated movement comes into vertical alignment with gravity (active sitting); that is, his sacrum and occiput are in sync, allowing the spine to move freely without slouching. Sitting with knees level with hips (or slightly lower) protects the neck and spine. If a child’s chair doesn’t properly fit him, sitting on a rolled towel or wedge most often gives immediate access to good alignment, as indicated by the following markers:
- He or she is sitting on their sacral platform (sitz bones), allowing for a natural lumbar curve.
- The hips, torso, and head are stacked, with a vertical axis in gravity; he doesn’t tend to tilt his head or twist his torso to either the left or right.
- The child’s head is balanced over his or her torso, rather than thrust forward or bent down (for each inch that the head tilts forward of the shoulders, the neck muscles must support about eight pounds of added weight).
- The movements of his sacrum and occiput are generally in sync (a good connection between the sacral and occipital areas provides stability for development of the neck muscles, jaw and eyes, and overall head-turning ability).
- He moves his spine freely, without collapsing into a C-shape curve.
Noticing of these markers can help a parent to recognize when a child is developmentally ready to sit for any length of time, as they’ll surely be required to do in a school classroom, or as would be necessary for a bus ride.
Parents might also consider how likely it is that the time on the bus will teach a child to become inactive, for the 2½ hours is time he or she might otherwise be using to do gross-motor play like running, jumping, or taking a walk with his family. Or the child might be doing fine-motor arts and crafts, or learning to socialize with friends—any of which can support sensorimotor coordination and even the initiative to move. How much will excessive sitting dampen down the child’s motivation and aliveness?
By the time your grandson is in kindergarten, he and his peers are likely to find themselves in a classroom hierarchy largely based on how well they pay attention, including how well they sit still. Yet it sounds like these are two things he isn’t quite ready to do. The stress of a two-hour bus ride is more likely to inhibit than support his connection to the motor skills that will help him prepare for classroom ease. There is probably little your grandson can gain in even a high-quality preschool classroom that will justify his sitting inactively in a school bus for more than two hours per day.
Regarding the Brain Gym activities, it will also be helpful to teach him (little by little) the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, a few Lengthening Activities**, and some Energy Exercises—especially the Energy Yawn, the Thinking Cap, Earth Buttons, and Space Buttons, as these can support his motor skills, centralization in the visual midfield, and general learning-readiness, and can help to release motor compensations. Knowing these activities, and the comfort they can bring, can also empower him to know what he needs to keep his eyes, ears, and whole body more active—either in the classroom or on a bus. To benefit a four-year-old, the Brain Gym activities will ideally be done to music and as a fun family activity.
Our preference is always to increase children’s playtime and to support movement patterns (playful Cross Crawling and many long walks) until a child’s freedom of focus becomes the leading energy. This can take minutes, days, or weeks.
Gail Dennison, co-author of the Brain Gym program and movement educator
This situation can also be a wonderful opportunity for you, as a grandmother, to share with your daughter what you know through your years of hands-on experience, as well as through the book and research links that I’ve included below. Although the decision is ultimately up to the boy’s mother, I believe we all hunger for a deeper connection with the wise elders in our lives. I have many times used Edu-K balancing to step into that role, and have found this to bring me great joy.
I received this thank-you note: “I think the article you wrote is wonderful. Just thought you’d like to know that my daughter and her husband have agreed to NOT send my grandson to the public school. My daughter appreciates your thoughts in the article, and it probably made an impact on their decision.” Δ
*For a detailed description of these and other Brain Gym activities, see Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, 2010, by Paul and Gail Dennison.
For a translation of this article into Spanish, click here: Preparados para la Escuela = ¡Preparados para sentarse!
Links to other books, research, and articles on sitting alignment that we reference:
Kathleen Porter’s Sad Dog, Happy Dog: How Poor Posture Affects Your Child’s Health and What You Can Do About It, searchable at http://tinyurl.com/n7wzrk3 #parents
“The Vestibular System Goes to School,” by Mary J. Kawar, MS, OT/L, PediaStaff: http://www.pediastaff.com/blog/the-vestibular-system-goes-to-school-362
Research study results, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, showing that children who did not spend time outdoors after school failed to reach the recommended amount of daily exercise. The same children also spent an additional 70 minutes per day in sedentary behavior, compared to children who reported spending most of their time outdoors after school. Peer-reviewed journal reference: Schafer, Lee, et al. 2014. “Outdoor Time Is Associated with Physical Activity, Sedentary Time, and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Youth,” The Journal of Pediatrics (early release)
“Kids Still Getting Too Much ‘Screen Time’”: CDC, HealthDay, US News and World Report.
