As posted in the Olympian Online (June 13, 2007)
Mini exercise breaks help students’ focus – Brain Gym gets the mind flowing
Come mid-morning, Paula Madigan’s students get restless.That’s when Madigan announces it’s time for a Brain Gym break.
Her Lakes Elementary students leap from their chairs, chattering and jiggling with excitement as they position themselves around the classroom. They are ready for a series of exercises designed to refocus the class.
They roll their shoulders and reach for the sky. They snap and kick and dance across the floor, performing moves with names like “skates,” “kickbacks” and “disco.”
Finally, they crisscross their fingers in silent meditation.
“I think it’s very fun. We get to use our whole body and we get to be interactive,” Jasmine Graeber, 10, said.
Learning and movement
Brain Gym draws on “Educational Kinesiology,” or the study of how movement helps learning. Paul Dennison, a remedial educational specialist, developed Brain Gym in the 1970s as part of researching treatment for learning disabilities.
Advocates say Brain Gym improves concentration, memory, reading, writing, organizing, listening, physical coordination and more. It can also benefit children with attention difficulties.
“Brain Gym is a really elegant process of integrating the brain and body physiology that reduces stress, enhances learning and improves performance,” said Victoria Tennant, an Olympia-based educational consultant who teaches Brain Gym workshops.
She taught two workshops for teachers in the North Thurston Public Schools district this month. District spokeswoman Courtney Schrieve said the district encourages teachers to apply Brain Gym in the classroom.
The movements can be used at home, as well, Tennant said. They can help kids focus for a test, sporting event, piano recital or homework session. In addition, the movements teach kids to be more in-tune with their bodies and aware of stress signals.
“They’re learning about how their brain and body system works, and then they’re learning really easy tools that can help their system work better,” she said.
Adults, too, can benefit, particularly if they need a break from staring that the computer screen.
“I do Brain Gym before I sit down to write; I do it before I teach – anytime I want to get clear. It’s really easy to do. It just takes a couple of minutes, and it works,” she said.
Brain Gym in class
With larger classes and more students with attention difficulties, Madigan decided to enroll in a workshop on Brain Gym about five years ago. She’s incorporated the program once or twice a day ever since.
“It calms my kids down. It helps them to focus,” Madigan said.
After learning the moves in the beginning of the year, students take turns writing a “script” and leading the class, selecting their favorite exercises and their own music.
Some students will go to the back of the room and do Brain Gym exercises silently if they are having trouble concentrating, Madigan said.
Her students are clearly sold on the benefits of Brain Gym.
“It makes both sides of your brain work together,” said Daniel Ramirez, 9.
He was so excited about brain gym, he showed his family the exercises.
“They were trying to do ‘skates,’ and they fell down,” he said.
Jasmine agreed the moves were challenging at first, but now everyone has caught on.
“After we do (Brain Gym), the day goes by really smooth,” she said.
What is Brain Gym?
Brain Gym is a series of movements designed to improve learning and concentration.
Some of the movements involve applying pressure to contact points on the body, such as the ears and the forehead. These movements draw from acupuncture.
Others are more dance-like and involve crossing the body’s mid-line, which helps integrate the left and right sides of the brain. Focusing on a subject like math or reading takes both the logical left side and more conceptual right side, said Victoria Tennant, an Olympia-based educational consultant who teaches Brain Gym workshops.
“They don’t work together well when we’re under stress or when we feel overloaded or overwhelmed. … There’s a feeling of being scattered, not being able to think of a word for something, your thinking is slowing,” she explained.
Tennant suggests these three easy movements:
Cross Crawl: March in place and tap the opposite knee with your hands to get both sides of the brain working together.
Thinking Cap: Pull your earlobes away from your head from the top to the bottom to stimulate 148 acupuncture points and tune the brain in to listening better.
Lazy Eights: Use your thumb to trace in the air the shape of an infinity sign – an eight lying on it’s side. Do this several times with each hand, tracking the movement with your eyes but keeping your head still.
This exercise is good for people who read or use the computer a lot, which causes eye strain.
Reading: “Brain Gym Teacher’s Edition” by Paul and Gail Dennison
Local Brain Gym instructors:
Victoria Tennant, Olympia-based educational consultant and Brain Gym instructor, 360-705-3009 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Markell, Olympia-based Brain Gym instructor who gives one on one consultations for kids and adults, 360-352-8732, email@example.com