It may seem very simple, but Brain Gym can have a positive effect on learning. If your child is having difficulty with memory, coordination in the playground, or is struggling with learning, then why not activate their brain with movement rather than extra homework.
Brain Gym is not about chess or lifting weights with your mind. It’s simply a program of movements that prepare the brain for learning. The technique was originally developed in the 80s to help underachievers at school, and was later used to increase performance and reduce stress for learners of all ages and cultures.
Over the years, it has become established in many schools worldwide, including New Zealand, as part of the Educational Kinesiology framework. Many educators find that it helps students to sit quietly, listen attentively and focus for new learning. The exercises are not exercises in the usual sense: they are simple, enjoyable and quick.
When we are stressed, the body gets ready for fight or flight, so no learning can happen in this state. Brain Gym movements help your child get back to a stress-free state of learning by re-educating the brain and body to work together and function with less effort and more efficiency.
They can also help you switch on for learning, sport and work. When mind and body work together in harmony, the result is wholeness, full self-expression, creativity, responsible choice making and easy movement into new challenges. Selected movements can even be used to help specific academic subjects or aid depression.
Movement is essential for our health and to stimulate brain function, yet children today tend not to move enough and their lifestyles have become much more sedentary. There is also a great focus on two-dimensional activities, like watching TV and playing computer games. Brain Gym helps to build better communication within the mind and body.
Founders Dr Paul and Gail Dennison describe brain functioning in terms of three dimensions of movement: side to side (laterality), up and down (centering) and back and forth (focus).
PACE (Positive, Active, Clear and Energetic learning) is the Brain Gym five-minute process that helps children get ready for sports and learning. Water, Brain Buttons, Cross Crawl and Hook Ups are the four activities used to achieve this:
- We sip water to help restore hydration.
- We activate our Brain Buttons for clear thinking.
- To get active, we use the Cross Crawl movement that crosses the midline of the body and activates both brain hemispheres.
- Hook Ups is a body posture that encourages us to feel calm and positive.
A Brain Gym consultant works with people to create change in living and learning. For example, the ability to hold a pencil/pen with a relaxed functional grip, to use two eyes smoothly together as required for reading, to cross the midline of the body and achieve coordinated movement. An Edu-K Balance format is used for this.
Parent involvement is essential for its success and parents and teachers are advised to experience Brain Gym themselves before offering it to others.
A one-day introductory course will teach the movements and explain how they are used to improve memory, attitude, behaviour, self-esteem and confidence, coordination, communication, study skills and creativity. A comprehensive training program is also available.
AGES AND STAGES
- Encouraging movement and physical play is great for this age group because it uses both sides of the brain and prepares them for learning.
- Parents can do a selection of movements passively with their child.
- Many exercises can be done actively by the child at home or in the preschool setting. Some Brain Gym exercises for pre-writing include ‘Double-Doodles’ and ‘Lazy-Eights’.
- This is a great age to encourage children to sip water throughout the day.
5- to 8-years
- Cross Crawl exercises are great for this age group, as they are starting school and whole brain learning is vital for them.
- Make time for left/right brain activities (see sidebar)
- There are specific Brain Gym movements to target different academic and sports skills.
- Keep then sipping water throughout the day. A bottle of water on their desk is ideal.
9- to 12-years
- Hook-ups are a great exercise to relax the whole body, and can be very useful for this age group as life gets busier and more demanding.
- This is a great time to use the Brain Button exercise as kids are growing and have more homework and after school activities. This can help them feel more switched-on.
- Make time for left/right brain activities (see sidebar)
- Your child may now be more aware of their challenges and be motivated to do exercises that are helpful to them.
- Brain Gym can be effective before a test, exam or public speaking
- Consider Brain Gym as a way to work with your child towards specific goals, such as learning to snowboard, etc.
Some ways to coordinate your left and right brain:
- Playing piano, guitar, violin, recorder or the drums
- Marching, running and crawling
- Skiing, snowboarding and ice skating
- Knitting and sewing
- Using a knife and fork
How to find your PACE
- Water: sip a glass of water.
- Brain Buttons: place your index finger and thumb into the indentations below each collarbone and to each side of the breastbone. Place the other hand over the navel. Rub the Brain Buttons for about 30 seconds. Switch hands and repeat.
- Cross Crawl: Stand comfortably and cross the midline of your body by touching each hand or elbow in turn to the opposite knee. Continue for at least one minute.
- Hook-ups :
Part 1: Stand, sit or lie down. Cross the ankles. Cross one wrist over the other and touch the palms together. Interlace your fingers and draw your hands up towards your chest. Breathe deeply and hold this position for one minute.
Part 2: Uncross your arms and legs. Touch your fingertips together in front of your chest. Breathe deeply for another minute.
Helma Dalton has worked as an Occupational Therapist for over 25 years, mainly in Paediatrics. In the last 5 years, she has combined her skills with Brain Gym and is a Brain Gym Consultant/Educational Kinesiologist. She works privately from her Auckland North Shore home practice ‘Focus Therapy’. Assessment and individualised therapy programs are offered to children and adolescents with developmental, learning and behavioural difficulties.