Previously published in Touch for Health Education Newsletter
“Chairs, chairs, chairs!” a playful voice said. “Why don’t we include more movement in the learning process? Don’t we want our children to learn with movement and curiosity?”
Who was this woman with long, dark hair, standing in the back of the room and gracefully doing exercises that would someday become the Calf Pump and the Grounder from the Brain Gym® program?
The year was 1982, and two previously unacquainted people, educator and Touch for Health graduate Paul Dennison and Touch for Health instructor Gail Hargrove, were at a conference on Alpha Speed Learning at the Live and Learn Center in Sherman Oaks, California. The conference, offered to leading health educators in Southern California, gave participants an opportunity to network with peers and experience the speed-reading and learning process developed by Steve Snyder. As fate would have it, Paul and Gail were the only two Touch for Health people invited to participate.
A deep friendship—and, soon, a joyful partnership—ensued between Paul Dennison and the woman who had so boldly sprung from her chair at Live and Learn. The more Paul and Gail talked, the more they recognized the similarities of their life paths. Their unique backgrounds and research now prompted them to collaborate, in the shared hope of making a difference in the field of education.
Together they dreamed of inviting play, art, music, storytelling, and process-based learning back into the classroom. Little did they know that they would someday write a book entitled Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning that would be translated into more than forty languages, or that they’d develop a program by the same name that would touch the lives of children and adults in more than eighty countries around the world.
Paul was a reading teacher who, in the 1960s, had established the Valley Remedial Group Learning Centers in the San Fernando Valley: eight successful reading centers, including one that happened to be right next door to the Live and Learn Center.
Once a slow learner who had failed the fourth grade because he couldn’t read, Paul had made it his life’s work to help others with early problems like his own by teaching reading instruction. He had grown up myopic and unathletic in a family of artists, dancers, puppeteers, and musicians, and he strongly sensed that something important was missing from our schools.
Born into a family of educators, Gail had grown up as an artist, dancer, poet, and child actor. Always exploring new ideas in movement, in the mid-60s she had read the work of William Bates on natural vision improvement and begun using the activities.
A current student of acupuncture and postural integration, she was exploring the relationship of movement and consciousness to natural vision improvement while enjoying a successful career in West Los Angeles as a Touch for Health and holistic health instructor. Through a study of Montessori education, Gail had become clear that sitting still for long periods of time in a windowless classroom was not the answer to healthful learning and visual habits.
Paul had studied the innovative movement and sensory integration work of educators Newell Kephart, Ray Barsch, and Jean Ayres, among others. In his learning centers, along with other sensory modalities he actively used the balance beam, balance board, tachistoscope, and rebounder with eye-motility exercises such as tracking. He also routinely checked the eye and hand dominance of his students, and offered extensive testing of brain-dominance profiles.
Paul’s Movement Mentors
In 1971, Paul had learned from Richard Tyler, a parent of two children enrolled at one of Paul’s reading centers, about how holding the frontal eminences eases stress. Tyler was a chiropractor who had attended a workshop with George Goodheart, the father of Applied Kinesiology. As Richard and Paul became good friends, they began to share work and ideas, eventually collaborating on research that Paul would include in his first book, Switching On: The Holistic Answer to Dyslexia.
In 1972, Paul began working with Dr. Louis Jacque, a leading pioneer in vision training who taught him the importance of pointing the eyes and of visual recovery. Paul was soon after asked to share the space at one of his reading clinics with Dr. Samuel Herr, O.D., and Herr’s wife, Margaret, both associated with the Optometric Extension Program.
Sharing clients with the Herrs provided Paul and his staff with daily observation and in-service vision training from experts in the field of behavioral optometry. Inspired by the work of Dr. G. N. Getman (How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence), Paul used bilateral drawing (the two-handed tracing of shapes) to help alleviate students’ visual stress; this activity would later evolve into the Double Doodle.
In 1974, after teaching at all grade levels, Paul received his school administrator credential from the State of California. Yet his career now took a different turn, as he resigned from public school education to devote his time fully to his doctoral research and the reading centers.
In 1975, majoring in Curriculum Development at the University of Southern California and with a minor in Experimental Psychology, Paul developed a research study for his doctoral dissertation on the relationship of covert speech to the acquisition of beginning reading skills.
Drawing on the latest brain research, including that of Sperry and Ornstein with split-brain patients, Paul realized the impact upon academic achievement of the neurological development of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic abilities. He was awarded his doctorate and also received the Phi Delta Kappa award for outstanding research.
