Draw a Double Doodle Snowman, Christmas Tree, and Elf!

Out and down, out and down; in, around, around, around, to build a Double Doodle snowman!

Out and down, out and down; in, around, around, around, to build a Double Doodle snowman!

I love to Double Doodle* with both children and adults, and delight in guiding people to discover their own creative expression. An art project is a wonderful way to learn about exploring choices, and about turning “mistakes” into pleasing serendipities (something we can’t learn too much about!). And the Double Doodle process supports skills of eye-teaming, eye-hand coordination, directionality, and fluid mark-making, while providing a lot of fun!

For a Double Doodle Christmas tree shape, move hands "down and out, then down and in, now do it again, and again, and again!"

For a Double Doodle Christmas tree shape, move hands “down and out, then down and in, now do it again, and again, and again!”

I find that many holiday images are easy to draw using the Double Doodle process, and don’t take long to make. Here are three that I enjoyed creating with my grandchildren. Most children ages 8 and up can quickly learn to do the first two. They’ll have the most fun if you do it with them and keep it playful, turning any “mistakes” into “oopsies,” or feeling free to experiment with a few versions till you get the flow.

To make the snowman, fold your paper vertically, then tape the paper down. With a marker in each hand, and with both hands beginning equidistance from the fold mark, use a single downward in-and-out-stroke to fluidly draw the outline of the hat and snowman.** (If you are new to the Double Doodle, you’ll find a more simple image and additional instructions here.) Use whatever marker colors attract you. For the snowman, I used two different colors of blue to show off the Double Doodle effect. Now, with additional colors, make the eyes and mouth, buttons, and stick-arms. Color in the hat and scarf using either one or two hands. Complete with a broom or shovel, and a background, as you wish.

A simple pine tree shape is easily double-doodled. Above left is a photo of the tree drawing after the first leisurely in-and-out motions, and again below, after adding some circles, curlicues, and icicle squiggles for ornaments.

Decorate your Double Doodle Christmas tree. Still using two hands, place some of your ornaments asymmetrically if you like.

Decorate your Double Doodle Christmas tree. Still using two hands, place some of your ornaments asymmetrically if you like.

Finally, here’s a little more complex drawing of an elf, fun for older children. Again, begin with a simple outline. Then color over and fill in as you like. Build from symmetry to asymmetry. I colored in the vest, leggings, and all by turning the page as needed, then placing my markers side-by-side as I colored.

A Double Doodle Christmas Elf that could be used on a card or as a window decoration.

Whatever you choose to Double Doodle, watch how a few minutes of doing the process relaxes hands, eyes, and mind, calming children and adults alike, and how even the most similar beginnings of a project can evoke unique choices. I enjoy seeing children of any age shift into a lovely acceptance and even delight of images with singular expression and character.

Wishing you cheerful decorating and celebrations!

*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. For the name of a Brain Gym instructor, see the Foundation website, below. For a Double Doodle Play instructor, click on the link and look up 105DD under courses.

**In terms of laterality, the directions “in and out” (toward the midline and away) take precedence over “left and right.” When learners struggle with academics, returning to an “in and out” orientation, perhaps through the use of the Double Doodle or other Brain Gym activities, is often all that’s needed for them to reconnect with more effective movement patterns. For those familiar with internal rotation of the forearm and how that can inhibit printing and cursive writing abilities, notice how after a few minutes of doing this two-handed motion, the wrists and fingers often relax into a more natural and aligned (naturally extended) position.

Related Research:
Keinath, Kristen. (2005). The effects of Brain Gym activities on second-grade students’ academic performance and handwriting skills. “Conclusion: Brain Gym activities were shown to positively effect handwriting skills. These findings support the research of Drabben-Thiemann and Donczik. Findings also suggest that there is no significant difference in academic performance following Brain Gym activities. Further research on the effects of Brain Gym activities in the school environment is recommended.”
Chang, Shao-Hsia & Chen, et al. (2015). Biomechanical analyses of prolonged handwriting in subjects with and without perceived discomfort. Human Movement Science. 43. 10.1016/j.humov.2015.06.008  A quick stroke speed and consistent, stable wrist extension were two of the elements found to correlate with less pain and greater efficiency in handwriting performance.

© 2015 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

You might also like:
Double Doodle Hearts and Flowers for Mother’s Day

Children’s Double Doodle Halloween Drawings – Fun and Surprising! (with a video)

Halloween Magic with Two-Handed Play!
Make Double Doodle Pumpkin Faces for Halloween Fun

Why I Love Teaching Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole Brain Vision

Double Doodle Play Brings Emotional Harmony Following a Stroke

Creating Beauty with Two Hands

© 2015 Gail 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.

