The Magic of Attention with DIY Fairies

Two flower fairies frolic among the play scarves with their fairy dog.

Two flower fairies frolic among the play scarves with their fairy dog.

“Each fairy breath of summer, as it blows with loveliness, inspires the blushing rose.”—Author unknown

I recently lifted the cover of my piano to find a row of pipe-cleaner fairies (some pictured here) resting on the high-note keys, with their “leaf wings” removed and carefully laid at their sides. I’m not sure what the story was, but the possibilities made me smile.

Optometrist G.N. Getman once said, “Vision is a learned skill of attention.” Since I have a passion for facilitating visual skills, I like to remind students that vision is primarily a habit, and that to shift our habits, we must choose to see something new out of the countless possibilities that call our attention every moment. Being outside is a wonderful way to rediscover our vision, as myriad points of light shimmer and dance over moving leaves and plants.
And another way is to imagine the fairy realm. Simply reimagining the landscape as one in which fairies move, dance, and glide from one thing to another, hovering or alighting, (as our eyes ideally do) gives us pause to see the microcosm of nature—to soft-focus our eyes and look anew at the rich and variegated world of shape, color, texture, form, and motion.

My two granddaughters (the youngest then 8) and I began making these wonderful fairies a few years back using fabric scraps and other things we keep in our craft box. Ever since, making and playing with these homemade friends has provided one way to deepen our imaginative play together as well as providing them with hours of creative pleasure on their own.

I find that when a child plays with such a calming and butterfly-like personage, especially one they’ve made themselves, they don’t need to be taught anything in particular about visual skills. They’ll naturally make hand motions that engage the eyes in tracking side-to-side, up-and-down, at diagonals, and near-to-far. They’ll relax their eyes as they centralize their play around the body’s midline (rather than off to the right or left, as they might do for reading or writing). I can see how, as they glide the fairies around, they engage their soft focus and the fluid, saccadic eye motion that helps balance modern demands of eye-pointing or overfocus common when reading or doing computer work. Not to mention that playing with the fairies invites that restorative inner world of self-motivated attention and exploration. Here are photos of our fairies and instructions for making:

Two rose petal flower fairies (with wings made of lamb's ear and camellia leaves).

Two rose petal flower fairies (with wings made of lamb’s ear and camellia leaves).

At right: A mother flower fairy cradles her infant (wrapped in a leaf) while a girl and boy fairy look on. The mother's sash, made of fabric scrap tied in the back, helps to hold the petals in place. For this photo, they are not wearing their wings.

At right: A mother flower fairy cradles her infant (wrapped in a leaf) while a girl and boy fairy look on. The mother’s sash, made of fabric scrap tied in the back, helps to hold the petals in place. For this photo, they are not wearing their wings.

Smaller fairies with (at left) ficus-leaf wings; (at right), succulent-leaves.

Smaller fairies with (at left) ficus-leaf wings; (at right), succulent-leaves.

A close-up of the mother and infant.

A close-up of the mother and infant.

Back view of mom's leaf head dress.

Back view of mom’s leaf head dress.

If you would like to make your own fairies, here’s how we did it:

Basic items for making a "bendy-stick" leaf fairy.

Basic items for making a “bendy-stick” leaf fairy.

The Simplest Version – Ages 7 and up

You’ll need:
– bendy sticks (also known as pipe cleaners)
– wooden beads for heads
– colored pencils (or non-smear pens) to draw the faces
– pairs of leaves (we used camellia, lamb’s ear, and a succulent, at right, or you can use fabric leaves* as in the photo below)
– glue (to secure the pipe cleaner at the top of the head)

How to do it (most likely, if you show the children a photo and give them materials, they’ll figure it out):
1. Fold a bendy stick to form a torso and legs and feet (fold the legs back on themselves for thickness); or omit the legs and coil another bendy stick around the body to make a skirt; fashion a top if you wish.
2. Use a second bendy stick to make the arms (also folded back); leave enough of the stick on which to place the wooden bead.
3. Leave a little bit sticking out as a neck, on which to place the bead head.
4. Draw a face on the wooden bead (we didn’t always like the faces, so some of these were turned to the back or new beads used so we could redraw).
5. Secure the head by bending a 1/8″ or so piece of the bendy stick across the top of the head (you may wish to glue this)
6. Coil a bendy stick to make hair20151220_153250(0)

Options for Those with More fine-Motor Skill
– fabric rose petals*
– yarn for hair (glue on, or leave more length at the top of the pipe cleaner and use it to fasten the hair; see photos above). Unravel the yarn to create waves or curls.
– string (we used green and brown) for tying the petals on to the skirt
– needle and thread (not shown) for hand-sewing the petals on if you’re so inclined
– long-nosed pliers (I love to show children, when they’re ready to adhere to safety tips, how to use this
wonderful tool. In this case, the long-nosed pliers can be used to cut the pipe cleaners if you want to make them shorter.)

