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 two 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 by a 6-year old within minutes of one another. You can see the fine-motor skill he’s developing as he experiments.
Another pumpkin from an 8-year old just getting in the groove.
To begin, fold your paper vertically, as you see in the opening photo. Choose your colors, and then let your hands start flowing smoothly from the top of the pumpkin’s stem (just on the fold mark), down and up a few times slightly to the right and left to widen the stem. Next, make the curve across the top of the pumpkin, down the sides, and bring your hands together at the bottom.
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 brown and yellow 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, 2017 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.
The 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)
On Saturday, August 3, at the invitation of author and instructor trainer, Matthew Thie, the director of Touch for Health Education, the two of us had the privilege of presenting at the 38th annual Touch for Health Conference, held this year at the Serra Retreat in Malibu, California. Among the 100 plus participants we saw old friends and made new ones from near and far-flung areas of the world. What an honoring of the legacy of Dr. John Thie, who developed the Touch for Health program! We were inspired by chiropractor Sheldon Deal, who introduced valuable new techniques for calming the brain as he spoke of a life of service as the key to vitality and well-being. We were honored to be part of a panel discussion with Touch for Health colleagues on the future of teaching through movement, touch, and balance.
In our own presentation, we invited participants to experience their skill at balancing on one-leg, both before and after doing some Brain Gym® activities. Many thanked us afterwards for this simple yet surprising demonstration of the power of learning through balance and motor skills. We shared with the group how we’re realizing our dream of seeing movement-based learning unfold as a worldwide reality.
We explained that many people understand education as declarative only: the taking in of information. Yet without procedural knowledge, students are unable to put new learning into action. So one essential task of skilled teaching is to create harmony 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 carry out our thoughts and purposes. So while motivation provides the zeal to declare a goal or intention, movement gives us a map for applying the intention and following through.
Purposeful movements like the 26 Brain Gym® activities improve balance and coordination. For years, a growing body of research has related vestibular balance to school-readiness. Most recently (in 2005), researchers Stoodley, Fawcett, Nicolson, and Stein found an impaired balancing ability in dyslexic children. The One Leg Stand (Schrager, 2001) has been incorporated into a more extensive test battery to identify children who have, or are at risk of having, ADHD, dyslexia, and other specific learning disabilities. Balance beams and balance boards are being widely used by special education teachers to develop balance abilities, for the ability to keep one’s balance is known to be highly correlated with brain integration and reading-readiness. Katy Bowman, an expert on the science of biomechanics emphasizes that, to the extent that balance is lacking, the brain, visual system, and vestibular system have to work harder to compensate. In Edu-K we find that the integrity of the moving physical structure provides a context for the cognitive function necessary for focal attention and new learning.
Moving activates the brain. Dr. John Medina, director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, says in his book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, “Exercise boosts brain power. Humans adapted during evolution by constantly moving (both to get food and to avoid predators).” Medina further asserts that people think better in motion.
Movement educators understand learning as a process of using activity, focus, play, and practice to make things ever more real, certain, familiar, and functional. They guide children in moving through a learning cycle that begins with an experience of openness to novelty (a goal). The next step is, through play or imagination, to perform a new function with the intention to master it. The teacher assists the learner in making a match between his goal and a previously learned skill (or familiar context) from which to move. The cycle is completed as the new skill is coded through words and expression until it becomes familiar and easy to recall. Finally, celebration of the learning provides a successful context for ever further growth. At any given moment, the teacher can lead the learner to a happy medium between exploring on his own and connecting with the group; both essential elements to the learning process.
What holds meaning and interest for learners is what will claim their attention. The learner’s entire experience consists of the places to which he directs his attention and the resultant neuropathways created in order for him to physically, mentally, and emotionally convey himself to those places. Ideally, the focuses he selects—as a self-initiating learner—will enhance his world and influence him to feel at ease and connected with others. True education is not about deficit management. Any learning challenge is recognized as the effect of effort still in motion toward a skill that has yet to be fully learned.
This blog is adapted from an article: “Movement-Based Learning for Life” by Paul and Gail Dennison, published in the Touch for Health 38th Annual Conference papers.
For more about balance and learning, see Paul’s article: Stand Up . . . Sit Down . . . Can You Do It?
© 2013 by Paul and Gail 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.
Josie, 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.