“A Surprising Hazard of Sitting All Day” by Michelle Schoffro Cook, link here.
Photo Credit: ID 19548117 © Rimma Zaytseva | Dreamstime.com
© 2014, 2017 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.
Watch someone do her first Cross Crawl* and what do you see? For people of any age, doing this activity inevitably brings a smile as they begin to experience the natural ease and rhythm of this integrating movement. Often someone doing the activity will break into a broad grin, pleasurably surprised to be coordinating the whole body at once in a complex movement pattern.
Paul first learned about the possible benefits of doing contralateral movement in the early 1970s during his studies at the University of Southern California, as he reviewed the research literature on the effect of crawling on academic achievement. The experts of that time had concluded that there was no learning advantage to having children replicate the crawling stage by crawling in the classroom.
Yet Paul had been included in several optometric assistant in-services in which he had observed children making immediate improvements in both visual skills and motor coordination after doing a standing contralateral motion that involved hitting a hanging ball. He described discovering firsthand the academic importance of the Cross Crawl in his first book, Switching On: the Whole-Brain Answer to Dyslexia, in the story of teaching this motor skill to a 10th grader who had been diagnosed as dyslexic and who was a student at one of his learning centers: For weeks now, in her tutoring sessions, Judy had been getting coaching in phonics and vocabulary building, yet she continued to struggle, word by word, to decode a fourth-grade level reading book.
On this day Paul had Judy pause in her reading so he could teach her the Cross Crawl version that he had recently learned. In the few minutes that it took Judy to internalize this contralateral pattern, Paul saw her unsteady and inconsistent motion become smooth, stable, and regular. He then asked her to read again, and heard her voice resounding with confidence, effortless phrasing, word recognition, and comprehension. Judy read like a different person.
How had doing a physical activity made such an immediate and apparent difference in that individual’s cognitive process? One hypothesis Paul formed then has since become more valid for both of us based on similar experiences with thousands of our students: For fluency, readers must be able to cross the visual midline where the left and right visual fields come together, and from where eye movement in any direction is available. The Cross Crawl’s contralateral movement pattern seems to help learners to experience coordinated physical integration as the left and right sides of the body work together. In a basic Cross Crawl or DLR, the hands cross the midline, connecting the tactile, visual, and kinesthetic midfield, where the two sides overlap.
In contemporary literature, it’s also become better understood that the brainstem modulates patterns, and locomotor movements are built on patterns. John Ratey, M.D, postulates that when information is arranged in patterns, it is neurologically more easily processed, retained, and retrieved. We further posit that rhythmic, coordinated movement restores the natural equilibrium lost when learners overfocus on symbols and phonetic elements—the decoding aspect of reading—thus inhibiting encoding and the ability to hear the story as whole language with meaningful words and phrasing. Ideally, the encoding of language provides a context for decoding—not the other way around.
The human body is bilateral, and the sensory organs of eyes and ears function best when accessing the midfield where left and right sensory input overlap, providing a supportive whole-body context for one-sided activities and allowing the two sides to work together instead of inhibiting one to access the other. Consider that children today engage in few activities, besides walking, running, or swimming, that emphasize alternating bilateral motion, and even these three they do less than their parents did. Yet they take part in many activities that are one-sided. The one-sided activities, such as handwriting or using scissors, are important for developing dexterity and specialized skills, yet the use of one side at the expense of the other is quite different from the use of one side while resourcing both. It is this latter way that we teach in Edu-K.
Today’s most common whole-body activities are sitting at a computer or in front of a TV, neither of which is movement-rich. From eating to drawing, writing, moving a mouse, or riding a scooter (for adults, driving), one-sided motions predominate.