 

Three flower fairies with their fairy dog (all sans wings at the moment).

Three flower fairies with their fairy dog (all sans wings at the moment).

If you make fairy dolls, I would love to hear how you and your children play with them.

*We bought the fabric petals and leaves, along with the wooden beads and pipe cleaners, at Michael’s Craft store: www.michaels.com/

For a translation of this article into Spanish or Catalan, click here.

Gail Dennison is the co-creator, with her husband and partner Paul Dennison, of the Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym® programs. She has also written the courses Visioncircles, Double Doodle Play, and their teacher training—courses that focus on natural vision improvement through movement and play. 

Brain Gym® is the registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International, Ventura, CA, www.braingym.org. To find a Brain Gym, Visioncircles, or Double Doodle Play Instructor in your area, click here .

5 Easy Keys to Happy Eyes for Your School-Age Child

dreamstime_m_18030319Now that summer’s over and they’re back in school, most children are sitting more and moving less, and this relative inactivity extends to the eyes. Although schoolwork is highly vision-oriented, it doesn’t typically involve the range and diversity of visual skills that are called for in three-dimensional activities. And each school day may result in hours of hunching over and reading at near-point, followed by a similar scenario at night while completing homework.

Research increasingly points to movement as a basic physiological need, and today’s parents and educators are doing much to engage learners in movement breaks and outdoor activities, realizing that the visual and movement patterns they develop as they begin to do schoolwork will follow them for many years into the future. Yet not all schools or homework assignments currently reflect this thinking.

Of special concern are those children who are not accustomed to the demands of so much sitting and pointing the eyes at symbols. In an effort to keep up in the classroom, they can quickly fall into a habit of trying too hard and not looking up. During study time at school and at home, it’s especially important for parents and educators to connect through intermittent conversation and eye contact, so that a child learns to associate relaxed attention as the context for learning. Here are five simple things parents and educators can notice about how a child is using his visual skills, along with suggested Brain Gym(R) activities* that can help guide learners of any age in exploring and gaining access to a fuller range of their visual and movement capabilities:

1. Relaxed Near Focus – Does he or she squint when looking at homework, or sit too close to the television or computer screen? Some children haven’t yet learned to move their eyes together; others have yet to discover the benefits of looking up every few minutes to break a staring habit. In either case, looking away from a task or into distant vistas can help relax the focus. Option: Show your child how to do Brain Buttons (see video) while following a horizon line with the eyes by moving them side to side. Talk about the distant colors and shapes that you see, inviting him or her to explore these with you.

2. Neutral Head Position – Does she frequently tilt her head when reading or drawing? Head tilting can be due to not being able to turn the head easily from side to side, and often goes along with one-sided neck and shoulder tension or even headaches. Option: Teach your child to do The Thinking Cap as described here: Before doing the activity, help her notice how easily she can turn her head without lifting or jutting her chin. Show her how to use her thumbs and index fingers to pull her ears gently back and unroll them, top to bottom, three or more times. Have her again notice her head turning.

3. Fluid Eye Movement – Notice how he reads. If he often loses his place or says “gril” for “girl,” he may not be using his eyes as a team as he scans and decodes words, resulting in blurry or reversed images. Option: Drawing Lazy 8s in the air or on paper, or tracing Lazy 8s on his back, can help him to relax, centralize his vision, and improve his scanning skills (click for further description). In Edu-K, we find that when children learn to move their eyes, they naturally point them without being taught.

4. Left-Right Balance – Does she seem to dislike standing or walking? Children often lack a whole-body sense of left-right movement, or else inhibit this sense when they sit excessively. Yet the muscles, visual system, and inner ear must work together to provide balanced movement in gravity, even for sitting. Option: Teach your child The Cross Crawl (see video). When children get more comfortable with a rhythmic left-right movement pattern, their gross-motor activity provides a context for ease of fine-motor (including visual) movement.

5. Spatial Awareness – Does your child rarely look up or away from his book, iPad, or gaming device? Perhaps he is finding it easier to rely on a single, set visual focus than to look up and process depth and movement in the three-dimensional world. Option: Use any of the four activities described above, The Cross Crawl, The Thinking Cap, Brain Buttons, and Lazy 8s, to help activate varied visual and motor skills that will support your child’s well-being and ease of academic learning as they let him “unlock” his gaze from that book or screen.