In 1976, Paul completed a course for optometric-vision-training assistants sponsored by Richard Sowby, O.D., with whom he shared an office. Paul now began to explore the use of contralateral movements to help students align eye, hand, and body midline while hitting a ball.
He also began a personal self-improvement program, including body therapies, movement training, and long-distance running. He studied with sports kinesiologist Bud Gibbs, whose work would inspire the movement-reeducation process used in the Educational Kinesiology In-Depth and Movement Reeducation courses.
In 1979, Paul completed the Touch for Health courses with Gordon Stokes at the TFH Foundation in Pasadena, and was also inspired by meeting John Thie. Upon receiving his certification, he wrote a letter to himself stating the goal that he would write a book and start a new method known as Educational Kinesiology. While working with students, he made the intuitive leap to use noticing as a teaching and anchoring tool.
As a doctoral student and public school teacher in the early 1970s, Paul read about recent innovative research using sensorimotor integration with brain-injured children. To determine the possible effects of contralateral movement on the beginning-reading readiness of regular-ed first-graders, he introduced movement within his classroom.
Later, in view of the work John Thie was doing with cross-crawling, Paul searched for a way to maximize the effectiveness of the Cross Crawl by making it a more active, intentional movement. By 1981, shortly after he completed his first book, Switching On, Paul had discovered the Laterality Repatterning that now bears his name.
A New Collaboration
Gail had completed her Touch for Health certification during Easter week of 1977 with teachers Gordon Stokes and Shanti Moore. Having volunteered for the Positive Point demonstration with Dr. John Thie, she was so impressed with the Touch for Health work that she felt inspired to take it out into her community. Gail began teaching TFH at Creating Our Life, an adjunct to Antioch University, and later taught through Santa Monica Community College and the Santa Monica Health Integration Center, as well as at conferences for women and in private session work.
In 1983 Gail was a student in Paul’s second Edu-K in Depth course, and the two began a collaborative correspondence to create language and literature that would make the work even more accessible and multidimensional.
In March of 1984 the two began traveling, writing, and teaching together. With Gail’s contributions, the In-Depth work emerged as a beautifully woven system for honoring the learner and drawing out new learning. Combining their knowledge areas of dance, education, and kinesiology, Gail and Paul developed the Integrated Movements for balancing the meridians. In September, they taught together in Germany, Holland, and Norway. In November, they published the first edition of Edu-K for Kids, and Paul concluded his work at the reading centers.
In 1985, Paul and Gail joined the Touch for Health faculty as Instructors of Educational Kinesiology, and shortly after they published Personalized Whole-Brain Integration. Paul coined the term “Brain Gym,” and they separated the new, self-help Brain Gym work from the facilitated In-Depth course.
That fall, Paul and Gail presented their newly developed Creative Vision course in Holland and Germany. They introduced their innovative vision work, including Paul’s Optic Chiasm Balance (the cover test) and Gail’s Homolateral Reflex Balance, with tremendous success. In December, Paul and Gail were married in Los Angeles on his birthday.
In 1986, Gail developed the Visioncircles course in perceptual development, which includes 34 Vision Gym movements and the Friendly Chair Balance (which was how she came to like chairs again!). Her contributions to Edu-K coursework also include Movement Dynamics and, more recently, Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision. Gail also developed and edited the Brain Gym Journal.
In 1987, Paul and Gail left the umbrella of the Touch for Health organization to found, with a group of other innovative educators, the Educational Kinesiology Foundation, later known as Brain Gym International. The Dennisons maintained an enduring friendship with John and Carrie Thie, who mentored and encouraged them for many years.
Through the years, Paul and Gail have coauthored a series of books and manuals and traveled together to teach the Edu-K in Depth course countless times, in dozens of countries around the world. They have headed up many annual international conferences in the United States, Canada, and abroad, and trained more than forty Edu-K International Faculty Members. Their work has inspired other educators to develop Edu-K courses: the foundation they cofounded now offers more than 800 curriculum hours.
And, in many classrooms around the world, the chair is becoming less of a central focus. More and more children are now being encouraged to speak up when they’ve done enough sitting. They can then freely rise to their feet to do a Brain Gym movement, ease any visual or muscle tension, and reconnect with their best learning pace.
© 2012 Paul and Gail E. Dennison
All Rights Reserved
Brain Gym® is a trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation, www.braingym.org.