The Ice Skater
Doing the Cross Crawl supports a number of the elements that benefit a healthy human gait**:
- alternating left/right movement of both sides of the body
- a rhythmic shifting of weight between the left and right sides
- standing balance on one foot as the other leg is lifted (especially when the activity is done in slow motion)
- strength of quadriceps and hamstrings
- foot stability (plantar connection to the ground)
- alternating motion of the arms (in the walking gait, this reciprocity ideally focuses on the backswing, not the forward swing, which is a refinement that can be taught with such Cross Crawl variations as the Hopscotch, in the above illustration)
- dynamic whole-body relaxation while in motion
- keeping the toes pointed forward, outsides of the feet parallel
- the awareness of moving the legs in their proper left/right tracks (at pelvic width)
The Cross Crawl additionally provides a whole-body context to foster:
- crossing of the midline, as required for eye teaming when reading
- movement from the body’s midfield, where the left and right hemispheres work together, instead of inhibition of one side to access the other
- muscle proprioception of the body’s weight and motion in gravity, needed to develop a spatial map and orientation for movement in all directions
This dance-like movement, when done within a group, can help build social bonds:
- people doing the Cross Crawl together most often begin to do the movement in synchrony
- physical movement is one vital way by which we connect with our surroundings and ground ourselves in a social environment.
For many years the dance-like Cross Crawl has been Paul’s and my daily practice. We also enjoy doing it as we do the four PACE activities, for work, teaching, or simply before a long walk. We hear that, worldwide, more and more children are enjoying the Cross Crawl as they, too, take a quick break from sitting to rediscover their whole-body movement. What a wonderful way to celebrate our movement and aliveness!
Note: In the late 1970s, Paul and I also learned more about the Cross Crawl through our studies of the Touch for Health book and courses, developed by John Thie, DC. However, it was the optometric work and crossing of the midline that initially inspired Paul to develop Dennison Laterality Repatterning and to discover how to use the Cross Crawl activity to teach more effective movement and reading skills.
* The Cross Crawl is one of of the 26 Brain Gym® activities described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010.
* Some people initially find it a challenge to access the complex coordination required for doing the Cross Crawl activity. If so, you may want to find someone who knows Dennison Laterality Repatterning (DLR), a simple process used to teach this level of integration so it becomes automatic. The DLR process is included in the course, Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life and is also offered by instructors through private session work. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.
**The Movement Dynamics course, © Dennison and Dennison, 1990 and 2006, includes 30 Cross Crawl variations, accessing three movement dimensions and taught in improvisational and dance-like sequences. The illustrations included in this article are from the manual, © Gail E. Dennison.
***References on the human gait:
Katy Bowman. Alignment Matters: The First Five Years of Katy Says. Propriometrics Press, 2013.
Michael Whittle. Gait Analysis: An Introduction. Butterworth-Heinemann, 4th edition, 2007.
Guertin, Pierre A. Central Pattern Generator for Locomotion: Anatomical, Physiological, and Pathophysiological Considerations. Frontiers in Neurology. 2012;3: 183. (Research on generation and modulation of rhythmic locomotor patterns.)
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
© 2013, 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.
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.
Use to hands at the same time to draw a Halloween pumpkin!
Two hands, two markers . . . let’s draw Double Doodle pumpkins! Part of the fun is being surprised by the kind of face you create on your jack-o’-lantern. Will it be funny, sad, mad, or scary? Will you give your pumpkin face some teeth, eyebrows, a stem hat, a downward mouth, or a ghoulish grin? Well, get your giggle on . . . bring a pout or your biggest growl and get ready to be amazed!
Here are two Halloween Pumpkin faces drawn within minutes of one another by a 6-year old. You can see the fine-motor skill he’s developing as he experiments.
Getting in the groove.
To begin, fold your paper vertically, choose your colors, and then let your hands start flowing smoothly from the top of the pumpkin’s stem (just on the fold mark, and slightly to the right and left) down and up a few times, to make the stem, then across the top of the pumpkin, down the sides, and together at the bottom, as you see in the opening photo.
If you’re new to the Double Doodle, please click here for more detailed instructions; the pumpkin faces are most easy for those age eight and up, although adults might help guide younger hands. (A big thank you to the 9-year old who drew the top pumpkin in our pumpkin banner, below left!)