Each playful Brain Gym® movement provides a shift in focus of 10 seconds or so–long enough for the eyes to readjust–or can provide a longer diversion as needed (as when dancing a rhythmic Cross Crawl with music). Remember also to invite frequent breaks from homework or other near-point activities to make playful eye contact.

 

*These four Brain Gym® activities, along with others that support sensorimotor skills, are described in detail in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, 2010, by Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison. 

**These and other sensorimotor skills  are taught experientially, through movement and play, in the courses Brain Gym® 101: Balancing for Daily Life and Visioncircles: 8 Spheres of Perceptual Development. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

**Many children will make a shift in these visual habits after just a few playful experiences, as described. If your child consistently experiences any of these challenges, it’s a good idea to call an optometrist to schedule a routine eye exam.

Photo Credit: © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com

© 2013 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym®  International. 

Going Outdoors with Your Child to Share Visual Beauty

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-child-observing-tulips-garden-image9054535Vision is a learned skill of attention. It happens not in the eyes alone, but in the brain. Children don’t automatically know how to interpret the visual world. As parents, we can draw their attention to what excites and interests us. Discovering the beauty in the multitude of colors and shapes in nature brings joy to the early years and allows for much parent-child bonding. Even a few minutes in the outdoors, with its lovely trees, flowers, and growing things, provides many more near/far images, variations in color, and ambient shapes and surfaces than are seen indoors.

When we explore the endless nuances of motion and form in our nature experience, letting ourselves be surprised by what we see, we access different visual skills than when we look by habit alone. In his insightful book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Dr. Richard Louv* reports on some of the benefits of outdoor play to children’s sensory and visual development, as well as ways that nature ignites an innate sense of awe and curiosity.

As you step outside with your children, play, move, and spend time with them discovering the wonders of nature, you can guide them in a matter of minutes to develop many skills of attention, including these 7 often overlooked visual skills:

  • centralized focus as they gaze at the center and radiating petals of a flower
  •  following movement with their eyes, as you point out a flock of birds taking flight
  • enjoying distance vision by looking at mountains and horizons
  • discovering ambient shapes, like cloud formations . . . could it be a puppy, a lamb, a giant?
  • using depth perception: by measuring off the steps between near and far objects, like the distance between stones along a garden pathway.
  • distinguishing variegated color: admiring a plant and seeing how many colors you can notice in its stalk and leaves . . . if you were to paint it, what color combinations would you use?
  • identifying similarities: play identification games to help them see things and also build their vocabulary, as in playing “I Spy” with shapes (triangles; circles) or colors (sometimes, we can better see what we can name!).

According to the Journal of the American Optometric Association, 80 percent of classroom learning is based on vision. Yet much of this learning is oriented to left-right, near-point focus on a flat plane—a book, iPad, or writing paper. In a study done by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, researchers found that time spent outdoors correlated with a reduction in children’s risk for nearsightedness. Being in nature calls on less well-known attributes, as well as the skimming and scanning so essential to reading. And, as children explore the world, their eyes develop many further valuable skills that will bring joy and delight for a lifetime. Yours will, too!

 

* Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Algonquin Books, North Carolina: 2005. Louv cites research showing children’s gains in emotional, attentional, sensorimotor, and other abilities in the presence of the natural world.

**American Academy of Ophthalmology. “More time outdoors may reduce kids’ risk for nearsightedness, research suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111024084639.htm>

***The Edu-K Visioncircles course, developed by Gail, offers play and exploration along with 34 Vision Gym® activities to experientially develop these 7 visual abilities along with many other visual and sensorimotor skills. Click here to visit Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation for the name of a Visioncircles instructor in your area.

© 2013 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

Photo © Skoric | Dreamstime.com

 

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.

Research Nugget: Visual Skills and Reading

ReadingIn a 2007 research study published in the Journal of the American Optometric Association, visual skills and visual acuity were measured for 461 California high school students (average age 15.4) who were identified as having poor reading skills. Among the students, 80% were found to be weak or inadequate in one or more of the following visual abilities:

            • accessing  singleness of vision ranges at near point (binocular fusion)
            • coordinating turning of the eyes inward to focus on an object (convergence at near point)
            • focusing on stimuli at various distances and in different sequences in a given time period (accommodation)

In contrast, only 17% had deficient visual acuity—20/40 or worse in one eye—the standard model of deficiency for school vision screenings.1

1David Grisham, OD, MS, Maureen Powers, PhD, Phillip Riles, MA. Visual skills of poor readers in high school. Optometry – Journal of the American Optometric Association: Volume 78, Issue 10 , Pages 542-549, October 2007. © 2007 American Optometric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc.

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