Life Begins with a Joy of Learning

dreamstime_m_31251723For 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 ©  | 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.


Learning to Read: The Magic of Words on Paper

HeartsatPlay_ResourceSite_HomePage_workinaction_cross-crawlJosie, 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.

Just Do Your Best or “I Thought I Could, I Thought I Could”

LittleEngineFrom my earliest teaching of Edu-K, I have delighted in showing people that they can be effective learners when they don’t try, but simply do their best. Often trying harder simply intensifies the stress learners already feel when they haven’t yet developed a skill. Yet most learners, when doing their personal best, discover their capabilities on their own, once they’re encouraged to explore the physical skills related to the task at hand. In Brain Gym® and Me*, I described it in this way:

“Ultimately, we don’t want to be struggling all the time, but dedicated effort of the right kind is always needed until it’s no longer needed. If you’re learning the piano, you stick to your lessons until you master the instrument so well that you can forget you’re playing the piano and simply enjoy the music. If you’re going to run a marathon, you train hard and follow a schedule so that, on the day of the meet, you can enjoy the bliss of reaching that exquisite state in which you’re effortlessly in the flow.

Life is a continual process of going from low gear to high gear. Low gear is the appropriate state for new experiences, as we consciously and methodically do whatever is necessary to learn them, code them, and follow through on them. It’s the phase in which we climb the mountain with care until mountain climbing is installed in the body. Finally, when we reach the pinnacle of high gear, we enjoy the “I thought I could, I thought I could” experience of The Little Engine That Could as detailed in the well-known 1940s storybook by Watty Piper, that came with a phonograph record; as a child, I played that record so often that I wore it out).

What gave effort a bad name is that, as children, we were expected to try hard for no reason—at least none that we could see or understand. When adults fail to nurture, at home or at school, a child’s intrinsic interest in learning, they are compelled to replace it by external motivators that co-opt the soul in the name of education. This disconnection from our own inner sense of purpose and destiny carries on into adulthood and accounts for the well-known ‘mid-life crisis,’ triggered mainly by the heart’s rising need to have its own frustrated purposes listened to.”


This passage is excerpted is from Brain Gym® and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, by Paul Dennison, © 2006.

© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All Rights Reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.


A Master Teacher Creates a Context for Play


Nearly ten years ago, my friend Laura began telling me about a wonderful program called Education through Music (ETM) that engages learners in play and movement. As I learned more about it, I was delighted to realize that this was the same program that author and educator Joseph Chilton Pearce had recommended that Paul and I look into. It turns out that Pearce had recommended the Brain Gym® work to the ETM group, as well, including both programs as experiences he favored for the developing child. We wanted to find out more.

Paul and I finally got to meet Randal McChesney, ETM’s director, in the spring of 2004. Our initial experience with ETM was a half-hour session with about fifteen other adults—parents and educators—observing as Randy played Song Games with kindergartners in a public school classroom. We immediately recognized a master teacher at work.

Randy entered the circle of children with loving authority, skipping, singing, and modeling skills of positive social interaction. His movements, gestures, and overall expression were forthright and vigorous, communicating warmth and an invitation to listen or sing until your turn arrived.

Most of the children were immediately happily engaged. Those briefly at the periphery of the circle—one crying, another standing to the side, still others fidgeting or trying to bother their friends by nudging them with hands or feet—soon came of their own accord to join in. We saw the simple children’s game of Rig-a-Jig-Jig transformed into a way of drawing in learners to develop voice, attention, and play skills, as well as the prosody—the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech—that gives rise to an interest in language and reading. We also saw children discovering complex elements of emotional intelligence, including social cues, cooperation, deferred gratification, and mutual support in responding to opportunities.

When the children returned to their classroom, the adults gathered to discuss what we had seen. We were impressed by the calm maturity the children had exhibited in the safe context of the game. Paul commented to Randy, “You teach them as though you already know they can!” and Randy agreed. Paul and I recognized in Randy a like mind, and saw that many of the qualities we seek to develop in students through our Edu-K work—grounding, centering, lateral skills, ease of movement, self-expression, and a sense of community­—are also a focus of ETM.

This meeting was the beginning of a friendship and rich conversation about the nature of learning. Paul and I continue to exchange ideas with Randy, and to study with him as often as possible.

(To read an inspiring blog on how play can develop intrinsic motivation, see the guest blog with Randal McChesney.)

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

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym®  International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

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