A Double Doodle pumpkin and his pumpkin head friend (drawn by an 8-year old)—ooh . . . which face is the scariest?
Now that you have your symmetrical contour, place your markers where you want the eyes and draw mirror-image shapes (see samples, below, some of which we cut out and pasted asymmetrically on orange poster board). Follow with the nose and mouth. Add lines and other features as you wish. You might enjoy tracing over your lines with different markers to layer additional colors, or scribble in with crayons, finger-paint style, as we did here. Decorate as you like. Notice how your hands enjoy moving effortlessly together like this—a kind of movement quite different from doing a one-handed drawing.
A youngster focuses on the pumpkin’s indented ribs, running from its stem at the top to a single point at the bottom.
A 6-year old finds a more simple way to suggest the pumpkin’s ribs.
And there’s no need to think of this by the rules of ordinary drawing; the Double Doodle doesn’t fit the same criteria. This is more about the fun, zest, color, and surprise of the shapes, and how each can be uniquely your own, than about it looking like someone else’s picture. So enjoy any quirks or unexpected squiggles that you make.
This free-flowing design of bat with pumpkins was drawn by a 10-year old.
Once you’ve completed your pumpkin face, you might want to add a leaf or two. Many types of pumpkins have heart-shaped (cordiform) leaves. For autumn, add some yellow, green, brown, or maroon colors, and maybe a serrated edge and some prominent veining (as in the leaves on the banner at left) to make the image more leaf-like.
For inspiration from nature: Do a scavenger hunt outside to see how many different kinds of cordiform leaves you can find! Besides the pumpkin leaf, you can also find the heart-shaped leaf in viola and hosta plants, as well as in the periwinkle and morning glory, to name a few. They’re seen in great variation in lime, linden, and redbud trees and many other plants. (This form is opposite to the hand-shaped palmate outline, with lobes radiating from the base, seen in a maple leaf.)
For design fun: Double Doodle some heart-shaped leaves and tear-drop-shaped seeds, like the pumpkin seed, as a design around the outside. Color in the face shapes on your pumpkin in finger-paint style.
Delicious to know: Chewy pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses (abundant in minerals from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein, and zinc) high in fiber, protein, and antioxidants. They make a great snack! When you carve a pumpkin, simply wash and drain the seeds, and dry them for about 30 minutes. Then mix in a tablespoon of oil for each cup of seeds and roast them on a cookie sheet in a 250° oven for 10 to 20 minutes (stirring every five minutes or so) until they’re golden brown. Sprinkle them with salt, or with cinnamon and a little ginger and allspice.
For more complex Double Doodle Halloween images, click here.
To see other examples of how Double Doodle Play can be used for drawing and painting, click here.
Parents and educators: Scientists continue to study the puzzling genetic and environmental factors that determine handedness. In the Edu-K work, we’ve been finding for more than 40 years that using two hands together like this helps people learn to do more fluid mark-making, regardless of whether they’re right- or left-hand-dominant. See if handwriting is easier for you after doing a few minutes of the Double Doodle.
In a Psychology Today blog, coach, author, and world-class endurance athlete Christopher Bergland reminds us that “Researchers remain perplexed as to why the human brain seems to be more asymmetric than the primate brain and why the ratio of right- to left-handedness in humans is 9 to 1. Primates are evenly split 50-50 between left- and right-handedness.
Bergland concludes that humans should “ideally engage both hands to maximize brain function and performance . . . you want to create symmetry and become close to ambidextrous by fortifying the link between the right brain and left brain of both the cerebrum and the cerebellum.*”
*“Are Lefties More Likely to Become Champions and Leaders? The History and Neuroscience of Why Left-Handed People Have an Advantage.” Published on August 12, 2013, by Christopher Bergland in The Athlete’s Way
The Double Doodle and other Brain Gym® activities that support sensorimotor skills are described in detail in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, 2010, by Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison.
Many sensorimotor skills are taught experientially, through movement and play, in the courses Brain Gym® 101: Balancing for Daily Life, Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision, and Visioncircles: 8 Spheres of Perceptual Development. Click here for the name of a Brain Gym® Instructor in you area. Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International.
© 2013 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.