“Floyd acts as if he’s missing part of his brain,” my grandmother commented on the behavior of a neighbor. Recent discoveries from neuroscientists let us know that when certain parts of the brain do not communicate effectively, it may appear that someone has “lost” his or her mind.
As a Montessori teacher, I’ve had the privilege of having students for three years in a multi-age classroom. Even with repetitious and consistent instruction, there are children who don’t seem to “get” a skill. Keeping their hands off of other people or other people’s work, sitting quietly through a story or prayer, flushing the toilet and letter and number recognition are only a few examples.
I’d show them, remind them and repeat lessons for years, but still certain preschool children would lack expected skills and knowledge. I’ve been exasperated, along with parents, about why students didn’t learn what had been taught, retaught and modeled. Then I learned about educational kinesiology at a summer conference.
In Smart Moves, Carla Hannaford, Ph.D. explains that learning occurs not only in the brain. Learning is dependent on movement, not just for the young child who is in a sensitive period for movement, but for all of us.
Hannaford, a neurobiologist and professor of biology at the University of Hawaii, began working with children labeled as learning disabled in 1986. Using a program called Brain Gym, developed by Paul and Gail Dennison, Hannaford obtained amazing results.
One of her students, ten-year old Amy, could not read or speak in full sentences at the beginning of the year. With a daily five minutes of Brain Gym, along with playing soccer at recess, Amy ended the year at grade level in reading and was communicating effectively. Furthermore, every child who was involved with Brain Gym demonstrated increased ability in weak learning areas.
Brain Gym involves simple exercises that re-pattern neural networks in the brain through movement.
These neural networks link both sides of the brain to help whole brain function and communication. There are four basic exercises, called PACE for Positive, Active, Clear and Energetic learning, that take about five minutes. Hannaford recommends doing them three times a day.
The four Brain Gym exercises are drinking water, Brain Buttons, Cross Crawl and Hook-Up. Having enough water in our bodies is critical for successful learning. The other exercises involve cross-lateral, fine motor movements that activate and balance muscles on both sides of the body.
Six weeks after I began using Brain Gym in my elementary class of six to nine-year-olds, I observed major changes.
Students who had difficulty sitting through a story were now asking for another chapter. Students with poor penmanship had legible writing. One student’s math phobia disappeared, and math became “fun.” The class clown started self-regulating his behavior by doing Brain Gym when he felt himself “get out of control.”
With Brain Gym I saw excitement and confidence as children unconsciously developed a skill that had been difficult. Many organizations, from preschools to corporations, from sports teams to nursing homes, have discovered the benefits of using Brain Gym, by helping people’s brains connect the “missing parts.”